Fortunately, there’s an even better-priced market out there, if you’re a savvy, patient shopper. No, I’m not referring to eBay, Craigslist, or other web-based shopping sites. I’m talking about the live in-person ever-changing marketplace of yard sales, a.k.a. garage sales, tag sales, and flea markets.
With the right combination of luck, timing, and product savvy, you can pick up some remarkable bargains, on everything from parts and accessories to entire systems.
My friend Howard, for example, says he has purchased some nice flat-screen monitors and TVs for $10 or less. (“Why on earth do people let these things go so cheaply?” he asks. If possible, he adds, get the remote — and the manual if they’ve got it, although those are available online.)
Yard sales have the advantage of instant gratification, no shipping costs, and being sure that you’re getting what you expected. The downside, of course, is the possibility it won’t work, and there’s no warranty or refund.
Don’t expect to find the newest products (although you may). Yard sales are where you go for last year’s — and last decade’s — stuff.
For example, you can find “classic-format” flat-screen displays, at $5-25; USB floppy drives for a buck or two; Unopened copies of Windows XP and Microsoft Office for $5-20; and keyboards, mice and USB cables for a buck. You can also find a range of computer desks and office chairs to outfit your home office.
And yard sales are a great place to find spares of niche products that you use, like trackballs, phone-to-audio connectors, adapters of various types, and the like — even if you already have one, stocking up on a spare or two at the right price never (well, rarely) hurts.
If you’re still listening to music through stereo gear, yard sales can also offer great bargains, especially as everybody else is discarding theirs. CDs and movie DVDs often for a buck or less. Good pre-BluRay CD/DVD changers are commonly available in the $2-5 range, good tuners and receivers for $5-20.
Great stereo gear costs a little more, anywhere from $25 to $200. Caveat emptore:you have to know what you’re looking at, and, if you can’t test it before you buy, be prepared for some to have problems.
Some things to avoid, or at least be cautious about: digital cameras and notebooks. Make sure they work. Think carefully before spending more than $15; these items become obsolete quickly, you may be able to do better through store/web remainder bins. The same is true for printers; I’ve given up buying them at yard sales.
Of course, not everything you buy will work. As a rule, yard sale purchases are “as is,” so if possible and appropriate, see if the item is working before you take your wallet out — if it’s an AC-powered device, see if they’ve got an outlet available.
You will, inevitably, buy some things that you decide weren’t worth it, or simply don’t work. But that’s part of the game; you have to decide whether, overall, you’d be better off sticking to the stores.
To know what’s a fair price, it’s helpful to periodically visit a computer store or scan the ads, so you know what new stuff is going for. (And you might do a quick check on the spot, from your smartphone. Be sure to pull the item from the pile so somebody else doesn’t grab it while you’re researching.)
And don’t hesitate to bargain! That’s half the fun of yard sales, after all. My rule of thumb is to offer one-third to one-half of the asking price, and be ready to go one more round after the counter-offer.
Another tip: if you’ve selected three or more items, make an aggressively lower offer “for the pile.” Remember, most yard sale runners are more interested in getting rid of their stuff than getting the most money.
And, of course, after a while, it’s probably time for you to do your own yard sale.