Garage Sale Picking Tips and Tricks

You will need: Preparation, focus, and a thick pair of gloves.

Even in these rapid-fire days where everybody and their Grandma seem to be selling loot online, there are still amazing picks and good times out there. But no doubt about it, there is more competition now than just a few years ago, and it's going to get worse before it gets better.

I love a junk store, and give me a soda and some sunscreen and I could browse a flea market all day, but for my hard-earned time the best picks are always at the garage sales. Hands down. And by 'garage sales' I also mean 'yard sales' or 'tag sales'. Basically anywhere where amateurs are selling their extra possessions for cash.

Sure, you can just spot a garage sale as you're driving by, pull over, and browse. It's fun and friendly, but you are unlikely to walk away with a trunk full of gold for resale. You need strategy and you need skills. And a little luck won't hurt, either.

So here are some of the Part Time Picker's favorite tips and tricks for garage sale scores.
  • Plan where you are going to go - Once you have scoured the listings and decided on what spots you think will yield the best picks, get a map and make a plan. Keep in mind drive times and when and where you are going to get a bite to eat. 
  • Start early - The early bird gets the worm, so don't hit that snooze button on Garage Sale Picking Day. Some of these things start as early as 7am, so be there and caffeinated and ready to dig. While I think it is fine to get to a garage sale a few minutes before the official start time, some folks show up an hour early. Those people are known as "jerks" and you don't want to be associated with them.
  • Go late - The selection might not be as fresh, but you can rake in some big bulk deals (and even free stuff) by swooping in at the end.
  • Know how (and when) to haggle - I can (and will) write a much more in depth article on haggling techniques, but a few of my favorites are:
    • Carry small amounts of cash in each pocket - Something costs 7 bucks, and all you have is a fiver in your pocket? Sold. Nothing hurts your haggling game more than a fat knot of large bills.
    • Ask for the bulk deal or 'add ons' - Garage sale hosts are what we in the industry call "motivated sellers". They want this stuff to move. And the psychology of adding-on more items into the basket is often easier to swallow for them than asking for a discount.
    • Be friendly and smile - Seriously, being a nice person who politely asks for a deal is by far the most effective tool in your haggling kit. Even if you are going to try to argue your way into some savings by pointing out flaws in the merch and such, do it with a smile. 
  • Be discreet when you are researching stuff on your phone - While some folks don't care who is buying their goods, others can be pretty reluctant to sell to someone who has an obvious profit motive. By blatantly researching items on your phone, you are basically conveying that anything you are interested in purchasing could be sold for more than they are asking. 
  • Dig deep, open boxes, and look in drawers - Bring gloves and get dirty. There is some valuable, albeit dusty, stuff down in the depths. Don't be afraid to look inside everything. If it's in the sale zone, it's fair game.
  • Ask if there is more stuff inside or elsewhere - especially if you are arriving later in the day. Time and again I have had the really big score handed to me simply when I asked, "Is there, by chance, any more toys (or whatever) that haven't been put out yet?"
  • Bring your own bags and boxes - Don't count on there being bags or boxes available to hold all your loot. On more than one occasion I have purchased an entire bin of books only to have the seller tell me that they want to keep the bin. 
  • If a seller won't negotiate, give them your name and number - More recently than ever in the past, folks are overpricing their stuff at their garage sales. If this is the case and they won't listen to reason and charm, just give them your number and tell them to give you a call later in the day or tomorrow if they find they want to move their items. Once late afternoon rolls around and the crowds start to dwindle, some of these sellers will seriously reconsider your offer.
  • Stay hydrated - your body needs water so drink it. It might be a good idea to wear some sunscreen, too.
  • Have fun!

Gone Fishin': Selling Vintage Lures on eBay

I'll tell you everything I know about fishing.
Worms are gross, fish are slimy, fish hooks can hurt, boats make me nauseous, and you can easily purchase and eat tasty fish at a restaurant so I really don't need to fish if I don't want to.
Also, vintage fishing lures can sometimes sell for a lot of money online.

I once bought a tackle box full of old lures for ten bucks at a yard sale. It was stinky and dangerous and full of hooks and fishing line all tangled up. But at the bottom were a few old Heddon lures that I thought looked cool so I saved them for years and years. When I later started sorting all my junk and seeing what I could sell on eBay, I was delighted to find these things can reel in some decent dollars

Now, unfortunately I didn't have any of those ultra-rare lures that can catch you hundreds of dollars, but I put the bunch of them up on eBay and walked away with over 50 bucks. Since then, I've been careful to always check in any tackle boxes or tool boxes at every junk store or yard sale.


