A Classy and Complete Guide to Yard Sales
The season is here, so get ready to tackle the tacky and chaotic world of putting your life on the line (and out on the folding table) just to clean out the garage and maybe earn enough money to buy the family some pizza.
When you think of things uniquely American, chances are yard sales wouldn’t come to mind. But they were born and raised in this country, and some say started in New England shipyards.
“It’s just not something people do in other places,” says Patty Ledoux of Nashua, who gives talks about yard and estate sales in the state. She recalled a story about a German exchange student staying in New Hampshire, who asked his host why so many people bring their clothes out on the front lawn on the weekends?
“Maybe it’s because we collect more stuff than other countries, or maybe it’s because we don’t feel any embarrassment about letting people into our yards and our homes to see and purchase things we don’t need or use anymore,” she says. In many ways, “yard sale-ing” is entrepreneurship on a micro level.
In fact, the concept dates back to the 19th century when American shipyards (especially in New England) would off-load unclaimed cargo and sell it at cut-rate prices for quick cash. These were called rummage sales from the French word arrumage, meaning the arrangement of cargo on a ship.
By the late 19th century and early 20th century, those rummage sales were held in churches and town halls, then moved to front lawns and garages by the middle of the 20th century when — thanks to the GI Bill — Americans flocked to affordable suburban housing.
Ledoux, a baby boomer herself, was raised in the business. Her great uncle sold vintage items and her mother was one of the first professional women antique dealers in the state. “I learned from the ground up, going to yard and estate sales and auctions since I was a baby,” she says.
“In New Hampshire, yard and estate sales are a passion,” she says. “It’s not just about the bargains, although that’s a big part of it, but it’s about the hunt, the surprise of what you might find. It’s adventurous shopping.”
Ledoux says while yard and estate sales have changed with the advent of websites like eBay and Craigslist, and television programs like “The Antiques Roadshow,” making it less likely to find a treasure in the rough, it still happens.
“Everyone is looking for that big find — that hidden treasure,” she says.
We’ve all heard the stories. Rick Norsigian, the man who went to a yard sale in Fresno, California, bought a box of old glass negatives for $45 that appeared to be negatives from Ansel Adams’ Yosemite Park series worth millions, and gamer Rob Walters, who paid $50 for a box of Nintendo games at a New York garage sale, which he sold for $50,000.
It happened to Ledoux too. “In the ’90s, I paid 50 cents for a little piece of paper I found at a yard sale in Hudson,” she says. It turned out to be a ticket to the first official World Series game between the Boston Americans and the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1903. She sold the ticket for $4,000 and was able to pay her son’s college tuition for the semester with the profit.
Traditionally, the chances of finding the these treasures were limited to warm months in New Hampshire — yard sale season here runs roughly from late April to late September. But that has changed too.
The new trend is online yard sales — a way in which to keep the adventure going throughout the year. There are several Facebook yard sale sites in the state, including Southern NH Yard Sales, New Hampshire Online Yard Sales and Concord NH Yard Sale, started by Kyle Battis of Concord.
Battis, 38, runs an online marketing company, but decided to start the Facebook site last year just to see what would happen.
“I spend a lot of time online. A friend of mine started a similar Facebook page in Ohio. People just loved it, so I started this on a whim. I couldn’t believe how quickly it took off,” says Battis. “We’re up to 1,700 followers.”
Online yard sales work in several ways, explains Battis. It’s a place to post real, grass and driveway yard sales in the Concord area, as well as a place for people to put up items they’d like to sell — like Craigslist, but less risky. “It doesn’t cast as wide a net,” he says. “There’s less bartering and with a more visible presence.” Because they’re in the area, chances are you know the buyer or know their Facebook friends.
Battis doesn’t profit from the Facebook site, and sees it and other such sites as a community service. He says it’s a good platform to put the word out about neighborhood fundraisers and events as well as a place to buy and sell. In fact, while he’s been on the lookout for a 1980s Optimus Prime toy he had as a child, he has never bought anything on the site.
Yard Sale-ing: A Granite State Primer
Bring the lettuce, not the plastic. It’s a yard sale. Carry cash, including dollar bills and some coin. Don’t expect someone having a yard sale to take a credit card or accept a personal check — especially if you’re picking up items from the $1 table. Chances are good there’s an ATM machine within a five-minute drive for higher-priced items.
