Yard birds

Turn trash into cash with this garage sale field guide

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Garage sale signs are like bird feeders: if you want to attract all kinds of birds, put one out. I learned this two summers ago while co-hosting a sale with my parents. Drunk on dollar-sign dreams of unloading tchotchkes and ABBA albums, I became enchanted by all the loonies—the coins and the customers—that rolled in.

I’m not saying garage sale goers are crazy, just unique, like Trekkies. They are devoted to their “art” in ways that baffle the uninitiated. And while they have a common cause—the ultimate in recycling—this group can be categorized by individual characteristics such as plumage (Bermuda shorts, trucker hats), markings (Tim Hortons coffee cup in hand, pockets bulging with small change) and distinct calls (“I’ll give you two bits for this”).

By the end of the day, I had identified and haggled with five distinct types of garage sale goers. So, for anyone thinking of hosting a garage, yard or street sale this summer, I give you this field guide with tips on how to attract and handle these crazy ol’ birds. Use it wisely while hawking your wares and you’ll be chirping all the way to the bank.

The rooster

Distinctive characteristics
This early bird is often the first to appear at a sale, hoping to get not only the worm but pay the lowest price possible for it. Roosters may also go by other names, such as “retiree” or “cottager,” and are used to getting up at the crack of dawn. They often have interesting tresses or “combs” (as in comb-overs or backcombed hair) and distinguishing marks such as black socks worn with beach sandals. They use old-fashioned currency terms such as “Here’s a copper.” The rooster’s appearance at a sale is usually swift and brief. Then it will take off in its car, which is either blocking your driveway or parked on the wrong side of the street.

Flocks to
“I’m selling everything including the kitchen sink—once I’m done using it, that is.”

Dust off one-of-a-kind items
Karen, a seasoned garage sale host, has had many a wake-up call from roosters knocking on her door well before the 8 a.m. start time. She’s even known them to come calling the night before. “These people show up hoping to get the first bite,” says Karen, “but they’re more likely to get a few tongue-lashings when they’re that early.”

Karen says roosters are always pecking around for one-of-a-kind items. She ought to know, she adds, because her husband is a rooster. He often brings home unusual garage sale finds, which once included a toilet and a wooden TV cabinet, which he later converted into an aquarium (both these items subsequently ended up in her own garage sales). Karen also knows roosters do their cock-a-doodle-dooing with excuses such as, “I have to go out of town later. Can I look at your stuff now?”

“I always tell them to come back when we’re open,” says Karen. She suggests putting your needs, such as preparing for the day and setting up, ahead of those of the early birds. “And don’t be afraid to be firm with these people, because some of them can get really aggressive.”

If, however, you have things under control and want to give the rooster first dibs on your goods, hold firm on your price. You might be able to get more money for an item later in the day, says Karen. “And don’t give them coffee. You’re just encouraging them to show up early on someone else’s doorstep.”

The magpie

Distinctive characteristics
This species is drawn to shiny objects such as electronics, housewares and antiques, especially when accompanied by low price tags and fascinating hand-me-down stories. The magpie may have colourful plumage, thanks to “vintage” garage sale finds such as mothball-scented K-Way jackets and muumuus. If approached correctly, the magpie will add Aunt Clarice’s hip waders to its collection. Often chatty, this harmless scavenger is always on the hunt for a great bargain that it can crow about for years to come.

Flocks to
“This mirror belonged to Snow White’s evil stepmother. Honest.”

Be a storyteller
Any magpie will tell you it just can’t resist the opportunity to turn someone else’s junk into its own treasure. “I’m like a cartoon character when I find a great deal,” says Shelley, who spends summer days on the hunt for garage sales. “My eyes roll back in my head and all I can think is mine, mine, mine!”

“For me, half the thrill of garage ‘saling’ is the bargain, and the other half is the story that goes with it,” says Shelley. She’s been lured into buying clothing, dinnerware and lamps after being romanced by a seller’s tales (e.g., “I found this piece when I fell into a crevasse while I was hiking through Nepal”). Shelley’s interest in an item increases even more when a host takes the time to talk about an object (e.g., “This Hot Wheels car has been in the family for centuries”). “It doesn’t have to be a big fancy schmancy story,” says Shelley. “I just like knowing the item has a history.”

