Erin Waring/The Ballston Journal Online

The Coupon Diva: Garage Sale Tips I Learned From My Dad

Village Wide Garage Sale WeekendBack when I was a kid growing up in Otego, NY, our areas annual garage sale weekend was practically a holiday at my house. The late 80’s and 90’s were the heyday of garage sales, a golden era if you may, when many households had not cleaned out their attic or basement in 20 plus years. Antiques Roadshow was popular on TV and hard-core garage salers and collectors were doing their research, hoping to find that hidden Andy Warhol sketch grandma had just pulled from the attic.

My dad was one of those people. He loved to buy and sell antiques as a hobby, often fixing them up to sell for profit. There was money to be made on good finds and he had his specialties: antique tools, toys, furniture and kitchen collectables, just to name a few. After a few years on the trail with him I became an expert myself, focusing primarily on depression glassware. I studied the collectors books and knew all the rare patterns to look for.

On the Friday before the big weekend my dad would scour the ads, circling this and underlining that. The county map would be pulled out to highlight the best routes in order to hit up the most promising garage sales first. Getting to hot locations early on Saturday was a must and we often left the house around 6:30. After a few years of professional garage saling we got to know the local collectors who owned antique stores in the area and what they specialized in. Beating them to a hot sale or finding an item they had missed turned into a fun rivalry, much like the rival storm chasers in Twister racing towards the big one. Luckily for us though we never had any major weather elements to deal with, besides an occasional rain shower or two.

Then on Sunday we would wake up and do it all over again. Who could hit up all the houses they wanted to in only one day and why not stop by a few “hot spots” again? Hey, you never know, they could have put out more items! Plus, my dad is a people person and garage sales were a great excuse to chat up the neighbors. He had “a captive audience”, my mom would joke.

My dad had some great finds over the years and added a lot to his collections while also making a profit on items he fixed up and sold. Even after I got married and moved to this area my husband and I would go back to garage sale with him. Barns abound in Otsego County, many filled to the brim with forgotten treasure. Over the years we scored a professional foosball and pool table, a 1950’s jute box, a restaurant style slushie maker (don’t ask), plus more.

My dad still goes to garage sales, not so much looking for collectables but for just for old times sake. Many households have cleaned out their attics and basements within the last decade and held garage sales so nowadays you will likely see more newer items than old. This is great because garage saling is an easy way to buy items you need like furniture and kids items without breaking the bank. Not to say that there aren’t still antiques and big finds out there. Just a few years ago a man at a Long Island garage sale found art appraised at over $30 million.

So this weekend why not try your luck and search for some valuable antiques or score items you need (or didn’t even know you needed!) at super prices. Ballston Spa’s Village-Wide Garage Sale Weekend runs Friday, June 10th thru Sunday, June 12th with hours varying by location.

Whether you are holding a garage sale or attending the sales this weekend, below are a few tips to help you get the most out of your experience.

For the seller:

  • Have clear signs that say Garage Sale, especially if your sale is mostly confined inside your garage. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between a garage sale and an overloaded garage!
  • Make sure you have everything out on time. People who are gung ho about buying and are looking for specific items usually arrive at sales early in the day or before the sale even begins.
  • Have a FREE bin for items you just want to get rid of. Free bins are always a big hit and when buyers are receiving something free they are sometimes more likely to buy something else in order to compensate.
  • Make sure everything is visibly priced. Some people may feel uncomfortable or not want to bother asking how much an item is = loss of sale.
  • A good rule of thumb for pricing is around 1/2 to 1/3 of the retail price. Competitive pricing means you’ll unload your stuff and not have to drag it back into other house.
  • Be willing to accept less than what is on the price tag to make a sale.
  • I’ve found that items placed on tables or even chairs sell better than items in bins or on the ground, so dig out those folding tables or chairs if you have them.
  • Display clothing, especially kids clothing by size. This will make it easier for customers to find what they want and lead to higher sales.
  • Try to have some tables on your driveway instead of everything cramped inside your garage. This will make the sale look larger and more desirable.
  • Consider having a few grocery plastic bags or boxes on hand so buyers won’t have to lug around their small purchases and to make it easier for them to buy more.
  • Invite older children to help. It’s great practice for them to make change and lemonade stands are always fun.
  • Common sense stuff: make sure you have enough change, a calculator, note pad and pens plus keep your money on your person and make sure any electrical devices are functioning before sold.
  • Advertise!
  • Have fun! Garage Sale-ing is a great way to meet neighbors.

For the buyer:

  • Don’t be afraid to haggle. A majority of sellers just want to get rid of their items at a fair price. Some sellers even price items a bit high because they know they may be offered less.
  • If you don’t see something you’re looking for, it never hurts to ask. The buyer may have it and hasn’t put it out yet.
  • Browse through the ads and make a game plan, especially if you are looking for specific items.
  • Carry enough cash including small bills and change.
  • The early bird gets the worm! Unless the ad says no early birds arrive a bit early or at least right around start time to get the best picks.
  • If a sale has items that are priced too high and the seller won’t budge, consider coming back on the next day as prices usually go down.
  • My dad’s favorite technique: bundling. If there are a few items you want to buy put them all into a pile. Ask for a lesser total price then the sum of all since you are purchasing several items. Sellers love to move items in bulk so you will likely get a better price by buying multiple items together rather than one at a time.

What is your best garage sale find? Sign-in below and let us know!


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