The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

April 28, 2013

How to be a happy ‘hunter’ this spring


Spring is here. Daffodils, crocuses and garage-sale signs are popping up everywhere.

Especially garage-sale signs.

I’ve been stopping at garage sales since the 1960s, probably. Back then, they were called “rummage sales.” In that ancient time, people still put their cars in their garages, I guess.

Typically, I fall in love with something, have to have it, cut a deal, and happily lug it home. I keep some things. Other items are enjoyed for a while, but over time, the romance fades and I wind up taking them (and dozens of others) to a local flea market. I have made thousands of dollars that way and it’s fun.

Here are a few tips … Rummage Sale 101.

— Check the ads each day. If you are looking for antiques and collectibles, as I do, focus on older neighborhoods where lots of older people live. I skip sales that advertise children’s clothes and new toys. Multi-family neighborhood sales can be awesome.

— Arrive early. I don’t show up the night before, but I get there 30-45 minutes early. Most people will let you in.

— Money talks. Some rummage sales won’t take checks (who can blame them?) and they can’t break your $100 bills. Take $1, $5, $10 and $20 bills — lots of them. You never know what you might find. Often, the best things are not mentioned in the ad.

— If I see a truly amazing deal, I pay the ticket price and scram before some jealous stranger pipes up and says “Oh, that’s worth a lot more than that!” or “I saw one on eBay last week that brought $475!”

— If you must return for a big piece that you just bought, take part of it with you — a dresser drawer, for instance. That keeps the seller from reselling your item for a higher price. That can happen, believe it or not.

— Test electrical items. If a motor or an engine won’t run, don’t assume that you can fix it. Avoid anything that’s broken; parts can be impossible to find and repairs can be costly.

— If a seller says “make an offer,” explain to him that it is his item, he knows how much he paid for it, and he should come up with a price. If that doesn’t work, make a low offer — but not insultingly low — and see what happens. You can always go up.

— Act. Trust your instincts. If you really want it, go for it. Do not set it back down. Do not let it leave your hands until you have paid for it. I’ve seen competing buyers get into arguments, even shoving matches.

— Remember, it’s easier to buy than to sell. Think about what you will do with it, where you will use it, and how you might — someday — sell it and make some money.

Buy things you like, have fun, and happy hunting!

Danville native Kevin Cullen is a former Commercial-News reporter. Reach him at