The eagle

Distinctive characteristics
A great hunter, the eagle may also go by such names as “professional collector” or “antique dealer.” The eagle often has a working knowledge of Collectibles Quarterly and can be pushy upon encountering an object that will make a profit on EBay. Possessing the proverbial eagle eye, this creature can spot a Royal Doulton pattern from 20 paces away. Eagles can be tricky to identify as they often wear the disguise of “general public,” but will give themselves away salivating over your Beanie Babies collection.

Flocks to
“I could swear I saw this exact replica on the Antiques Roadshow last week!”

Beware the expert
Cathy, a garage sale pro with dozens of sales under her moneybelt, says she finds eagles the most frustrating creatures to deal with, especially when they’re looking to cash in at the expense of unsuspecting vendors.

Unfortunately, Cathy learned about eagles the hard way at a family garage sale. Her brother had put out his antique glass bottle collection and a collector snatched it up, paying only 10 cents per bottle. “He asked if we knew how much they were worth,” says Cathy, who later saw similar bottles in an antique store being sold for $25 to $30 apiece. “Of course we didn’t, nor did he tell us.”

Cathy says eagles are easy to spot because they’re usually part of the early crowd and will inquire about items they’re interested in—usually antiques and collectibles such as Donny and Marie Osmond dolls in their original packaging. “They don’t have time to browse or beat around the bush,” says Cathy. “They’re trying to hit as many sales as they can because this is their business.”

Cathy recommends monitoring this bird’s flight patterns and movements. “If I see a collector spending a lot of time looking at an object, I might put it aside to be ap-praised later. They may not like it and give you a hard time, but you have the right to take something off the table if you’ve underestimated the value of it.”

The flock of gulls

Distinctive characteristics
These migratory creatures are hard to miss due to the sheer number of them, confirming the adage that birds of a feather stick together. They may be grouped according to sex (all-female varieties are popular) or habitat (neighbours and religious communities). They travel together for convenience, camaraderie and occasionally, discounts. These wheeler-dealers know that by buying multiple items—especially stuff you’re eager to get rid of—they’re in a better position to haggle: “Instead of 50 cents a book, we’ll give you $10 for the whole box of them!” They can often be seen dividing up the carcass in the driveway.

Flocks to
“We’ve got something for everyone. Cheap, cheap, cheap!”

Handling swarms
Marilyn was hosting a large sale several years ago when she was suddenly distracted from her duties by the sound of a vehicle approaching.

“I saw this van coming up my driveway and watched as the doors blew open like it contained a SWAT team,” she says, recalling the spectacle. “I was surprised when a group of seniors jumped out.”

Although often harmless, a large group can easily overwhelm vendors and sometimes shortchange them. In Marilyn’s case, members of this flock took turns distracting her by asking about chipped coffee mugs while others paid her befuddled young son far less than they should have.

“Most people are honest, but then you get those few who aren’t,” says Marilyn. She’s learned that while the children are eager to discover their inner Donald Trump, giving them smaller jobs allows the vendor to focus on making, not losing, money. “Let the kids sell something such as their toys and keep track of the large ticket items yourself.”

The vulture

Distinctive characteristics
This bird of prey can smell a dying garage sale from blocks away. It circles neighbourhoods in the late afternoon, swooping down on innocent vendors who are closing up shop. While it may appear to be at the bottom of the pecking order, a vulture purposely arrives last. Its intent is to prey on the tired and defenceless, hoping it’ll get a better deal from those just wanting to be rid of their leftover junk, such as broken stereos and that edible underwear you got at your stagette.

Flocks to
“Oh, don’t bother giving me any money, just take it. I’m glad to be rid of it.”

