Saturday, April 17, 2010

Yard Sale Angst

I collect old books.  This is not a money making venture;  first, because I LOVE my books and, second, there really isn't much of a market for old books, believe it or not.  Those who are interested only in the financial aspect will buy first editions of famous books, hoping to make a profit.  To them, it doesn't matter the title or subject or author - all that matters is that this item can bring them some $.  I pick old books in the subjects I like - mostly history, Christianity and vintage travel - because I want to keep them, read them and love them.  

Since this morning was Saturday, my husband and I have a regular ritual.  First, we go garage saleing - to see if there is anything we might make money on or anything we could use.  Since we're not up on the latest collectibles, it's hit or miss.  A few weeks ago, we went to a flea market held by our local city.  I happened to find a camera lens that looked a bit old and still in it's original case.  I paid $3.00 for it.  My husband put it up on Ebay and we received a little under $80.00 for it.  That's a gift and it doesn't happen often.   Usually after we spend about an hour and a half running around to available yard sales, we head off to the local deli for breakfast.  I do believe this is the high point of my husband's week.  There are other places I would prefer to eat actually, but his soul is tied to this deli for some weird reason, so that's where we eat every Saturday morning unless one of us is dying.

This morning was no exception.  My husband had already cased all the local garage sales.  He knew where to go and so we drove off.  It was a pretty bland morning - a few tchotchkes (pronounced "chochkees" for those of you who aren't familiar with Yiddish words.....growing up in New York, near the City - I know a few Yiddish words, but that's another story).  We finally wound up at the last grand garage sale.  It was in a very nice neighborhood of large, lovely homes under shady trees with manicured lawns and orderly landscaping (they would NOT want to see my back yard).  It looked promising as we pulled up and parked.  

The first thing we head for, if there are any, are books.  This garage sale had a few books.  There were 5 old books there which immediately drew my attention.  There was a 3 volume set of Presidential speeches from either the late 1800's or early 1900's (I wasn't interested in this one - if I want to read Presidential speeches, I can find them on line).  There was a 2 volume set of a Civil War history from 1906, which was interesting, but the piece de resistance was a Civil War history from 1868.  The book was worn, of course and the front cover binding was beginning to separate from the book itself.  That never stops me.  There was an inscription inside the front cover from someone who had purchased the book in Georgia in 1870 - that adds to the charm, for me.  

I picked up the 1868 book and looked immediately for price.  There was a penciled price on the inside cover - a common practice in antique book stores - of $25.00, which was the price paid for the book.  The woman who was standing by the books and whose garage sale this was, had attached a yellow sticky with the price of $45.00 and the words "This is a COLLECTIBLE".   Hoo boy - this was no ordinary garage sale.  These people were out to make MONEY.  

Now I have a few ideas about garage sales and I've hosted my own, in which my husband accused me of selling EVERYTHING for a dollar - I'd have probably given things away to those whom I thought were needy anyway - and that included a good twin mattress and a working electric typewriter, so we don't make much money at our own sales. Most of the time, when we can't use something anymore - if it's perfectly good - we give it away using local FreeCycle.

To me, if you are having a garage sale, you should not be pricing articles as if this is an antique store, complete with rental overhead and ambiance and several hundred feet of shelves of books to look through and choose from.  When your household articles are spread out all over the grass of your front yard and people from all walks of life are picking them over, this is not reminiscent of an antique shop atmosphere.  People come to garage sales to find bargains.  If they wanted to pay antique store prices, by golly they'd go to an antique store.  If someone who is hosting a garage sale really wants to make top dollar on certain items, they should choose Ebay or try to sell to an antique dealer (good luck on getting full price from them!!).  Ebay is probably the best bet.  I've seen - to me - priceless old books - on Ebay going for $5.00 and staying at that price to the end of the bidding because not that many people really want musty, old books.  The money just isn't there.  I attended a yard sale once where the seller had a musty, mildewed box full of glass doo dads - he must have cleaned out an old warehouse or something.  He absolutely would not sell single items out of the box. - and what he was selling was not a set.  He insisted that you buy the entire box for $50.00 or some crazy price - or nothing at all.  So guess what he got?  Nothing at all.  

