Monday, April 8, 2013

Tips for Buying Antiques at Garage and Yard Sales

The ordinary garage/yard sale is an American institution. Every Saturday morning there’s one or more going on somewhere in the country. Collectors find it hard to pass them up since they’re the entry-level market for antiques and collectibles.

Most people who cruise the yard sales every weekend are casual shoppers, driving from one to another. If you’re a serious collector, you know how to find antiques and collectibles hidden among the plastic kitchenware and cheap florist vases, but you need a plan.

Generally, garage/yard sale ads appear in local papers on Thursday and Friday evenings. Mark those that mention antiques or collectibles. Don’t waste your time noting those that don’t advertise antiques. After all, you must complete your rounds in just a few hours, at least by 12 Noon.  

As you read the addresses, map a route starting with the sales closest to your home or those with the earliest starting times, then move on to more distant ones. The purpose is to get to the good sales before someone else snaps up the antiques.

Every town is different when it comes to finding antiques at good prices at these sales. You’ll usually find more antiques and collectibles at the lowest prices in older, middle-class neighborhoods. In many cases owners of these homes have lived there for years and years and have stored a mass of castoffs in their attics and basements. These people are usually not trying to get top dollar for their things. They just want to get rid of them.

By contrast, the owners of homes in upper-class neighborhoods are usually quite knowledgeable about antiques values. At their sales they set close to retail prices on any antique or collectible, so you’ll seldom find much to buy at such sales. Remember the cardinal rule of collecting: Buy low, sell high.

As many sellers get more savvy with the Internet, they look up their items on eBay to see what they’re going for. But they don’t take into account that this is an auction, as well as entertainment, so prices can be higher than they should be.

At these sales possession is nine-tenths of the law, so to speak. The unwritten code of the yard sale is that whoever has his or her hands on an item first has dibs on it. You need to be able to pick things up quickly and hold on to them. Take along a large sturdy plastic tote bag or a box, into which you can drop anything that interests you. This way, you can pick up and carry much more than you could in your arms alone. Then examine your finds carefully, put anything that isn’t promising back on the tables, pay for the items you do want, and move quickly to the next sale.

To be honest, you probably won’t find an antique or collectible of outstanding value at a garage or yard sale. You’ll find china, glassware, pottery, and kitchen collectibles, all of modest value. Every once in a while, you’ll come upon a piece of furniture—a bed, small table, brass bridge lamp, framed mirror, or whatever. Inevitably, these finds must be refinished, polished, or rewired.

Every collector has at least one story of a spectacular discovery, a real treasure bought for a pittance. To make sure you buy the real thing, take at least one of the current antiques and collectibles price guides with you—you can leave it in your car. Otherwise, unless you have a phenomenal memory, you’ll have a hard time remembering the thousands of ever changing retail values of items you’ll run across.

Some collectors learn this lesson the hard way. Many novice collectors go to yard sales without taking any price guides along. You might find an item you think is priced well, but you don’t know for sure. If you had brought along a general antiques and collectibles price guide, you’d have been able to decide if the price were too high or if you should make the purchase. If you left the sale to check on the price back home, you might return and find that the item had been sold. 

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