There’s no official “opening day of garage sale season”. I just made it up. Yet there is, to some extent, a season for garage sales.
Every year, in the less temperate parts of the country, when the weather starts to get warmer, Craigslist will blow up with announcements for tons of garage sales (aka yard sales).
Where I live, it came late this year. The weekend when everyone and their neighbor threw a garage sale came in late-April, and I was there.
Most people on Craigslist lie
An unfortunate truth about Craigslist is that everyone exaggerates. A collection of “hundreds” of books reveals itself as 50 books when you drive an hour to look at it, “rummage sales” are two elderly women with a card table of homemade quilts, and “huge” garage sales are rarely that.
My rule with Craigslist and garage sales is that I won’t cross the street for anything that doesn’t promise, in no ambiguous terms, that it will be worth my time. And by this I mean specific promises of tons of books (or other media), or types of books that are likely to have high value (“selling my father’s art book collection”). And even with this scrutiny, it’s a dud about 25% of the time.
When I’m out, I still give myself room to freestyle, because I always pass other sales that I pull over and give a look to. Occasionally this will lead to some big scores.
Doing the research
My usual search formula is pretty simple. I go to the “Garage Sales” page and search for “books.” The first big garage sale weekend here showed a couple dozen listings for sales with books, but only 5 that met my criteria.
- One stated the sale was hosted by “two professors” who were selling their unwanted books. No quantity specified, but professors are likely to have the most valuable books, so it went on my list.
- One promised “tons” of “metaphysical” books – a high-profit category. Books like this are one of the benefits of living in a college town.
- Yet another promised similar books, using different language: “yoga,” “natural healing,” “meditation” and the like. (This town is such a cliche it’s hilarious).
- One promised “hundreds” of books.
- One was a little more vague, stating “…forced to move. Getting rid of our entire book collection.” A “collection” could mean anything, and this was just barely enticing enough for me to put it on the list.
Garage sale #1
As much as it pains me to get up before noon, I was out the door at 6:45am to hit the first sale – the “professors” unloading their unwanted books.
The first thing I noticed was another bookseller standing over the table of books, holding a PDA and barcode scanner. I caught him literally mid-conversation with one of the people holding the sale, saying “Great, I’ll come by Monday and take a look at what you have.” I could only extrapolate from this that he had just arranged to take a look at books that the host didn’t put out for the sale. This is a favorite tactic of mine, asking if someone has more books inside that they didn’t put out, and has led to some major scores before. I was only 10 minutes late to the sale, and this bookseller had beat me to it.
I ran my “Do you have any more books inside” line by one of the hosts, and he said yes, but that he hadn’t gone through them yet and wasn’t prepared to sell them . I could now safely assume this is was what was being discussed when I arrived.
Still, the other bookseller had left behind quite a few books among the boxes that were out, and I bought 12 books, mostly on Oxford University Press.
Garage sale #2
This was the first of two promising tons of metaphysical books. I arrived to a disheveled mess, with two college-aged kids rapidly organizing a garage that clearly had not been prepared for a garage sale. I saw several disorganized stacks of books on a coffee table, and more on the floor. After quickly scanning them all, I had a stack of 15 books, mostly on yoga. A few of them were selling for $20+, so I was prepared to pay as much as $2 each (very high for garage sale prices). I was more than happy when I asked one of the hosts to name a price for the stack, and she said “How about $4?” Don’t ask me why she named such an arbitrary number. I gave her the cash and left.
Garage sale #3
This was the second sale offering books in the “new age” / “metaphysical” category. I arrived, half expecting the bookseller from the first sale would have already been everywhere one step ahead of me, but it was clear right away this collection was not picked over. There were about 7 boxes of books, and about every third book had value (a very high percentage). I piled up nearly 30 books on everything from beating cancer through nutrition to something about crystals. I paid 50 cents each, and was in and out in under 10 minutes (a very profitable less-than-10-minutes, I should add).
Garage sale #4
This was the sale I was unsure about, with the posting stating they were forced to move and were selling their “collection.” I won’t even go into details, but it was completely unfruitful. There were about 8 outdated computer books, and I didn’t stay for more than 30 seconds.
Garage sale #5
Lastly, the sale advertising “hundreds” of books. They weren’t lying about the “hundreds” part. Unfortunately, it was mostly fiction, and mostly old fiction. I did find 7 titles with value, each of them among the “classics.” I paid the host $7, and went home.
My “opening day of garage sale season” totals:
Books purchased: 64
For three hours work, I’ll call l that a pretty good return on my time (and monetary) investment.