Sunday, May 16, 2010

Garage Sales

I went to some garage sales over the weekend. That would be plural—sales. Although I did also visit several garages, but that is besides the point., Anyways, my last visit to a garage sale was about two years ago, and I only went to ones that were in my development. This time, I went to one held at a church, a random house in a random neighborhood, and several in a development. I do not imagine a lot has changed about garage sales. The art of reselling used items, however has come a long way. We now have eBay, Craigslist, and numerous other websites to allow people to transfer possessions to another person.

Unlike these online methods, where you can certainly zero in on the exact item you desire, garage sales offer an element of mystery. They are and forever will be associated with the random occasion of someone stumbling onto a rare and valuable object. That just does not happen online, because when you are selling online you are obligated to give as much information about your item as possible. Going online is analogous to going to someone’s garage. You should have a very good idea what you are buying before you buy it. This is very true for eBay. In Craigslist you still have the option of examining the item at the seller’s premises before buying.

Another difference between the traditional garage sale and the online reselling is the cost of shipping. You always have to consider shipping online, which ultimately makes the item cost more. At a garage sale if you can move it you can buy it. That is why you see so many people with trucks and SUVs at garage sales. They are making sure they have room for whatever it is they might find. And that brings us to the different buyers and sellers at garage sales.

There are really only two types of buyers at garage sales. The fanatic and the interested. The fanatics arrive at garage sales the minute they are open, usually around 8am (hence the humor behind garage sales that advertise “no early birds” and start at 10am). These buyers are looking for specific items—jewelry, art, antiques. And apparently, as I found out this weekend, children’s toys. You would be surprised how quickly a motorized care can sell at eight in the morning on Saturday. The other type of buyer is the merely interested. These people stroll in after 9am. They tend to not have any specific goal in mind other than the see what garbage other people had once thought was worth buying. If they find something neat, then great. Otherwise it is just fun to get a glimpse into other people’s lives.

On the other side, there are two types of sellers. You have those who are trying to unload old or unneeded items, and those who are trying to make money. The two are definitely mutually exclusive in the context of a garage sale. If you have a signed first edition Harry Potter you are not putting it out at a garage sale. You are listing it on eBay or some auction house. And given that there are only two types of sellers, you can easily figure out who you are dealing with at a garage sale.

For instance, I bought a small slide this weekend at a church garage sale. This slide would typically retail for sixty dollars at Toys R Us. I got it for three dollars. And it was in surprisingly good condition. They lady that sold it to me was clearly trying to get rid of old unneeded belongings and happened to make some money in the process. But when I went to a multihouse garage sale in a nearby development, I found a roller coaster car ride in pretty good condition. This would have retailed for about a hundred dollars. The lady was selling it for forty dollars. As I was examining the toy, the lady’s twelve year old daughter came out to tell her mother something. I knew instantly that the lady was trying to make money rather than clear her basement. I am sure she would have kept that roller coaster car in her basement collecting dust rather than sell it for less than her perceived monetary value of it. Which, of course, was completely discrepant from her reality given that her children were far too old by many years to even play with it anymore. Needless to say, I did not buy that toy from that lady.

There are certain things that people always put out that I always wonder if anyone ever buys. Things such as old electronics. Now I do not mean antique radios. I mean a CRT monitor, a toaster from the 1990s, a blender that is a shade of brown that was popular in the 1980s, or a television that has knobs. Who actually wants this stuff? And how about clothes? I would think that buying used clothes requires some degree of impersonality and separation between the buyer and the seller. Otherwise it would be like buying someone’s half eaten sandwich in the restaurant. And last but not least, baby car seats. Who is going to buy an old used car seat? I have seen how baby seats were just ten years ago, and the baby seats today are safer and sturdier. What new parents in the this generation are going to put their child in a ten or even five year car seat they bought from a stranger at a garage sale? We are not talking about a rented car seat for a short vacation. Or are we…Still, I have never seen or heard of anyone buying a car seat from a garage sale. I hope it is not because they are all taken by 8:05am.