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How to Navigate a Yard Sale

Ylan Mui

Julia Wilkinson of Alexandria has been nosing around yard sales for a decade, picking up other people's junk and selling it for a tidy profit on eBay.

Wilkinson has found Yankee Candles for $1 and brand-new Williams Sonoma placemats for $2. She specializes in old books -- she has flight magazines from the 1940s and 1950s -- but she also relishes samurai swords. She's even found the occasional Chanel bag.

Wilkinson has had so much interest in her adventures over the years that she started a Web site, Yardsalers. We asked her to share her tips for getting the most out of the yard sale at a time when all of us are looking to stretch our dollars.

Do your research. Wilkinson said The Washington Post's classified section lists big sales that typically draw a lot of shoppers. (No, we didn't pay her to say this! But we're glad she did!) Craigslist maintains a more comprehensive list, and she also uses a new site from eBay called Kijiji. But the best way to find sales is to just drive through your neighborhood, Wilkinson said, as many of them are not formally advertised.

Bring cash. Most sellers don't take credit cards and may not accept personal checks. Wilkinson said she normally takes about $40 to $50, in case she finds something she really likes.

Bring bags. Wilkinson suggests bringing a tote bag in case you hit pay dirt. A few small plastic bags also come in handy to wrap fragile items such as dishes or pottery. A few towels in the trunk of the car can also be used to protect your purchases.

Bring tools. Wilkinson carries a jeweler's loupe, or magnifying glass, in her purse to help her identify trademarks or other inscriptions. She said an friend who hunts for antiques also recommended bringing a needle to run along the surface of vases or glass to detect small cracks or chips. Those who are very serious about getting a deal sometimes bring PDAs and laptops to look up the value of items on the Internet before they buy them.

It is possible to score big at a yard sale -- like the couple who bought a Picasso for just $1. But most success is on a smaller scale. Wilkinson said one of her subscribers bought an oyster plate for $1 and sold it for $100 on eBay.

But just because something is cheap doesn't mean you should buy it. Yard Sale Queen maintains a helpful list of items you should avoid -- watch out especially for recalled merchandise -- and weird/gross things she's seen being hawked. (A half-used can of jock itch spray? Really?)

By Ylan Mui  |  June 9, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Bargains , Ylan Q. Mui  
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People need advice on how to go to a yard sale?

Posted by: sarahabc | June 9, 2009 10:55 AM | Report abuse

nice article. Considering the amount of customers who show up with $20 bills to pay for a .50 item, lots of people could benefit from yardsale advice.

Posted by: yardsalequeen | June 9, 2009 9:00 PM | Report abuse

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