Real Estate

Treasure hunting

How to troll garage and yard sales to find a gem for a deal

I'm sure you've seen them cruising your neighborhood on a Saturday morning. They drive old station wagons or pickups, jammed with furniture and a sign "I Brake for Yard Sales" slapped on their bumpers. It's the garage sale addicts.

We may look down our noses at them, but these smart shoppers are reaping the benefits of an alternative decorating source: yard sales. These sales, also called "garage sales," offer tremendous savings, often unique items not offered in shops, entertainment (you meet all kinds of people and experience the thrill of paying 25 cents for an item you saw at Macy's for $50) and conservation: you recycle instead of consume new products.

Kit Davey
If you need furniture or accessories for your home but you're on a budget, give the yard-sale circuit a try. Armed with a list, a plan and a sense of adventure, you can inexpensively furnish your home and have fun at the same time.

Getting Started

Set aside a Saturday morning from about 7:45 a.m. to about 10 a.m. (Things are usually well picked-over by 10 a.m.). Avoid a holiday or big sports-event weekend. Invite a friend to go along and serve as navigator and sign-spotter. The Thursday or Friday before your trip, check out the ads on Craigslist, Palo Alto Online or other online sites. Mark the streets on a map where the sales are happening. Determine the best route to hit the most sales in the least amount of time.

Make a list of all items you need for your home. List the sizes of whatever furniture pieces you need. Bring the list with you, as well as fabric samples or pillows to match colors. Take along the print or photo you want to frame. (Keep this Zen shopping principal in mind: if you exert effort and diligently search for a particular item when you desperately need it, you will probably not find it. You will run into it after you have given up all hope.)

Pick up small bills and a hand full of change the night before. The people holding the sale will appreciate receiving the correct change. Fill your gas tank. Borrow a truck or remember to drive a car with a big trunk if you're shopping for a large item.

That morning, have a substantial, healthy breakfast and take along some coffee or a snack for the road. Dress comfortably, as you will be getting in and out of your car often and perhaps bending over and lifting things. You may want to use a fanny pack for your wallet, instead of lugging around a purse. A hat and sunglasses can cut the glare while looking at items displayed out of doors. Take a bag or box to contain your booty.

As you go from sale to sale, have your navigator keep his/her eyes open for signs. Many families do not advertise and rely on signs for promotion. Be ready to deviate from your route if you see a promising sign.


Respect ads, which say "No early birds". Show up at or after their start time. Obey traffic laws while cruising. It is exceedingly annoying to follow someone driving at 15 miles per hour, riding the brakes while holding a map in front of his/her face. Be thoughtful of others. A sale can disrupt a neighborhood, especially when a diehard addict screeches to a halt and parks his/her car across the front of your driveway. Park legally, pick up your trash and use quiet voices.

Haggling is expected, but making an outlandish offer can be offensive. Offering $25 for a $100 item is not cool. It is acceptable to ask, "Is this your best price?" or "If I buy four of these for $0.25, will you throw in a fifth and make it five for a dollar?" If you find a high-priced item that is beyond your budget, leave your name and number and make an offer: "If you don't sell that table for $100 today, I'll come and pick it up tomorrow and give you $75 cash." Check for free delivery: "I'll buy this right now for $50 if you deliver it for me".

Kit Davey is a Redwood City designer who specializes in using what you already have to redecorate. Find her at

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