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How to find items at yard sales to flip

Looking to flip items to make some extra cash? Here's how to find the best deals at yard sales so you can make big money on eBay and elsewhere.

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    Rt. 11 Yard Crawl shoppers look through items for sale Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, in the Lord Fairfax Community College parking lot north of Middletown, Virginia.
    Scott Mason/the Winchester Star/AP/File
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So you wanna be an eBay flipper, huh?

In the broadest sense, a "flipper" is someone who buys things cheap, and then sells for a profit on eBay. We've previously told you about both flipping items, and how to optimize your selling ability on eBay — not to mention highlighting a few yard sale finds that are likely to return a profit. There are many places where sellers acquire such items, but yard sales are a great place to start.

Is it as easy as buying someone's trash and selling it as treasure? Well, yes and no. To profit big and to profit regularly takes skill and dedication. (That's especially true now, when everyone knows about eBay.)

If you're a newbie, you're at a disadvantage. You don't know the intricacies, and a great many of them can only be learned through experience. Even so, there are plenty of tips that will help you avoid rookie mistakes.

Here are 11 things I wish I'd known when I first started. Consider this a crash course for true beginners!

The Early Bird Catches the Worm

If you're serious about this, realize that you're up against full-time professionals who will do anything to beat you to a score. Plan on getting up bright and early. After all, if you're the first person to hit a yard sale, you'll have the pick of the litter. Get there too late, and chances are good that somebody else will have already grabbed the best items.

Map It Out!

You can find yard sale listings online and in your local paper long before the weekend hits. Map out your "plan of attack" before you head out. Figure out how to hit the most yard sales with the least amount of driving. You'd be surprised at how many frustrating miles you'll waste otherwise — even if you're limiting the hunt to your nearest neighborhoods!

Do NOT Be Afraid to Haggle

In general, the people running yard sales are open to haggling. They expect it, so don't be shy. If they want three dollars, offer two. If there are a whole bunch of things you intend to buy, make a "bulk offer" for all of them.

The worst they can say is "no." If they're offended by your offer, take solace in knowing that you'll probably never see them again. Remember, a penny saved is a penny earned.

Carry Plenty of Singles

Oh, and speaking of haggling! The easiest way to get a seller to accept your offer is by pretending that you're not carrying any more money. That's hard to do if you only have tens and twenties, so make sure you're armed with lots of singles. "I only have three dollars" goes a lot further than "Will you take three bucks?"

(Yes, I'm advising you to lie. Don't worry, there are plenty of yard sale sellers who will lie right back. It's all part of the game.)

The eBay Phone App Is Your Friend

If you're looking at a pricier item and don't want to risk buying a dud, sneak off for a moment and check the eBay app on your phone. Look up the item, and then look up its "completed listings." This is a great way to see if the item sells, and if so, for how much.

Sure, it's a little awkward to fumble around with an app while you're out hunting, but sometimes the hassle is warranted. Just don't do this for every cheap item you come across — you'll drive yourself crazy. Reserve this trick for the big risks.

Know When to Hold 'Em, Know When to Fold 'Em

More so than ever before, the people running yard sales are convinced that everything they're selling is a "collectible." Trust your own instincts, and don't buy the hype. If some guy wants $20 for broken doorknobs, and he has a prepared speech detailing why he must charge $20 for broken doorknobs, it's time for you to go.

Be wary of the hard sell. When sellers give you long, unsolicited defenses of their prices, it's a telltale sign that you'll be spending too much.

Think About Future Logistics, Expenses

If you're aiming to sell your finds on eBay, consider the reality of it. Sure, you could sell that $2 board game for $10, but is the profit worth the hassle? You'd have to find a box large enough to send it in. You'd have to research to make sure it's complete. All of these things take time, and if you're spending too much time and effort, suddenly those few dollars hardly seem worth it.

When considering a purchase, always imagine what it would be like to list and ship it. Is it too big or heavy? Is it easily breakable? Possibly incomplete? Certain items are worth these risks and hassles, but not all of them.

Stay Within Your Expertise

In time, you'll develop a sort of "sixth sense." You'll know what's likely to sell and what's likely to bomb, no matter how esoteric the item. Enough trial-and-error can turn anyone into an expert.

But developing that eye takes time, so at the beginning, it's better to focus on your areas of expertise. If you have a passion for, say, vintage clothing, then you probably already know which old shirts are worth money, and which aren't.

I'm not saying to never stray outside your comfort zone, because you'll have to. But at least try to stick with what you know, and only buy things that are foreign to you when they're cheap.

(One of the biggest mistakes new flippers make is thinking that every old thing is worth money. Trust me: 90% of what you'll see out there is worth exactly what you'll pay for it.)

Outside Your Expertise, Play Safe

Eventually — or perhaps even immediately — you're gonna start buying things you know little about. My previous tip warned against this, but it's still a natural part of the process. You might make a few mistakes, but what you'll learn from those mistakes will be invaluable later.

Still, there are some safe bets. Old video games (1990s or earlier), old coins, old action figures in decent condition (especially if they're from the '80s) and movie memorabilia are all good picks. (If they're cheap, of course!)

A broader tip: When you spot something, ask yourself whether anyone actually collects that type of item. Lots of people collect toys and coins, but there aren't nearly as many people buying up used blenders.

If It's Trash, Trash It

Look, you're going to end up with a few duds. This is unavoidable. Not everything you buy will be worth selling, and that's the price of doing business.

I cannot emphasize this enough: Get rid of those items. If they can be donated, donate them. If they're not, introduce them to your garbage pail. If you don't do this, you'll soon find yourself dedicating entire rooms to things you neither want nor are able to sell. You've seen Hoarders, right? Don't let yard sales turn you into one of those people.

Prioritize Having Fun, Not Getting Rich

It's possible to turn yard sale flipping into a full-time job, but only with a combination of total dedication, natural aptitude, and a bunch of luck. If it was easy to get to that level, there'd be many more full-time resellers.

Chances are, you won't become one of them. So don't bother looking at that as the goal. Look at yard sales as a way to make a little side money from a hobby. You're getting out of the house, getting some fresh air, and getting the voyeuristic thrill of sifting through total strangers' material lives. Let that be the reward, and consider any profits an added bonus.

Think of it this way: Most hobbies cost money, but this is a rare one that can actually earn you money. Even if you only come out fifty cents ahead, you've still won.

This article first appeared on DealNews.com.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best personal finance bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on the link in the blog description box above.

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