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!


  1. Sucks that it's cold here and there won't be any more yard sales. I make my greatest profits from them, hands down.

    Another tip: Make sure to drive past a fast food joint, sheetz, or WaWa for a bathroom break after drinking all of that water!

    I've started using Yard Sale Treasure Map on my phone. It integrates with your local craigslist and lets you plot out your trip. Very neat. I haven't paid for a yearly subscription yet, but will probably do it next year since it's only $3! This lets you pick days other than the current day and Saturday.

  2. Great tips! Unfortunately, yard sales are pretty much done here in the Midwest until April. But I agree, yard sales will definitely get you the most bang for your buck.

    1. My timing is, as usual, impeccable. I didn't even think that Yard Sale season is basically over for everywhere but here in California. And even here it is slowing down.

  3. You are one of the lucky ones that does have them all year long. Here in Chicago it's 25 degrees and snowing. But there are still a few listings for estate sales and moving sales. So I guess they do still exist, but are very scarce! LOL

  4. Nice post! This is a very nice blog that I will definitively come back to more times this year! Thanks for informative post.
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