Another good tip to find antique fishing lures is whenever you see a fishing rod for sale, ask if there are any lures or tackle. Folks often keep the lures and hooks aside to make sure some kids doesn't accidentally get pierced.
Some brands of old lures that can be worth a bit include Heddon, Creek Chub, Shakespeare, South Bend, and Pflueger. There are also lots of smaller companies. And, of course, if the lures you snag aren't worth a ton individually, I recommend saving up a box of them to sell as a lot.


Books That Are Better for eBay than Amazon


The general principle for flipping books is pretty easy. Check your book values on Amazon and if you can make a decent profit from the picking, do just that thing. But there are exceptions to the Books-Get-Listed-On-Amazon rule. Occasionally, some books are better suited for eBay.

In general, eBay gives you a greater sales pitch opportunity for you items. With Amazon, you get to list condition and maybe add a sentence or two to describe the defects. Not much chance to make your item stand out. But with eBay, you can put up all the photos you want, throw down all kinds of related keywords, and smooth talk your way into a big sale. In exchange for this freedom to add flair, the process to get an item listed on eBay with all those enticements can take a significant amount of time. So what books are worthy of the time that it takes?

Antique and rare books: Some folks do quite well by selling there antique, collectible, rare, or autographed books on Amazon. For me, on the very rare occasion that I do I come up on an early edition or a signed copy of a popular book, I like the advantages that come with the auction format. Some quality photos of those classic illustrations or embossed cover can go a long way. A quality listing will stand out and perhaps net you a few extra impulse bids or purchases.

Books that are restricted by Amazon: Some books and movies are just straight-up blocked on Amazon, particularly if you aren't paying the $40 monthly charge to have a Pro-Merchant account. This happen most often with DVDs, and will happen even more in the future. And then there are all kinds of hurdles to selling collectible books or toys during the holidays and on and on. When I hit against this wall, I just slide those bad boys over to eBay and count my money. Those fees could have been yours, Amazon.

Weirdo art books and editions that aren't even on Amazon: Despite having over 20 million books listed on Amazon, I regularly find myself with an opportunity to pick some obscure art title or self-published monogram or zine that isn't in their database. Now, an obscure book is obscure all over, so don't expect eBay to perform miracles... but somehow these things have a way of finding their way to the right person when listed with proper connective keywords.

Lots of books on a similar subject: See the picture of those old Qabalah hardcovers up there. Two of them are available on Amazon for less then $7 each, and one of them isn't even on Amazon at all. Not really worth a pick. But the whole is worth more than the sum of the parts (or whatever that idiom is). Put them together with some tasty photos, some choice words in the subject line, and some mystical wording on Qabalah that I found with a quick online search, and someone was putting over $60 into my Paypal by the end of the week.
There is a really good blog post about selling themed lots of throwaway books on eBay over at FBA Mastery. Do not interpret my posting of this link as an endorsement for all those overpriced eBooks promoted on that site, however.

Amazon is still my go-to spot for selling books and movies. But it is not a bad idea to keep these eBay-book picking thoughts simmering on the back burner when your out there picking. Have a good time and feel free to let me know any thoughts you might have on books that belong on eBay.

Selling Books for a Penny... Now How Does That Work?


Go pick out a couple of books from the shelf that you have recently read or plan to read, scan them with your smartphone and favorite picking app, and observe the lowest 'Used' price on Amazon that other merchants are selling it for.

Yup. One cent. A lousy, measly, nearly-worthless penny! Now, why on earth would somebody sell a book on Amazon for only a cent? Aren't they losing money when you factor in the cost of picking the book and the Amazon fees? How could selling a book for a penny possibly make good business sense?

The short answer: Shipping charges... and lots of them.

I was once privileged enough to visit and get an inside look at the operation of one of these large Amazon sellers that deals in penny books. It was a huge warehouse full of shelves of books and DVDs with giant piles of mixed books and people with scanners scanning and sorting them and another room with people on computers listing them and another room for shipping. It was pretty impressive, but how is could an operation like this be sustained by penny books, I asked.

The math is actually quite simple. This operation buys books and media in bulk, and often can even get bulk books for free. I was told it costs an average of $100 for a palette of over 500 books and movies, sight unseen. So that averages to about two cents per book for the picking cost.