Please don’t trample the daisies. This may be an informal sale, but it’s still someone’s home. Don’t ravage the hydrangeas so you can call dibs on that olive green fondue set or leave your empty Dunkie’s cup on the toddler toy table. This is someone’s home. And for heaven’s sake, don’t park in front of the neighbors’ driveways even if you think you’re just going to have a quick look around.
There’s tacky and there’s tactful. Just because the seller has decided to part with the seashell mirror grandma made doesn’t mean they want to hear you call it “hideous.” This is people’s stuff. No matter what price tag they have on it, they valued it enough to keep it in their home all these years. And when you’re bargaining (more on that later), don’t insult the owner by saying no one else would ever want it.
Tag. Tag. Tag. Our experts say it’s madness not to price your items ahead of time for a lot of reasons. If you’re having a rush — and that happens at the beginning of most sales — you won’t have the time to consider the right price or you’re leaving it up to your 10 year old who is helping out to come up with what she thinks is the right amount to charge for that vintage Chanel purse. Two dollars? That seems fair.
Don’t over-price. Remember, say our experts, the object is to get rid of the items, not to drag them back into the house, and the best way to do this is not price too high. A good rule of thumb is to never charge any more than say a Christmas Tree Shop or Big Lots.
Take only cash and no checks — evah. Too many people have been burned by bad checks. Keep it clean, and only take cash. If someone sees an item they like — let’s say that leather couch — but doesn’t have the cash in hand, take at least half for a deposit and set a deadline for when they can come back, usually no longer than two hours. Never mark the item sold until it’s sold in full.
Never let people in your home. Whether it’s an adorable tot holding hands with his mother or a granny who is crossing her legs, don’t let anyone use your bathroom (even to try on clothes), phone or anything else inside your house. In fact, it’s best if you keep your wallet inside and your doors locked during the sale. Your cash for change should be in an apron you’re wearing and not in a shoebox that can easily be absconded with.
Watch out for sticky fingers. Unauthorized acquisition is not all that uncommon at yard and estate sales even with the bargain basement prices. While the majority of people passing through your yard are wonderful, upstanding folk, there will be that person who can’t resist the urge to stuff that $1 Olaf figurine in the $10 beach bag they’re buying.
FREE WEBSITES AND APPS
Garagesalefinder.com, Yardsalesearch.com, GSalr.com and Craigslist are all great websites for yard sale shoppers and sellers looking to cast a wide net. You can plan out your shopping route; get directions and details of what’s for sale all with the click of a mouse.
Yard Sale Treasure Map app for Apple iOS and Android combines Craigslist garage sale listings and Google map locations in one to make it easy peasy to map a shopping route. Narrow your search by time, neighborhood or even stuff you’re looking for, like lawn furniture. If you’re running a sale, you can list it on this app by creating a yard sale site on Craigslist.
A SALE BY ANY OTHER NAME
There are almost as many names for these external retail events as there are harvest-gold crock pots and macramé owls. Whatever you call it, the idea is the same: One person’s clamshell ashtray is another person’s Hope diamond.
So call it a yard sale, garage sale, barn sale, fire sale, penny sale, rummage sale, tag sale, moving sale or, if you’re a skier, you can act it out by taking a tumble and flinging your gear and clothing down the hill.
Estate sale – Called a tag sale in some parts of the country, it’s a way of liquidating the belongings of a family or estate because of death or relocation. These are usually much more than garage or yard sales and often take place throughout an entire home.
White elephant sale – A collection of used items usually sold by a nonprofit or charitable organization as a fundraiser.
Early bird (avitium odiosus) – They’re the ones who arrive early, say 7 or 8 a.m., for a sale that isn’t scheduled to begin until 9. Often a pushy lot, many of them are dealers searching for underpriced items they can resell at their group shop, flea market or on eBay.
Squatter – Somebody who holds a yard sale on property other than their own. They’re often on turnouts on highways. Caveat emptor.