Secondly,  yard sales are the bottom of the sales heap.  There are fancy stores and exclusive stores.  Next are mall and specialty stores like Pier One. Next there are antique stores.  After that there are thrift, second hand and charity stores.  And finally, at the very bottom, is the garage, a.k.a., yard sale.  Prices at a yard sale should be the cheapest of the lot.  Period.  That's why people shop them and that's what is expected.  If the seller charges too much, he will be left with a yard full of the same stuff he dragged out that morning.  He's going to have to drag it back in or take it to Good Will and get a tax deduction.  AND he had to pay a city fee to hold the garage sale.  Last time I looked, it was $25.00 here, but that was a while back and it has probably gone up.  To make money at a garage sale you have to be reasonable.  You can mark high - sure - but be ready to negotiate on price, and you'll get your sale.  You'd think this would be a no brainer.

I held up the book and looked at the lady whose garage sale this was - and asked her (not having seen the sticky with the $45.00 price tag at first) how much the books were.  She looked at me with disdain and pointed out the sticky - "They are priced as marked.  They are COLLECTIBLES you know.  The 50 cent book table is over THERE," she snooted.  

I was immediately miffed.  How dare she ask such a ridiculous price at a garage sale. - AND she was rude to top it off. I knew she would be left with that book at the end of the day - no one would pay that price, and I was right.  My husband and I drove off with me steaming in the front seat.  How uppity, how pretentious, how dare she try to get more than even charges for this volume???  And she would not negotiate.

So off hubby and I went to breakfast.  We made a few stops here and there for various necessities and finally, a few hours later, we again pulled up in front of the snooty garage sale (she was selling baskets that I've seen for fifty cents at other yard sales - for $6.00 - funny how there wasn't much sold in the few hours since we'd left).  My wonderful husband told me to stay in the car and off he went to try to pay a reasonable price for the book or books.  We were in luck.  Mrs. Garage Sale had disappeared somewhere and Mr. Garage Sale, the henpecked husband, who, according to my husband, had the limp handshake of a Walter Mitty, was watching the goods and collecting money for any sales.  

My husband negotiated with the man and told him he would not get the price that he was asking for the books and if he wanted to sell them, we'd give him $40.00 for the 2 volume Civil War history from 1906 and the 1868 book together  (the 2 volume set had been marked $35.00 - another ridiculous price for a garage sale, and of course you know the 1868 book was marked $45.00 by itself).  Mr. Garage Sale, looking around quickly to see if there was any sign of the wife, hurriedly agreed to the sale and looked relieved as we paid the $40.00 for the 3 books.  Hubby told me all this because I was waiting in the car and I couldn't see the proceedings - I figured he would strike out, since Mrs. Garage Sale seemed so set on getting her price.

Keep in mind, too, I have overpaid the asking price at garage sales in the past also.  If someone asks a ridiculous price for something - like a quarter - and I think it should be more, I give a dollar and won't take change.  It's a trade off and a judgement call.  One woman was having a sale because she had to leave her house - foreclosure - you can bet I paid more than she asked for her items, and she wasn't asking much.  

When having a garage sale, if you have really valuable merchandise - DON'T sell it at the garage sale.   Sell it on Ebay, sell it on line at or an online store for the type of item you have  - the fees are often negligible.  You can sell your own items on Amazon - I believe Amazon sells everything these days.  You will more likely get the price you want if you don't try to command top dollar at a yard sale. 


SophieMae said...

People like that can be so infuriating. If it was so valuable, why on earth would she put a sticker on it, anyhow. That's one of my pet peeves... stickers on books, ephemera and glass. Oh, don't even get me started! 8-}

Have a JESUS-filled day! ^i^

Susan Humeston said...

All's well that ends well - I have my book here in a house that loves it.....yes, I know I'm weird.

Brenda@CoffeeTeaBooks said...

I've been to garage sales like that and noticed very little was selling. :)

I once went to a garage sale of an elderly lady who had a set of Ernie Pyle books for $1.00 each.

I pulled her aside and told her if she had a way of selling those on e-bay, she could get a lot more money for them.

Having just studied WWII for homeschooling (two years!), I knew she had some rare Ernie Pyle books there.

Christopher asked why I didn't buy them and I told him I just had this feeling it would be a good thing to do to tell her.

I would walk by her place once in awhile and she saw me one day and gave me a big thank you. A friend put her books on e-bay and she did get a lot more for them. :)

Susan Humeston said...

Isn't it funny how we know to do those things with some people - it must be the Holy Spirit. A week or so ago, I went to a yard sale held by two families who rescued dogs from the shelter whom no one else would want. They had the dogs outside with them - mostly dachshunds. The lady who was taking the money held one in her arms. He looked like he was in 7th heaven, old with some bottom teeth sticking out over his top lip - very sweet. All the garage sale items were marked VERY cheaply, so I gave way more than I had to - plus I put some $ in a donation jar they had. It's all a matter of judgement, I guess. You did a wonderful thing for that lady.