Pfrommer has found a way to enjoy his hobby without accumulating too much stuff: He puts his treasure-finding skills to use buying gifts for his family and friends, and finding bargains for charitable organizations. "For years I've bought furniture, electrical appliances, bedding and other items for At Jacob's Well, which provides housing and services for the homeless and mentally ill," he says. "When I was Scoutmaster for Troop 35, I often bought camping gear for the boys. At an estate sale last week, I paid $2 for about thirty cans of food for my church's CARES Food Bank."
From cans of food to dollar diamonds, for yard sale experts, the next treasure is always right around the corner.
Tips for throwing a stellar yard sale
There's more to putting on a successful yard sale than depositing the contents of your attic on the front lawn. Here, yard sale fans share what makes for a fantastic sale:
Get the word out: Expert yard sale shoppers troll websites like Craigslist for mentions of sales. Be clear in your post, explaining the types of goods you'll be selling. "Descriptions are very important," says Baltimore yard sale shopper Meg Fairfax Fielding. "Because I don't have children, I skip everything that says 'children's clothes and toys.' " Fielding skips those sales, but shoppers looking for kids' gear will focus on them.
Start early: "I usually start around 7," says Ellen Zipper, explaining that the best yard sale shopping usually ends well before noon. Yard sales courting serious shoppers will be ready to go first thing in the morning.
Put it out there: When it comes to yard sales, bigger is better, says Rebecca Barney. "With quantity, I can always find stuff," she says. "And I think people like to root through — they like to hunt." So don't worry if your goods are a bit jumbled; that adds to the fun.
Band together: Neighborhood yard sales featuring lots of houses are more popular among yard sale enthusiasts. "I don't put all my eggs in one basket," says Barney. "So I like community yard sales, especially."
Price it: "It's nice when things are priced!" says Barney. Seeing a price saves time and trouble for both the shopper and seller.
Be nice: "The best yard sales have good selection, good prices and nice people," says Zipper. So keep a smile on your face — it just might help you make that sale.
Shop like an expert
It's early Saturday morning. You've got coffee in hand and a yen to yard-sale shop. There are a thousand sales going on — so where to start? Let the experts guide your way:
Identify key words: Hard-core yard sale shoppers roughly map their route the night before or early in the morning the day of yard sales. They quickly learn to identify the sales that will be most fruitful, paying attention to words like "vintage" and signs that certain sales will focus on their particular interests (like jewelry, kitchen equipment or kids' stuff).
Apps: Craigslist is a popular yard sale advertising tool; experts continue to check the site for new sales until just before they head out shopping. But a variety of additional tools and programs can also help you identify sales in your area. "Yard Sale Treasure Map is a good one," says Meg Fairfax Fielding. "It plots your route."
Hop around: Experts suggest hitting multiple sales or flea markets in one day, starting early in the morning. And don't discount the power of paying attention while you drive. "I generally count on serendipity to find sales," says Fielding. "Some of the best sales are only advertised on signs in the areas where they're located." But keep your focus tight. Karl Pfrommer recommends sticking to a fairly small area, noting that "the less time you have invested in traveling, the more sales you can see."
Don't be afraid to bargain: Use marked prices as a starting point, suggests Pfrommer, who recently scored a set of Gorham crystal wine glasses for just $2 apiece, down from an original yard sale price of $25 each. "At $25 apiece, I decided to wait. Later, they were $18. I left again and returned just before the sale was finished. I asked, 'What's your best offer?' At $2 apiece, that's a deal I couldn't refuse."
Do what you love: "You have to like it," says Ellen Zipper. She explains that the love of the hunt is an important key to successful yard sale shopping. If you don't love it, you should probably just head to the mall.