Bargaining last minute
“They’re definitely the scavengers of the group,” says Cheryl, who has effectively dealt with many vultures in the dozens of sales she’s put on. “You’re packing your stuff up in boxes and they’re taking it back out. It’s not that they’re trying to cause trouble. I think it’s just a combination of wanting a deal and being poky.”

At the end of the day, their cheap offers may seem tempting if you haven’t sold everything, but don’t feel as if you have to give away the farm for just a few beans. “Determine beforehand what you want out of your sale, especially when it comes to making money,” says Cheryl. “And don’t allow yourself to be swayed by others’ demands. Otherwise, you’ll be doing a lot of work for nothing.”

It is extremely important to remember that just because garage sales are a cottage industry, your house or property should be respected, she says. “The crowds come and it is easy to forget that this is where you live,” says Cheryl. “Know your boundaries and protect them, because it is, after all, your home.” And the last thing you want is a scene straight out of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds—with demented birds on a frenzied rampage—besides, that’s what Wal-Mart is for.

How to clean house

So, now that you know whom to watch for, how do you make the most of the event? Roberta Dalman is an antique dealer and garage sale aficionado in Kingston, Ont., who’s furnished her home with garage sale finds. Having worked both sides of the table, she shares some of her expert tips:

· Splurge on ads
Advertise your sale in the local newspaper and list any big items you’re selling. This will help attract the hard-core garage sale goers. You may want to include these items, especially furniture and electronics, on your street signs as well.
· Ask for help
If you have a lot to sell, make sure you have help. Invite extended family, friends and neighbours to join in by bringing items they can sell, too. Multi-family sales are popular with diehards because they have a better chance of finding good buys.
· Ditch the duds
Clothing isn’t a big seller, with the exception of vintage items from the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. Make sure items are clean, of good quality and clearly priced.
· Start high
Be prepared to barter over price—it’s part of the game. And if you want a certain amount for a good item, price it a bit higher so that you have some room to play with. You’ll have a better chance of getting the amount you really want.
· Please parents
Put out a box marked “Free Stuff,” including toys that kids can pick out. Parents are more likely to buy something if their chickadees are happy because they have a “new” toy.

Garage sale signs are like bird feeders: if you want to attract all kinds of birds, put one out. I learned this two summers ago while co-hosting a sale with my parents. Drunk on dollar-sign dreams of unloading tchotchkes and ABBA albums, I became enchanted by all the loonies—the coins and the customers—that rolled in.

I’m not saying garage sale goers are crazy, just unique, like Trekkies. They are devoted to their “art” in ways that baffle the uninitiated. And while they have a common cause—the ultimate in recycling—this group can be categorized by individual characteristics such as plumage (Bermuda shorts, trucker hats), markings (Tim Hortons coffee cup in hand, pockets bulging with small change) and distinct calls (“I’ll give you two bits for this”).

By the end of the day, I had identified and haggled with five distinct types of garage sale goers. So, for anyone thinking of hosting a garage, yard or street sale this summer, I give you this field guide with tips on how to attract and handle these crazy ol’ birds. Use it wisely while hawking your wares and you’ll be chirping all the way to the bank.

The rooster

Distinctive characteristics
This early bird is often the first to appear at a sale, hoping to get not only the worm but pay the lowest price possible for it. Roosters may also go by other names, such as “retiree” or “cottager,” and are used to getting up at the crack of dawn. They often have interesting tresses or “combs” (as in comb-overs or backcombed hair) and distinguishing marks such as black socks worn with beach sandals. They use old-fashioned currency terms such as “Here’s a copper.” The rooster’s appearance at a sale is usually swift and brief. Then it will take off in its car, which is either blocking your driveway or parked on the wrong side of the street.

Flocks to
“I’m selling everything including the kitchen sink—once I’m done using it, that is.”

Dust off one-of-a-kind items
Karen, a seasoned garage sale host, has had many a wake-up call from roosters knocking on her door well before the 8 a.m. start time. She’s even known them to come calling the night before. “These people show up hoping to get the first bite,” says Karen, “but they’re more likely to get a few tongue-lashings when they’re that early.”