Town or group yard sales – For the committed yard-salers, it’s not the journey, it’s the destination. Why spend a day driving around when you can concentrate on a particular locale? And nothing cuts down on travel like a town-wide or group yard sale. On May 16, Meredith holds its 20th annual community yard sale. About 50 sellers are expected to participate. The Town of Plymouth will hold its 19th annual town yard sale on Sept. 12. For the past 34 years the employees of Yankee (Magazine) Inc. and area residents hold a barn sale the last Saturday in July at Yankee Field on Rte. 101 in Dublin. The Warner Historical Society runs a barn sale Tuesdays from 1 p.m.-4 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon, starting in May and culminating on Columbus Day weekend during the Warner Foliage Festival. Check listings to find out more coming up this year.
Perpetual yard sale – You can usually spot them on busy roads, their tables covered with tarps during the week. A permanent yard sale sign of metal or wood is another giveaway. Their goods have been picked over and rarely offer any real treats.
KEEPING IT HONEST
Some town and cities require permits for yard sales. In Manchester a $5 permit is necessary to set up shop — only two a year are allowed. You may download an application at Manchester nh.gov. The City of Concord also requires a $5 permit and you may purchase as many as four a year. They are available at city hall on Green Street. It’s best to find out at your town or city hall if needed before you conduct a sale.
Tales From the Yard
Note: “Tales from the yard” quotations were submitted by readers via Facebook.
"I now wear a ring my husband bought with a quarter given to him by his mother when he was 8 years old so he would go entertain himself while she shopped. He bought her a ring. It turned out it was a real onyx and diamond. She wore it every day for more than 30 years. When it was returned to him, he gave it to me. I have worn it daily ever since."
"We went to a garage sale and saw a bunch of paintings stacked together. One of them we recognized as a Wallace Nutting print. We bought it for $1. We knew it was worth more than that, but were surprised to find it was worth more than $100. Marian, from Milford
I saw a flow blue pitcher at a yard sale selling for 25 cents! I thought I had really scored, but then I saw the chip. Instead of big bucks, It’s just worth $30. Still better than 25 cents. Another time I found an antique cheese basket. I bought it for $5 and sold it for $25. I found out later I could have gotten way more than that, maybe even $100."
-Barbara, from Manchester
"I was browsing when I saw a lamp with a bunch of giant asparagus — asparagii? — as the base. I had to have it and would fetch it when I was done since I had just arrived. When I made it back, of course it was gone. Someone must have seen it and snapped it up. Maybe they lost the asparagus lamp of their dreams too and vowed not to make the same mistake twice. I’ve never spotted another. And even if I did, I might not buy it because it would never match up to my ideal of the asparagus lamp that could have been."
-Lisa, from Lebanon
Have your own interesting find or tale from the yard? Let us know in the comments!
Stories that Make Yard-salers Drool: 11 All-Time Great Finds
From “Antiques Roadshow” on PBS:
- A modest-looking table that was picked up at a yard sale for $25 sold at auction for more than $500,000. It was a rare 18th-century piece.
- An old jug and another piece of pottery were bought at a yard sale for $50. In 2012, the jug was valued at $100,000-$150,000.
- Two small landscape paintings cost the purchaser $35 at a yard sale. They’re appraised for $60,00-$100,000.
- A mirror bought at a yard sale for $2 turned out to be a Tiffany, worth $25,000.
- From The Fiscal Times, digital news service:
- When a man was re-framing a painting he bought at a yard sale for $5, he found a sketch inside drawn by Andy Warhol when he was 10 years old. He sold it for $2 million.
- A stock certificate for Palmer Oil Co. was bought by a man at a yard sale for $5. Palmer Oil Co. was a predecessor company to Coca-Cola. The certificate sold for $130 million.
- A family bought a bowl at a yard sale for $3. Experts found it was a rare, 1,000-year-old bowl from the Northern Song Dynasty. It was worth $200,000-$300,000.
- A man bought a box of video games for $50; he sold them for $50,000.
- A record collector spent 75 cents for a Velvet Underground record that turned out to be an acetate copy of the group’s first album. It sold for $155,000.
- A denim jacket was sold at a yard sale for $20. Unfortunately, the owner had put a pair of diamond earrings, worth $18,000, in the pocket for safekeeping.
- Oh, one last story that yard-salers always hear about. Pretty sure it’s true, though we can’t say for certain. A man bought a picture frame at a yard sale for $4. When he was taking the picture out of it, he found a copy of the Declaration of Independence behind it. It sold at auction for $2 million.