Yard sale written with chalk on sidewalk

by Dr. Lori Verderame

An American institution, the yard sale picks up where the French flea market left off. Yard sales brought free trade to the front lawn. Initially, 1950s American suburbanites sold their wares in the self-proclaimed open-air stores measuring from the threshold to the curb.

Dr. Lori’s Yard Sale Tours

If you have watched my television programs or read my newspaper columns, you know that I regularly attend yard sales. I find valuable objects and share information. I set rules for myself and while I play by these rules, you do not have to play by them.

First, I never purchase anything from the yard sales I visit. I haggle with the yard sale hosts to get the best price for an object and when they make me an offer, I reveal my identity and tell the yard sale host the actual value of the object. I advise them to bring the valuable piece back into the house or at least, re-price it. As you probably guessed, I get many invitations to visit people’s yard sales. Don’t be surprised if I show up at your house.

Yard Sale Losses

Most hosts don’t bother to find out what their objects are worth before they schlep them out to the front lawn with price tags. In California, a painting worth $425,000 sold at a yard sale for $18. In New Jersey, a 3 million dollar Chippendale table sold at a yard sale for $35. And, I found a $5,000 platinum and diamond ring at a Pennsylvania yard sale marked with at $10 price tag. When I told the yard seller shopper what she had, she argued with me saying that I just wanted her to reduce the price. Finally, after explaining my mission to help her, she brought it back into the house.

By the time that vintage 1950s Betty Crocker cookbook makes it to the $.25 table at the yard sale, an unsuspecting yard sale host is unaware that he/she lost $74.75 on that single item. After unknowingly selling the cookbook well under its value, the yard sale host struggles to move Aunt Bessie’s antique piano stool out of the basement. The piano stool is valued at $400, but placed on the lawn with an asking price of $8. Most of us are selling our treasures for next to nothing.

Dr. Lori’s Yard Sale Tips

Yard sales are great opportunities to find values. While most people do not realize that they are losing their treasures for pennies, an informed yard sale shopper can really clean up. Here are my tips for the yard sale shopper.

Tip:  Good Condition

Make sure your yard sale purchases are in good condition. You might find a very tattered 1880s quilt, but in the world of collectible antiques that quilt is worth the same amount of money as the cloth that your son uses to wax his car. Leave objects in poor condition on the yard sale lawn.

Tip:  Parts and Packaging

If you are interested in collecting vintage games, make sure you get the original box and all of the original pieces. If you are looking at the old time Operation game at a yard sale and want to get the highest value, it must have the bread basket and the funny bone. Missing pieces from board games decrease value by 10%.

Tip:  Avoid Oddities

You would be surprised at the number of folks who bring an object to one of my appraisal events and say:  This object looks unique, so it must be valuable.

Here is the news directly from the source. It is not unique. It is odd. There is a difference. Most of the time these odd objects are the work of some relative of the yard sale seller who made old vases into lamps in his workshop. In the yard sale arena, someone’s hodge-podge craft project from old stuff is not valuable.

Tip:  No Engravings

At the yard sale, pass on engraved items. If your name is Jones and you are considering purchasing silverware with a B monogram on it, then that is probably not a bargain. Monogrammed pieces are harder to resell. But, if you are shopping at Oprah Winfrey’s yard sale and spot a monogrammed O silver spoon, now that’s a bargain because it is an item with celebrity collectible value. So, if you are in Chicago and you see Oprah in her sweatpants hosting a yard sale, make your move. That O silver spoon along with a paparazzi style photograph will bring you some cash.

Tip:  Sleep in!

There is no good reason to get up at the crack of dawn to try to beat all the other shoppers to a yard sale. When I stop by around 10:30 am, I ignore the comments that there is not much left because all the dealers were already there. In fact, you can get the best prices around 12 Noon. By 12 Noon, most yard sale hosts are exhausted; ready to call it quits. Most sellers have been up since 5 a.m. and by 12 Noon, they just don’t care what you pay for that Wedgewood cachet pot as long as you take it with you. If you sleep in, you can get a few more minutes of shut-eye and a good bargain, too.

Request an online appraisal for your yard sale items from Dr. Lori BEFORE you lose money on your front lawn.