🖤 Donations of all sizes power our public service journalism Give Now

Getting thrifty at garage sales

Marketplace Staff May 1, 2009

Getting thrifty at garage sales

Marketplace Staff May 1, 2009


TESS VIGELAND: I don’t know if Alana’s ever had to answer questions from a wife who wants to hold a yard sale and a husband who doesn’t want anyone near his Bermuda grass…But, those yard and garage sales are a good way to make a quick buck in a recession. We sent Cash Peters to find out what’s selling on those rickety plastic tables.

Cash Peters: OK, so we know these are tough times. And in tough times you have to do anything you can to make money, right?

Suzie Rosito: People are learning how to save things and reuse things and recycling.

That’s Suzie Rosito. I met her at a yard sale in Burbank. Danielle Sost’s driveway was jammed with a whole bunch of stuff she couldn’t wait to get rid of.

Danielle Sost: We’re having a big party for my son coming up, and I’m not working right now, so I’m thinking, “Well, how am I going to pay for this?” So I’m having a garage sale. Last year I had one I made $500.

Peters: Is there any chance I’ll find something valuable here that you’ve overlooked?

Sost: I have some Beanie babies. I don’t know if you know what those are.

Peters: I was thinking more of a Renoir, really.

Sost: Oh, no, no, no, no.

It’s true, though, a lot of the time the value items at garage sales are, you know, low-end. Broken espresso machines, Scrabble sets with all the H’s missing, and American flag that flashes on and off. But people love it.

Peters: Why are you here?

WOMAN 1: It’s fun.

Peters: But it’s rummaging through other people’s old stuff?

WOMAN 1: What’s your point?…Ever since I was the little girl, my father would take me to garage sales, estate sales, and I never purchase anything new. It’s always used.

Peters: Some might call you cheap.

Woman 1: No, not really.

Oh, I think they might. Occasionally, of course, you find a true bargain.

Woman 2: You can buy furniture that they’ve bought at Pier 1 Imports where they paid $100 for it and will sell it for $5. The garage sale is the new thing. I think it’s going to become a new way of life now, just like thrift stores, because people are really trying to save money.

That’s right, they are. Of course, what you’re really looking for are priceless family heirlooms, preferably being sold by a dopey owner who doesn’t realize he’s sitting on a fortune. Stanford Cohen of Estate Sales LA is a high-end estate sale expert, but he’s found many overlooked gems at garage sales.

Stanford Cohen: I often see Barbie dolls from the 1960s, I see Matchbox cars from when I was a little boy. And I see that they have them priced for 50 cents. Yes I will buy that.

Peters: Then what do you do with them?

Cohen: I put them on Ebay.

Of course you do. Smart man. Anyway, first rule of garage or estate sales: if you want the good stuff, be an early bird. Danielle:

Sost: As soon as 6 a.m. rolls around, you pull the garage up and put everything out and everyone’s all into it. Everybody goes through your stuff like piranhas. There was a guy out here 6 a.m., waiting for us to open and wanted to buy all of our CDs.

People are crazy. Second rule of garage sales: know your stuff. Because it’s not just ordinary guys like us you’re competing with here. Sherrie Barnett is Pasadena’s garage sale queen, and she often finds art experts in her yard, operating undercover. They’re called “Pickers.” And if there’s a Renoir in among your Indiana Jones posters, trust me they’ll spot it.

Sherrie Barnett: There are people who come with scanners. They scan barcodes. And, you know, they’re carrying their personal computers, they’re carrying their iPhones…

Peters: There’s a lot of professional scavengers?

Barnett: There are definitely professional scavengers.

Cohen: Pickers are individuals that are very, very knowledgeable. Pickers go to thrift stores, they go to garage sales, they go to estate sales. A lot of people who are out there look for that vintage Gucci purse or the Louis Vuitton suitcase.

Peters: Are they hoping you didn’t spot it?

Cohen: Absolutely.

Something I spotted at Sherrie’s garage sale was a baseball cap with the Turner Classic Movies on the front. Oh, a real Hollywood artifact, I thought. Actually, the logo wasn’t the only thing on it. It was covered in cat hair. Rule three: spot a bargain? Be prepared to haggle.

Peters: How much for the Turner Classic Movies hat?

WOMAN 2: With or without the cat hair?

Peters: Well, are you prepared to spend half an hour stripping the cat hair off it?

Woman 2: Alright, we’ll make you a special deal for that hat with or without the cat hair.

Peters: Special meaning free?

Woman 2: I could do that.

Well, come on, who else is going to buy it? Lastly, though, you’d think, given that all these people are scavenging week after week for hidden gems, that there’d be no hidden gems left. Wrong. There’s always something, though usually you’ll find them in the bigger estate sales. Stanford:

Cohen: We recently had Elizabeth Taylor’s wig from Cleopatra. There were fourteen wigs and we did a fabulous house up in the Hollywood Hills. And when I saw that wig, I almost lost it.

And strangely, so did I at Danielle Sost’s sale when I turned up a rarity, I thought. A collectible Beanie baby with an American flag on it. Worth a fortune!

Sost: Some of these were sold with the American flag upside down, believe it or not, and manufactured only a few of them. I don’t know how many on the first run. But I read on the Internet that these are worth something like $3,000.

Peters: And how much is that really worth?

Sost: I don’t know, I’m selling them for $2.50.

What a bummer. I wish I’d bought the baseball cap covered in cat hair now.

In Los Angeles, I’m Cash Peters for Marketplace Money.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.