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You’ve broken out the flip flops and sunscreen and your barbecues are sizzlin’ away. Summer is in full swing, and that means one thing: yard sale season!

For those of us who love a bargain, enjoy the rush of a good find or simply get a kick out of rummaging through other people’s junk (let’s be honest, it’s all of us), yard sales can be a super satisfying part of summer. But there’s more to it than just spotting a “YARD SALE” or “FLEA MARKET” sign and pulling over to browse. Using the following tips and strategies, you can be sure to make the most out of your bargain hunting!

1. MAKE A PLAN

The last thing you want is to gear up for a day of bargain hunting without actually knowing of any sales in advance. Throughout the week leading up to the hunt (sales typically happen on Saturdays), start scoping out the neighbourhood. Talk to neighbours, reach out to local friends on Facebook and take a drive to check for local signs and posters indicating any upcoming sales. You can even check out apps like Yard Sale Treasure Map that show yard sale locations on a map based on Craigslist postings to efficiently plan out your route.

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2. SET A BUDGET-ISH

The easiest way to do this is to only bring the amount of cash you’re willing to spend that day. Have a rough idea of items that you’re looking out for and know what you’d be willing to pay for them. Consider bringing along a yard sale “emergency fund” for items that you don’t necessarily need, but may just speak directly to your soul. Bargain hunting can be a serious business, but that doesn’t mean you can’t spoil yourself every now and then if the right item calls to you!

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3. EQUIP YOURSELF

It might not be in your plan to purchase a giant, antique storage trunk when you head out in the morning, but such is the beauty of a yard sale. You never know which hidden gems await you just around the corner (literally). So, prepare your vehicle in advance. Lay old sheets or towels down on the back seats, clear out the trunk and have empty boxes, bags and bungee cords ready to go.

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4. TIMING IS EVERYTHING

Most people automatically assume that the earlier you hit up a sale, the better the finds. This is typically true when searching for specific items like higher-end furniture. But, if it’s dirt cheap items you’re after, hitting up sales late morning/early afternoon while they’re wrapping up is a better option. Sellers are more likely to mark items for less in hopes of getting rid of as much as possible.

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5. GO SOLO

You’re on a mission. In order to think smart (not overspend) and focus on the task at hand (walking away with great finds), you can’t be distracted. Considering bringing your kids along? Don’t. Friends? Nope, nope, nope. Shoppers are more likely to make spontaneous purchasing decisions when there’s someone else there to encourage them.

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6. CHOOSE YOUR ‘HOOD

Depending on what kinds of items you’re looking for, certain neighbourhoods will have more to offer. For example, if it’s kid stuff you’re after, focus on young, family-friendly areas. If you’re after more antique, vintage items, search out old, established neighbourhoods that have more elderly residents. Similarly, pricier neighbourhoods will have more high-end offerings up for grabs.

7. KNOW WHAT TO AVOID

There are certain items that should always be off limits. Children’s car seats, for example, come with a manufacturer’s expiry date that will most likely have passed. Even if the expiry date has yet to come, there’s no telling what kind of internal damage a car seat may or may not have endured with its previous owner. Other children’s items, like cribs, high chairs and bike helmets should be avoided whether they have a set expiry date or not. It’s simply not worth taking the risk on older models of these items that may not meet updated safety standards.

Also, watch out for mattresses and upholstered furniture – bed bugs could be an issue.

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8. BE SUPER PICKY

Don’t just assume that because an item is being sold that it works correctly. Have batteries on hand for checking electronics or ask the seller for access to an electrical outlet if something needs to be plugged in. Feel free to ask any questions you might have about the history of the item – such as age and condition – to ensure the value of it. Measure items to be sure they’ll fit in your home as planned, and spend a few minutes inspecting things like clothes and glassware carefully. The last thing you want is to get home and then notice the large stain on the back of a shirt or the crack down the side of your new vase.

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9. BUT, GIVE DAMAGED ITEMS A CHANCE

While it’s worth spending a few minutes looking over the condition of items you’re purchasing, keep in mind that not every damaged item should be automatically written off. A dress that’s missing a button is not ideal – but if the dress is perfect otherwise, use the damage as a haggling point and then fix it yourself. On the hunt for home décor? One woman’s bird cage might be your new dining table centrepiece. In other words, her trash = your treasure.

BUT. Only invest in damaged items you will realistically put the effort into fixing. The point is not to waste money on a bunch of unfinished projects that will remain forever untouched!

10. COMPARE PRICES

It’s a good idea to check online selling sites and apps to see what the item is going for elsewhere. Use eBay as a reference point — items selling for more than eBay’s prices are marked too high. This is a great way to make sure you aren’t overpaying (and you’ll feel that much more awesome if you end up getting a solid deal)! Having a reference price also provides a reliable haggling tool.

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11. THEN, NEGOTIATE!

Once you’ve compared prices via the eBay test, looked over items carefully for damages and gathered information from the seller on the item’s history, you’re ready to negotiate. Sellers expect a bit of haggling – it’s part of the yard sale experience! And while you don’t want to insult the seller by suggesting a significantly lower price than what’s being offered, you should always try to shave a bit off of the asking price. After all, the worst that can happen is the seller says, “no.”

Be confident, be friendly and make eye contact when negotiating. Interested in multiple items? Suggest a bulk price. Most importantly, be prepared to walk away without the item if you’re unable to come to a reasonable agreement. (And see next point for one last option!)

12. LAST BUT NOT LEAST…

Have cards ready to give out with your contact info. In the event that you find a great item but the seller is not willing to negotiate to a price you’re comfortable paying, provide them with a card and the firm price you’ll pay for the item. The seller is likely holding out for a better offer – which may never come. Should the yard sale come to a close and the seller still hasn’t sold the item, he/she can give you a call.

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