Now, a couple of these books are gold. It might be a rare occurrence, but all it takes is a few decent textbooks or artist monograms that can be sold for $20-30 each and the costs on the whole palette is recouped. When you're dealing in bulk like this, you only need, like, 5% of your books to be worth just a few dollars each and things can really start to get profitable. So even if two-thirds of the palette should be classified as 'penny books', enough profit is still generated from that other third to begin to cover the costs of storage and labor.

So, you're thinking, all those penny books are just the leftover chaff to be recycled. They're a liability, right? Nope, those penny books also generate profit not in the sale price, but in the leftover change from the difference between the shipping funds collected by Amazon and the actual shipping costs. And when you ship hundreds of books a day like this operation does, you can qualify for bulk shipping costs, which are much lower than even media mail.

We're talking actual shipping charges of about a buck per book. So even after Amazon fees and the costs of shipping materials like padded envelopes and labels, these penny books are bringing in a buck or two each. Do that several hundred times a day, add it to the bigger profits made from the sale of book and media that actually has value, throw in the occasional rare mega-valuable book, and you have yourself quite a thriving business.

This Amazon Forum thread about penny books from a few years back breaks down the math with some more detail, so give it a look if you still are scratching your head.

Obviously, selling books for a penny does not work for the Part Time Picker. A penny book operation requires cheap laborers, large warehouses, forklifts, and all kinds of crap I have no interest in dealing with. That doesn't sound like fun at all.

Sure, I'm happy to pocket the proceeds that come from the low costs of shipping a lightweight book, but I'm not about to base my livelihood on the principle. Don't get me wrong, I love penny books... love buying them, that is. (But then, of course, I'm paying the shipping charges too, so they are really $4 books, now aren't they.)

And since your so good at math there is no need for me to explain that books sold for a penny but using FBA results in nothing but a loss for the merchant. If you see someone selling a book for one cent with free FBA shipping, you should buy that book just to teach that idiot merchant a lesson.

Pick-tionary: BOLO - Be On the Look Out

BOLO: The acronym, not the tie.

If you spend any time perusing the internet for blogs and groups and comments about picking and flipping items on eBay and Amazon, you are no doubt going to be seeing the word BOLO being bandied about. What it means is Be On the Look Out. It originates from 1960s American Police jargon and is basically the same as an APB, or All Points Bulletin. But we're not out looking for crooks, we're looking for big picks with which to make decent dollars.

Personally, I'm not a big fan of the phrase BOLO. Maybe it's that I just don't like acronyms (although I was delighted to find that 'Scuba' is one). Perhaps the word reminds me of the hideous neckwear. Maybe seeing this phrase in all caps over and over again just gives me the willies. And, technically, shouldn't it be BOTLO? Either way, I hesitate to use it here at Part Time Picker. But I do want you to know all about it. Why?

Because when you are combing the net for picking blogs and comments and such and you come across somebody posting a BOLO, you should sit up and pay attention. BOLO posts are a great way to build your mental radar for potential picks.

The online community of eBay and Amazon sellers is very generous with sharing their tips and finds. They love to brag about the huge profit they just made on an unassuming item, as do I. While many BOLO posts are about very specific items that you may never find and shouldn't waste your time searching for, it never hurts to know. Heck, I even keep a notebook handy to keep a list of potential BOLO picks I may have otherwise overlooked.

Two Facebook groups I like to scan for BOLO posts and comments are Stay at Home Moms Selling on eBay (those moms make up a large demographic of picker blog interactions online) and Thrifting With The Boys, who have one of those preposterous cable shows that make everyone think they can get rich quick by picking antiques.

So, yeah, that's BOLO. 

The Color of Money: Selling PRISMACOLOR Pencils on eBay.

Color me slightly wealthier.

Here's an easy one that has been raking in side-cash for me for years now... big lots of colored pencils. But not just any old brand of colored pencils. I specifically seek out, pick, and flip Prismacolor pencils.

I find these things all the time and can usually get them for 10 cents each or even less. They are normally sold in sets 12, 24, 36, 64 or 132 originally (and also individually) and can be quite costly to get new at an art supply store. But, alas, once a few of the pencils from the set are used up or lost, the rest sit around a desk drawer for years. Once the long, slow path towards perceived uselessness is complete, they are donated to a thrift store or left in a box at a garage sale or just thrown away.