Karen says roosters are always pecking around for one-of-a-kind items. She ought to know, she adds, because her husband is a rooster. He often brings home unusual garage sale finds, which once included a toilet and a wooden TV cabinet, which he later converted into an aquarium (both these items subsequently ended up in her own garage sales). Karen also knows roosters do their cock-a-doodle-dooing with excuses such as, “I have to go out of town later. Can I look at your stuff now?”

“I always tell them to come back when we’re open,” says Karen. She suggests putting your needs, such as preparing for the day and setting up, ahead of those of the early birds. “And don’t be afraid to be firm with these people, because some of them can get really aggressive.”

If, however, you have things under control and want to give the rooster first dibs on your goods, hold firm on your price. You might be able to get more money for an item later in the day, says Karen. “And don’t give them coffee. You’re just encouraging them to show up early on someone else’s doorstep.”

The magpie

Distinctive characteristics
This species is drawn to shiny objects such as electronics, housewares and antiques, especially when accompanied by low price tags and fascinating hand-me-down stories. The magpie may have colourful plumage, thanks to “vintage” garage sale finds such as mothball-scented K-Way jackets and muumuus. If approached correctly, the magpie will add Aunt Clarice’s hip waders to its collection. Often chatty, this harmless scavenger is always on the hunt for a great bargain that it can crow about for years to come.

Flocks to
“This mirror belonged to Snow White’s evil stepmother. Honest.”

Be a storyteller
Any magpie will tell you it just can’t resist the opportunity to turn someone else’s junk into its own treasure. “I’m like a cartoon character when I find a great deal,” says Shelley, who spends summer days on the hunt for garage sales. “My eyes roll back in my head and all I can think is mine, mine, mine!”

“For me, half the thrill of garage ‘saling’ is the bargain, and the other half is the story that goes with it,” says Shelley. She’s been lured into buying clothing, dinnerware and lamps after being romanced by a seller’s tales (e.g., “I found this piece when I fell into a crevasse while I was hiking through Nepal”). Shelley’s interest in an item increases even more when a host takes the time to talk about an object (e.g., “This Hot Wheels car has been in the family for centuries”). “It doesn’t have to be a big fancy schmancy story,” says Shelley. “I just like knowing the item has a history.”

The eagle

Distinctive characteristics
A great hunter, the eagle may also go by such names as “professional collector” or “antique dealer.” The eagle often has a working knowledge of Collectibles Quarterly and can be pushy upon encountering an object that will make a profit on EBay. Possessing the proverbial eagle eye, this creature can spot a Royal Doulton pattern from 20 paces away. Eagles can be tricky to identify as they often wear the disguise of “general public,” but will give themselves away salivating over your Beanie Babies collection.

Flocks to
“I could swear I saw this exact replica on the Antiques Roadshow last week!”

Beware the expert
Cathy, a garage sale pro with dozens of sales under her moneybelt, says she finds eagles the most frustrating creatures to deal with, especially when they’re looking to cash in at the expense of unsuspecting vendors.

Unfortunately, Cathy learned about eagles the hard way at a family garage sale. Her brother had put out his antique glass bottle collection and a collector snatched it up, paying only 10 cents per bottle. “He asked if we knew how much they were worth,” says Cathy, who later saw similar bottles in an antique store being sold for $25 to $30 apiece. “Of course we didn’t, nor did he tell us.”

Cathy says eagles are easy to spot because they’re usually part of the early crowd and will inquire about items they’re interested in—usually antiques and collectibles such as Donny and Marie Osmond dolls in their original packaging. “They don’t have time to browse or beat around the bush,” says Cathy. “They’re trying to hit as many sales as they can because this is their business.”

Cathy recommends monitoring this bird’s flight patterns and movements. “If I see a collector spending a lot of time looking at an object, I might put it aside to be ap-praised later. They may not like it and give you a hard time, but you have the right to take something off the table if you’ve underestimated the value of it.”

