A while ago, I wrote an article for GameCola detailing the lessons I learned throughout 2012 about gaming inexpensively. Checking deal sites, hitting up clearance sales, that sort of thing. I also mentioned hitting up garage sales, but to be perfectly honest, I only had a passing acquaintance with both of those. This past summer, however, I got serious about cheaply collecting games for myself and MAGFest and decided to commit myself to going to yard sales. I’ve had some success, some failures, but overall I’ve learned a lot, so to help those of you who might be interested, I’ve collected a few of the lessons I’ve learned here, interspersed with some rants.
- The Early Bird Gets the Worm, but Is Also an ASSHOLE: There’s a class of yard-salers out there known as “the early bird”—people who get to yard sales super early. I’m not talking about arriving right when they start, but instead anywhere between 30 minutes to three hours ahead of time. Hell, if you post the address to your yard sale early, some might even stop by the night before. These people are the worst. They will do anything and everything to get what they came to the sale for and care nothing for their fellow human beings. If you go to yard sales, be prepared to deal with these wastes of space, especially if you’re looking for older games like I am. They’re especially prevalent in areas with lots of flea markets like southeast Baltimore City and Baltimore County, where they’ll go around scooping up items at yard sales only to turn around and try to hawk them at the flea market hours later.
- eBay Is NOT Your Friend: I go to yard sales because I’m looking for deals on things that are hard me to fit into my budget. Sure, I could go online and buy up all the things I’d like for my collection, but it’s expensive and I enjoy the challenge of searching. That’s why it pisses me off to no end when I go to a yard sale, ask for a price, and someone says, “Well, on eBay…” As a customer, you have a couple of choices at this point. You can try to haggle with them, but this is probably only worthwhile if it’s something you really want. Maybe you continue browsing, in the hope that they didn’t individually price everything. Or you can just walk away, which might be the better tactic should there be other yard sales you want to hit up. In some cases, it can be worthwhile to come back later after the reality shatters their online seller aspersions. SIDE RANT: A yard sale is NOT eBay. If you want what an item sells for on eBay, then sell it on eBay. Oh, you don’t want to deal with shipping and fees and setting everything up? Well, guess what, THAT’S WHY YOU’RE NOT GETTING THE EBAY PRICE. eBay offers a relatively safe buying experience where you can have almost anything in the world delivered to your door. Yard sales require you to put in the legwork to go to a random stranger’s house, search through their junk, and potentially walk away with nothing. That extra effort is then funneled into the offer I make. Same thing goes for people selling things on Craigslist: you don’t get the eBay price unless you’re selling things on eBay.
- Demographics Are Your Friend: On Saturdays I volunteer at the local animal shelter, so I usually only have two or three hours to go yard saling. As such, I try to plan out my route for maximum efficacy. I used to (and still do, to a certain extent) plan a route based on sales I saw on Craigslist, but it can be quite the trek to go to two yard sales 30 miles apart. Also, if people are advertising video games, you can bet that there will probably be a person already at that second yard sale by the time you get there, so there’s no point. So, what do you do? Find a yard sale that looks promising in an area that’s also promising, e.g. a middle-to-upper-class neighborhood. Classist? Definitely. But hey, you can feel superior to rich people by buying their stuff at a fraction at what they did, thereby reinforcing the inability of their worldly possessions to bring them happiness, so huzzah!
- Estate Sales Are Creepy, but Worth It: Estate sales most often take place when someone has died and the family or the state is selling off their stuff. Sometimes it’s just a garage worth of items; sometimes it’s an entire mansion. It’s a little creepy either way, as you’re basically getting to see this entire person’s life as told through their possessions. They can feel rather intimate because of this, and OH MAN can you find some good stuff there. Sellers at estate sales just want to see the stuff leave, so you can also get really great prices, which really help you deal with the morbidity of it all.
- Little Old Asian Ladies (LOALs) Are TERRIFYING: Every week I either see a little old Asian lady buying or selling at a yard sale, and the result is always the same—frustration and sadness for the other party. They are natural hagglers and will work you until they get the price that they want. You cannot assuage the LOAL; she will speak over you and will make many points about the quality of the item. Your only tactic with the LOAL is to give a firm “no” and to walk away. They are the Great White Sharks of the yard saling ocean, and everyone else is but a snack to them.
- You Will Make Enemies: I have a nemesis now. Another yard-saler that’s an unrepentant early bird and reseller who is after video games, most of all Super Nintendo games. I hate him, and it is one of my greatest fears that I will become like him someday. This is one of the harsh realities of yard saling. You’ll start to recognize people in the area that show up, and you’ll start to figure out who’s after what. It’s possible to keep things civil—for instance, I recently had a really good experience where a couple other guys and I politely chatted while picking through a box of games. But then there are people out there like my nemesis—people only concerned with getting as much as they can for themselves, and in those situations it’s either you or them. It can be rather unsettling if you’re not used to a highly competitive field, but it can also be a good way to toughen yourself up a bit.
So there you go, a little glimpse into the world of yard saling. Despite the downsides, it’s still fun for me, and I really enjoy the treasure-hunting aspect of it. I try to keep myself grounded by the fact that I won’t rip anyone off too badly (if I see an old lady with a copy of Stadium Events, I’m going to give her a heads-up). Plus I like to look for things to give to and/or share with my friends, so I think that earns me a bit of good karma. As we get into autumn the yard sales will slow down, and I’ll probably take some time to reflect on my experience and see if I think it’s worth doing again next year. Still, it’s pretty fun for now, and as long as I don’t bother Vangie too much with the things I bring home, I think I’ll keep doing it for a while.