Secrets to Effective Garage Sailing

Ah, garage sale season at last. You have the local newspaper and Google Maps ready and waiting, but do you have the mad skillz? Now before we get to that there are some basic garage sailing (garage saling, saleing?) etiquette issues that I need to address because based on what I’ve observed and been told, you’re a bunch of animals out there.


First, respect the starting time of the sale. At a church sale, sure, get there early and get in line. But at a person’s home you get there when it starts. You aren’t special, you don’t deserve to go early because you can’t make it later, and you aren’t entitled to an early peak just because you plan to spend a lot of money. Unless the ad states that early birds are welcome, you wait.

I have spoken to more than enough terribly overwhelmed people who said they had dealers and early birds there an hour or two before they were even set up or finished pricing. That shit is insulting. Kindly ask if you may look early.

If they say no, don’t be some freak that hovers in their driveway, go sit your ass down in your car like a respectable human and wait for the time they said it would begin.

And this one might seem obvious, but bring reasonable bills. Do not be the person that hands someone a twenty dollar bill for a two dollar item. Of course the person holding the sale will have change, but not enough for everyone to be obliviously handing over twenties and depleting their change.

Yeah the ATM is convenient I know, but run into the bank real quick and get fives and ones instead.

Two frogs sitting amid mushrooms and insects, living the dream. A fantastic garage sailing find with a retro feel.
Retro wall art. Note how the frogs are sitting their asses down, not bothering anybody- be like the frogs.

Ok, now that I covered what should have been evident we can get going. Define your mission- Are you buying to resell or are you buying for keeps? This is important to determine since it will dictate what types of garage sale listings you should look for- or avoid!

If you are buying to resell here are some tips to score great deals.

When buying to resell, keep in mind that profit margins are everything. Also decide how much money you want to have tied up in merchandise. Sometimes an item that sells super well is worth paying more for if you know you can move it fast. And just because something is a great deal doesn’t mean it’s actually a great deal (I’m looking at you, insanely heavy old cement planter that was only $15 but now I can’t sell to save my life).

When looking at listings sometimes the simpler the ad the better- if they are keeping the ad small, and thus cheap, they may not expect to make much at the sale since they have low prices.

If the ad is too descriptive be wary- if instead of antiques (which is already bad enough), they say antique glass, or more specifically Fenton, Murano, etc, don’t even waste your time. They know what they have, and they want to get exactly what the item is worth. They are ensuring this by giving specifics that will attract people who collect those items.

Any sale that includes a name- The Rusty Bucket, Peg’s Primitive Pines, etc. you may as well skip. They likely either have a shop or a booth at an antique mall and this is their annual “get rid of whatever no one wanted all year” sale. Or worse yet, maybe they are known for this annual sale and everyone and their brother flocks to it.

This stuff will either be outdated trend-wise, or be outrageously priced leaving you no room for profit. If you do want to brave one of these sales, consider politely explaining you buy to resell- they may cut you a deal if you make a pile.

I emphasize being polite about it because if you are a dealer unfortunately your reputation precedes you.

A lot of people are not amused by snooty dealers pawing through their stuff, hinting at wanting price cuts and deals on bundles simply because they’re reselling. That sort of behavior will not do you any favors, and I have seen dealers asked to leave sales before.

Chair, iron bed frame, elephant, deer skull, dog statues.
A cluttered collection of garage sale finds; this was a good day.

Church Sales? A resounding yes! Be sure to get there early (there will be a line) and bring a friend or two who are cool with being handed armfuls of awesome scores. Also bring a few of your own boxes- this saves the people having the sale from holding up the line looking for something to put all your stuff in.

You may want to ask someone working the sale where you can place your items while you continue shopping if you’re going it alone- but be forewarned, sometimes people will take your stuff even when they know it’s not theirs. Bringing tape and a sharpie to mark your name/sold on it helps a little.

The prices at these sorts of things are always great, so if you can get past the insane flock of people throwing bows and snagging your stuff, it’s worth it. Don’t forget to hit up the bake sale on your way out!

This one might feel a bit dishonest and maybe it is, but it’s a tool for your garage sailing toolbox and shouldn’t be dismissed.

Don’t roll up in a Porsche with a Givenchy hanging off your shoulder. People are far more willing to deal if you don’t look like you could purchase everything at the sale, and their house, car, and family dog too. What I’m saying is, dress like your ass can’t make rent. I usually rock pajamas and a hoodie, but then again I rock that everyday because my ass barely makes rent.

If you are buying for keeps, it’s a different story.

If you’re a collector or looking for something you plan to keep, be prepared to spend a little more money. Sure, you could still happen upon a great deal, but that’s not often the case when you are hunting for something specific and don’t want to spend all summer checking every garage sale to find it.

While you will find great deals when you go to the places with very small simple ads, you may also find a lot of crap. They know they have a lot of crap, so they aren’t going to spend much on the ad since they won’t make much from their crap.

You may find a few hidden gems, but often it’s old clothing, scratched teflon, and the most dreaded- kids toys.

A sweet collection of tiny bottles found while garage sailing.
A sweet collection of tiny bottles.

Look for ads with pictures- these people took the time to set everything up nicely, photograph it, upload it, and write a nice description because they have nice things. They spent decent money on the ad because they know their items are well worth it. These items may as a result be more pricey, but at least you can see pictures ahead of time and know what you are getting into.

Any sale that includes a name- The Rusty Bucket, Peg’s Primitive Pines, etc. will be worth your while. Yes, it is often stuff that has not been selling at their store or booth, but they may come down at least a little in price to get rid of some of their stuff.

Or if this is an annual sale, they’ve likely scoured auctions, flea markets, and sales for months and picked the very best items to include in their sale. While more expensive, these curated items save you the hassle of stopping at who knows how many other sales trying to round up the same items. They did your garage sailing for you more or less.

If you are looking for something specific, go to a sale that has an ad with specifics related to what you are looking for. You may not be into Fenton glass, but if they list Fenton they may also have that Fostoria you like.

Gun collector? It’s always worth asking at any sale if they have guns available. It’s something you can’t just lay out on the table next to Aunt Ethel’s macrame without raising some eyebrows, so it’s sort of an unspoken garage sale rule to only offer them if asked. Or they might just remember Grandpa’s old gun that’s sitting unused in the attic and let it go for next to nothing.

Jesus wearing antlers beside a needlepoint that says Ohio.
Check out the rack on Jesus!

You know how I said not to dress nice if you’re buying to resell? Well, that is hit or miss here.

I have had people pretty much ignore or dismiss me when I’ve inquired about pricey pieces while wearing sweats and yesterday’s eye liner. On the other hand when I’ve dressed well I get immediate attention so I don’t miss great pieces (this can be the case at estate sales).

You won’t get the price breaks, but you’ll be swiftly attended to and taken seriously when you look like you can afford the items you’re interested in.

In conclusion, when garage sailing be sure to define your goal, decide how much you are willing to spend, and bring a friend/boxes if necessary. Try to carry ones and fives since twenties will drain the sellers change and may mean you can’t get something because they have no change. And obviously, don’t be a dick.