The flock of gulls

Distinctive characteristics
These migratory creatures are hard to miss due to the sheer number of them, confirming the adage that birds of a feather stick together. They may be grouped according to sex (all-female varieties are popular) or habitat (neighbours and religious communities). They travel together for convenience, camaraderie and occasionally, discounts. These wheeler-dealers know that by buying multiple items—especially stuff you’re eager to get rid of—they’re in a better position to haggle: “Instead of 50 cents a book, we’ll give you $10 for the whole box of them!” They can often be seen dividing up the carcass in the driveway.

Flocks to
“We’ve got something for everyone. Cheap, cheap, cheap!”

Handling swarms
Marilyn was hosting a large sale several years ago when she was suddenly distracted from her duties by the sound of a vehicle approaching.

“I saw this van coming up my driveway and watched as the doors blew open like it contained a SWAT team,” she says, recalling the spectacle. “I was surprised when a group of seniors jumped out.”

Although often harmless, a large group can easily overwhelm vendors and sometimes shortchange them. In Marilyn’s case, members of this flock took turns distracting her by asking about chipped coffee mugs while others paid her befuddled young son far less than they should have.

“Most people are honest, but then you get those few who aren’t,” says Marilyn. She’s learned that while the children are eager to discover their inner Donald Trump, giving them smaller jobs allows the vendor to focus on making, not losing, money. “Let the kids sell something such as their toys and keep track of the large ticket items yourself.”

The vulture

Distinctive characteristics
This bird of prey can smell a dying garage sale from blocks away. It circles neighbourhoods in the late afternoon, swooping down on innocent vendors who are closing up shop. While it may appear to be at the bottom of the pecking order, a vulture purposely arrives last. Its intent is to prey on the tired and defenceless, hoping it’ll get a better deal from those just wanting to be rid of their leftover junk, such as broken stereos and that edible underwear you got at your stagette.

Flocks to
“Oh, don’t bother giving me any money, just take it. I’m glad to be rid of it.”

Bargaining last minute
“They’re definitely the scavengers of the group,” says Cheryl, who has effectively dealt with many vultures in the dozens of sales she’s put on. “You’re packing your stuff up in boxes and they’re taking it back out. It’s not that they’re trying to cause trouble. I think it’s just a combination of wanting a deal and being poky.”

At the end of the day, their cheap offers may seem tempting if you haven’t sold everything, but don’t feel as if you have to give away the farm for just a few beans. “Determine beforehand what you want out of your sale, especially when it comes to making money,” says Cheryl. “And don’t allow yourself to be swayed by others’ demands. Otherwise, you’ll be doing a lot of work for nothing.”

It is extremely important to remember that just because garage sales are a cottage industry, your house or property should be respected, she says. “The crowds come and it is easy to forget that this is where you live,” says Cheryl. “Know your boundaries and protect them, because it is, after all, your home.” And the last thing you want is a scene straight out of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds—with demented birds on a frenzied rampage—besides, that’s what Wal-Mart is for.

How to clean house

So, now that you know whom to watch for, how do you make the most of the event? Roberta Dalman is an antique dealer and garage sale aficionado in Kingston, Ont., who’s furnished her home with garage sale finds. Having worked both sides of the table, she shares some of her expert tips:

· Splurge on ads
Advertise your sale in the local newspaper and list any big items you’re selling. This will help attract the hard-core garage sale goers. You may want to include these items, especially furniture and electronics, on your street signs as well.
· Ask for help
If you have a lot to sell, make sure you have help. Invite extended family, friends and neighbours to join in by bringing items they can sell, too. Multi-family sales are popular with diehards because they have a better chance of finding good buys.
· Ditch the duds
Clothing isn’t a big seller, with the exception of vintage items from the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. Make sure items are clean, of good quality and clearly priced.
· Start high
Be prepared to barter over price—it’s part of the game. And if you want a certain amount for a good item, price it a bit higher so that you have some room to play with. You’ll have a better chance of getting the amount you really want.
· Please parents
Put out a box marked “Free Stuff,” including toys that kids can pick out. Parents are more likely to buy something if their chickadees are happy because they have a “new” toy.