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8 Bargains to Look for at Pandemic-Era Yard Sales

As people move and downsize, they're getting rid of good stuff — cheap

Summertime scene of shoppers browsing items at a home garage sale.

iStock / Getty Images

En español | Change is in the air: It's summer, more folks are vaccinated, and as they emerge into the sunlight, they have stuff they want to sell. A challenging and chaotic year has spurred many people to reassess what's most important to them, how and where they want to live, and whom they want to be close to. A 2020 Pew Research Center survey showed that 22 percent of U.S. adults — more than 1 in 5 — reported that they changed their residence due to the pandemic or know someone who did.

Moves like this have led to a major purge of personal belongings for those in transition, a godsend for yard and garage sale aficionados. Whether you're outfitting a new retirement home or vacation cottage for yourself, or a first apartment for the kids or grandkids, or just enjoy poking around for steals, now may be the time to keep your eyes peeled for impressive deals that will save you money.

"Garage sales are springing up again, and the great news is that they're outdoors,” says Ava Seavey, author of Ava's Guide to Garage Sale Gold. “Post-pandemic sales are much the same as pre-pandemic, but with more pent-up demand.” And some items that people paid dearly for during the pandemic could be sitting on yard sale tables now.

How do you find a sale in your area? You can look for posted signs or visit Craigslist and search for garage or yard sales on the home page. Websites such as Yard Sale Search and Garage Sales Tracker might also be helpful. Or you can try an app, like Yard Sale Treasure Map, which lets you search for yard sales by day, location, distance and keyword. To use the app, you'll need to allow Google Maps access to your location so you can see all sales within 20 miles.

What are you likely to see? Below are some of the possibilities. As a savvy shopper, when you see something you like, Google the item to check the “new” price and compare it with the price on the tag. Armed with that information, you can bargain with the yard sale proprietor. You will also need to decide how badly you want it.

1. Vintage dishes and pottery

People may love these gorgeous collectibles, but if they're moving, they may no longer have space for them. There may be great finds to be had.

2. Outdoor gear

During the pandemic, some people took up camping, hiking and fishing as reasonably COVID-safe activities. Now that hotels are available, they may not need a tent and sleeping bags. And some families simply outgrow these activities as kids get older. Look for deals on equipment that would be expensive if purchased new.

3. Furniture and kitchen stuff

As people downsize, you're bound to find furniture, kitchen items and electronics. Some may be new, unused and still boxed. And keep an eye out for things that people bought when they had to work from home but no longer need as they head back to the office, such as desks and chairs, Seavey says.

4. Exercise equipment

With health clubs around the country closed for nearly a year, many people chose to work out at home. If they're headed back to work and the gym, they may be looking to sell their nearly new equipment at bargain-basement prices.

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5. Old games, comics and books

These are garage and yard sale staples. This may be an opportunity to add to your grandchild's collection, or to your own.

6. Clothing and costume jewelry

After being at home, some folks may see less need for finery. But if you've got a wedding to attend — in person — and don't want to overspend on an outfit you'll wear once, or are heading back to the office and want to look up to date, then head for the clothing racks. “Jewelry is also a simple way to refresh your look for less,” Seavey says.

7. Artwork, picture frames and other decorative pieces.

Unless you're the luckiest person on earth, you won't find a masterpiece. You may find artwork, photographs and other items that create a new look and rejuvenate your home. Or you might find terrible artwork in a very nice frame that you can reuse. Also, keep an eye out for snazzy gifts.

8. Tools

“Tools have always been great sellers at yard sales,” Seavey says. But in the past year, more people were focused on fix-it projects and may no longer want those extra tools. Now may be the time to complete your collection.

closeup of hand with price stickers in front of a table of garage sale vases

Universal Images Group / Getty Images

How to Sell Extra Stuff

What's the best way to put together a successful yard or garage sale if you need to downsize? Following are tips from a variety of sources, including Ava Seavey, an experienced digital marketer and the author of Ava's Guide to Garage Sale Gold.

  • Inquire about restrictions and rules. If your city or town still has COVID-19 restrictions, first check to see if garage or yard sales are allowed — or require permits.
  • Promote like crazy. “Post on free garage sale sites — and run a paid ad in the garage sale section of a local paper,” Seavey suggests. “A lot of traffic will come from there.” Also have at least five signs, preferably those you can stick in the ground, as posting on trees or telephone poles may not be allowed. Put signs at busy intersections nearby, in front of your home and at both ends of your street.
  • Join forces. Engage a friend or neighbor to go in with you, so you can offer a wider variety of merchandise — items that will appeal to the whole family. See that extension cords and electrical outlets are convenient so that customers can test electrical items.
  • Be safe and friendly. You'll want to be nice and engage with your customers. But be sure to post your rules, as many retailers do, regarding vaccinations and masks. Make hand sanitizer available as well. Keep clothing racks and display tables spread apart, making sure that all items are clean and tagged. “Also, cover your surfaces with anything you can find, such as old sheets, shower curtains or fabric,” Seavey advises. “You will make more money if the tables are covered.”
  • Manage the moolah. Wear a money apron or belt, and be sure to have cash, a calculator and a special marking pen that identifies counterfeit bills, Seavey adds. “If someone feels more comfortable using Venmo or other contactless payment solution, encourage it.”
  • Look for perps. “Have someone else be on watch,” she warns. “Regrettably, thefts can occur.”

Shoppers Beware

Look for conscientious yard and garage sale operators who require social distancing, spread out display tables and make hand sanitizer readily available. If the proprietor has posted rules, be a good sport and follow them, especially when it comes to masks. If they're not required, wear one if it makes you feel comfortable.

Patricia Amend has been a lifestyle writer and editor for 30 years. She was a staff writer at Inc. magazine, a reporter at the Fidelity Publishing Group and a senior editor at Published Image, a financial education company that was acquired by Standard & Poor's.