After all, who would want to spend a couple quarters on eight or nine random colored pencils? You, that's who! These suckers cost about $1.50 each new, and folks will usually pay nearly a buck each for them on eBay, particularly if offered as a large lot.

And they don't even have to be unused to fetch the dollars. As long as they are long enough (say, over 6 inches), they are a solid pick.

After flipping (and occasionally coloring pictures) these things for years, I finally got a bit curious about why Prismacolor pencils are made by different brands. So here is a little history: Prismacolor started in 1938 by the Eagle company, then changed name to Berol in 1969. It was bought by Empire in 1986 and finally by Sanford in 1995. Sanford is currently owned by Newell Rubbermaid, but the current Prismacolors have the Sanford name on them. In the UK and Canada they kept the Berol name until recently, and they were also called Karismacolor (and they have oak colored barrels rather than solid colors).
Update: The day this post published, I came across Scholar Prismacolors! So look for those as well.


I have had no problems mixing Prismacolors of all brands into a single lot. In my experience, a vintage Prismacolor with the Eagle name does not sell any better or worse than the others, so there is no need to separate them into a different lot. I also will include doubles (and triples or more) of colors in my lot. They do not all need to be different colors to be sold together.

There are currently 150 colors offered in the Prismacolor line. This isn't really relevant to them being flipped, but I just thought that was an interesting tidbit to share.

You will also find other types of art supplies with the Prismacolor name, such as watercolor pencils and markers. While I have had more picks of the straight-up color pencils, I don't see why these others things won't do well in a large lot if you can snag them on the cheap. Just make sure to test those markers, because they will dry up on you.

What I haven't done well with, however, is flipping lots of other brands of colored pencils. So leave those Prang and Crayolas alone.

So don't be afraid to get dirty digging in the pencil drawer. If there are other art supplies or inexpensive items that are pretty easy to collect in lots that you have had success picking and flipping, let me know in the comments. Have fun out there.

Feedback-pocalypse: eBay's new Detailed Seller Ratings

Everybody panic!

August 20th, 2014 has come and eBay's new Detailed Seller Ratings are in effect. What this means, and I'm still not entirely clear about it myself, is that all that the right to sell on eBay, and the benefits entitled wherein, can now be revoked or otherwise altered based on those five star ratings, which are now combined with regular old feedback to create the new "Transaction Defect Rate".

People seem really shocked and appalled in particular by the new requirement that eBay doesn't consider your packages shipped until the shipping service scans them in. So, basically, the seller is on the hook if the post office drops the ball.

A sampling of the 'blogosphere' shows reactions to this new evaluation / consequences system varying from rage-filled tirade-comments against eBay threatening to never use the service again (nothing new there) to utter relief that the sun did in fact rise this morning and we are still somehow free to sell junk online.

So how is your boy here at Part Time Picker reacting to all this? By not worrying about a damn thing. Here's why:
  • I always describe my items accurately and try to take multiple good photos. I do this because it helps get me more bids, more sales, and helps my items show up more often in searches within eBay's Cassini Search system
  • I don't gouge on the shipping charges. If I'm not doing Free Shipping, I keep those charges at or below what the actual costs will be. Nothing turns a buyer off faster than insane shipping charges. And in that very rare instance when I do accidentally overestimate and overcharge on shipping, I refund the overage to the buyer right away, even if they don't ask for it.
  • I usually ship the next day after the auction ends (or the item is bought). Why wait?
  • I also always get tracking on my shipments. Always.
  • I respond to all inquiries, questions, and other contact the same day, usually right away if I can. I don't like having some unresolved issue hanging over my head. And with my smart phone, it is super easy to respond from wherever I am. If you don't have a smartphone, you should just stop reading this and go back to gathering nuts and berries to store in your cave because the winter is coming.
  • I generally give great service. It's called being good at business and everybody should be doing it. It's how you get repeat customers. It's how you succeed. 
If you are already doing a good job at communication, item description, and shipping (which you should have been doing all along), you don't need to do a thing in regards to eBay's Transaction Defect Rate. Just be cool and keep picking the deals. Sure you'll occasionally get screwed by the post office or some idiot buyer who just gives you an unjustified bad rating, but, take a deep breath, everything will be ok. I promise.

There is a pretty good and even tempered blog about all the DSR controversy over at FlippingaDollar.com that you might enjoy as well.