How to bargain: Tips from the Garage Sale Millionaire

Aaron LaPedis threw his first garage sale at age seven and has been buying and selling items ever since. In fact, he made his first million dollars by "flipping" garage-sale finds and used that money to open an art gallery.

Aaron LaPedis threw his first garage sale at age seven and has been buying and selling items ever since. In fact, he made his first million dollars by "flipping" garage-sale finds and used that money to open an art gallery in Denver.

This "garage sale millionaire" writes a monthly column for The Denver Post and hosted a PBS TV show on collectibles. Wiley releases the second edition of LaPedis' book, The Garage Sale Millionaire: Make Money with Hidden Finds from Garage Sales to Storage Unit Auctions and Everything in Between, in June.

With yard-sale season upon us, U.S. News chatted with LaPedis about his strategies for pricing items, spotting money-making opportunities, and more. Excerpts:

How did you get into garage sales?

All I really knew when I was seven was comic books and baseball cards, and that's what I started with. When we had our first garage sale with my mother, my mom said "we've got to go through all your toys and whatever toys you don't want anymore, we're going to sell them, and I'm going to sell some stuff in the house that we don't need and whatever money we make is the only money that you can use for new toys."

The sale did so well that around noon, we had nothing else to sell. So when my mother went to make lunch, she told me I was in control and to make sure we keep on selling. I went to the house and went to the living room and took some lamps, end tables, and some other stuff I could lift and brought onto the front lawn and sold that stuff. It wasn't until the next day that she realized I sold half of her stuff in the living room.

Instead of paying full-price for items, we'd go to other garage sales and I started seeing all these comic books and baseball cards and other toys, and from there I went to coins. I started buying and selling silver dollars and stuff like that. Between age seven to 25, I made my first million from garage sales, estate sales, and second-hand stores, buying and flipping stuff. I took all the money I made and flipped that into starting an art gallery.

[See How to Save Money on Toys for Your Kids.]

What are your strategies for pricing items?

I believe getting the other person talking starts to bring down the barriers. So anything under $15, I don't believe in pricing it. If there's no price, they're going to ask, "How much is this item?" and your follow-up would be, "What are you willing to pay for it?" They will come back to you with an amount of money and that's where you can start negotiating.

A lot times when you don't price items, you may get more than what you were hoping for, but this way, guaranteed, it will trigger a conversation between you and the buyer. Most of everybody's yard-sale stuff is under $15, so it's usually time-consuming to price all those little things. Now, if you have items above $15 to $20, you want to price it because people will offer you a lot less than what you're going to want.

What would you say to people who still think a garage sale is too time-consuming, so it's better to just donate the items to charity and take the tax deduction?

You do a garage sale for several reasons. First, I believe it is a great way of not only meeting your neighbors, but making money. You go through your house, and not only are you cleaning out your house, you're going to make money. So you have this garage sale and if you do it right, you can make anywhere from $500 to $1,500. And then you take that money and flip it into going to second-hand stores and estate sales and finding collectibles or items that can be instantly flipped into more money. I encourage people to do a garage sale, but at the end of the garage sale, you bag up everything that didn't sell and then give it to a Salvation Army or a local charity that you think could use it.

What tips would you offer readers who might be planning garage sales this summer?

Signs. The No. 1 thing that people screw up is they don't put out enough signs, or else they're the cheap ones. You need big three-by-three signs that are bright at intersections, and you need 15 to 20 of them. The other tip is using your Facebook. You need to let people know on Facebook that you're having a garage sale. There's also an app called TagSellIt.com where you can add your garage sale for free or you can look up garage sales in your area for free.

[See How to Stop Feeling Broke.]

What about people who are going to garage sales in the hopes of flipping items? What are the hot collectibles they could be making money on?

First, you need to make sure you bring your smartphone, because this is the way you figure out if you're getting a good deal. I believe in antiques, tin toys, old comic books, old fishing gear, old tools, stuff like that. Really high-grade stereo equipment that is in perfect condition or if it has the box it came with, you can easily flip that on eBay and Craigslist.

If your expertise is old records, then you should become fluent in old records, for the Beatles or Led Zeppelin or jazz because a lot of those vinyl records are worth a lot of money, but then there are a lot of them that are worth nothing. Being an expert in two or three things would really help you be a weapon at garage sales.

Usually when we talk about flipping a house, there's a lot of "sweat equity" involved. When you talk about flipping furniture or other items, are you restoring or repairing it?

If it's antique furniture, you do nothing except for dusting it off to maybe tightening things. Restorations on antique furniture could be very, very costly, meaning that you would take away value of that item, so you more just want to clean it off and make it look as good as you can without changing the overall look.

With newer items like maybe a bike, say, you buy a bike for $20 and you know it's worth $120, you could fix the flat tire, put a chain on, or tighten things. That's all fine. But you don't want to put in too much money, or else you're cutting into your profits.

With consignment stores, yard sales, eBay, and Craigslist, people have a lot of different options for reselling items nowadays. Which avenue should you choose?

Big furniture is really, really hard to sell on eBay because everybody wants it shipped and that's a nightmare, so that could be really perfect on craigslist, which is free. eBay does charge you, so between when you sell an item, you're paying anywhere from 6 to 9 percent of that item in PayPal fees.

You do not have an antique store or another consignment shop sell your stuff. They take too much of a percentage and then they're only getting people that come into their shop or their closest clients. You need to eliminate the middleman, and you'll make more money if you go and sell it yourself.



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