What to Look For at Garage Sales (To Make Actual Money)
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure! And for true bargain hunters, a garage sale can be a trove of valuable items, full of hidden gems that could fetch significantly more than the asking price on the open market.
Part of what makes tag sales so appealing for shoppers is the hope that someone will put a valuable item up for sale on impulse. Maybe they want to clear space in their house or rid themselves of an old memory. Or maybe, they’ve just overlooked the value of a certain item.
At the same time, a garage sale can be a great place to load up on cheap household items. You can pay far less at a sale than you would at the store if you’re willing to use someone else’s secondhand products.
The key to success is knowing what secondhand items to look for. Keep reading to learn all about how to approach garage sale shopping so you can find the best deals and potentially earn cash flipping your successful garage sale finds.
What to Look For at a Yard Sale
- Random antiques
- Old computers
- Rare books
- Kitchen items
- VHS tapes
- Skiing equipment and accessories
- Jewelry and accessories
- Collectibles and memorabilia
- Vintage clothing
- Sports equipment
- Car accessories
- Antique picture frames
- Baby accessories
- Holiday decorations
- Exercise equipment
- Musical instruments
- Outdoor gear
1. Random antiques
As “Antiques Roadshow” fans know firsthand, antiques can fetch a lot of money. Items like pens, china sets, rare coins, and perfume bottles can all potentially fetch thousands of dollars.
The hard part is identifying rare and valuable items. Without a keen eye for detail, you could wind up hoarding worthless items and wasting money at garage sales.
If you’re looking for antiques, it’s worth researching what makes them valuable. The general rule is to keep your eye out for authentic items in good condition, produced in low quantities, and built by well-known companies or craftspeople.
You should also keep your eye out for items that may not have been popular at the time of production but remain in high demand today, like lamps, candle holders, and silverware.
2. Old computers
Attics across the United States are loaded with old computers that could be worth a small fortune.
By some estimates, the Apple II and III, Apple LISA, and the Altair 8800 machines all have massive value today.
Your best bet is to carry around a smartphone and type the model into Google any time you see a computer built before 1990. Who knows? You could wind up scoring a rather valuable item at a low price.
For selling old tech, check out a site like Decluttr.
As time goes on, demand is growing for rare old video games in good condition. That being the case, it’s vital to keep your eyes peeled for cardboard boxes loaded with old cartridges from early Atari and Nintendo systems.
For example, Air Raid for Atari goes for anywhere from $3,000 to $30,000, depending on the condition. DuckTales 2 for NES can run from $200 to $600. And Red Sea Crossing for Atari can fetch $13,000. Similarly, old board games can also be very valuable. Don’t pass up that dusty first edition of Clue!
Again, this is where you’ll want to have a smartphone handy. Just because a video game is old doesn’t make it valuable. Prices vary depending on packaging, label, and production quantity. Pay attention, because the last thing you want is to end up with a box full of worthless games you’ll never play.
4. Rare books
Old books tend to go to the curb when homeowners need to clear space since they’re bulky and dusty. Oftentimes, people won’t think twice before chucking a book into a box and putting it out with the rest of the junk during a garage sale.
As such, you should always look through book collections to try to find old gems like rare books and first editions.
A book’s value increases when demand exceeds production. Age, scarcity, condition, and author all play a determining role in a book’s overall price. If you’re unsure about a book and can get it for a few dollars, it’s probably a good idea to snag it while you can.
Of course, books don’t have to be rare to be valuable. Garage sales can be a great place to load up on cheap reads, providing you with hours—nay, weeks!—of entertainment. Oftentimes, people throw out financial books too, so keep your eyes peeled for classics that can help you accelerate your journey to financial freedom.
5. Kitchen items
Garage sales are useful for cooking enthusiasts and treasure hunters.
Look for cookware like stainless steel cutlery, cheap drinking glasses, pyrex containers, plates, and bowls. You may also be able to find items like strainers, colanders, and toaster ovens.
Sellers often bundle items together. It’s possible to walk away with a whole kitchen set without paying an arm and a leg.
It’s also a good idea to look for vintage items like fancy cookie jars, which can sell to collectors for a lot of money. If you see an older, intricate cookie jar, check the date. If it’s from the 1930s, it could be valuable.
Cast iron pans in good condition can also fetch a pretty penny when they’re free of rust and cracks.
6. VHS tapes
VHS tapes haven’t been relevant for many years, but movie buffs still collect them. Most lack value, but some—like Pinocchio and E.T.—can potentially net a small profit.
If you see a box of VHS movies at a garage sale, definitely take a look regardless of whether you have a VCR at home. Who knows? You could make some decent cash on the resale.
7. Skiing equipment and accessories
If you live in a colder area, chances are you can snag some vintage skis, poles, hats, gloves, and goggles at your neighborhood garage sale.
Look for items that you can either use on the mountain or sell on sites like eBay or Facebook Marketplace.
When it comes to sunglasses, the brand name means everything.
If you see anything from a manufacturer like Ray-Ban, Vuarnet, Revo, and Giorgio Armani, consider buying it.
You’ll want to stay on the lookout for fake sunglasses, though. There are many counterfeit pairs in circulation, and it’s often impossible to tell if an item is authentic with the naked eye.
9. Jewelry and accessories
There’s no need to spend a fortune on items like watches, brooches, costume jewelry, and belts. Visit enough garage sales, and you’re bound to walk out with some stylish items to enhance your wardrobe.
While your odds of finding new, high-end watches at a garage sale are relatively low, you may find a vintage item or two that you could refurbish or sell outright. Big-name brands include Rado Starliner, Hamilton Brock, and OMEGA Seamaster.
But whatever you do, don’t waste your time looking for a real Rolex at a garage sale.
10. Collectibles and memorabilia
People often give away collectibles and memorabilia at garage sales, assuming they aren’t worth much. They might look up the price online and determine the item is worthless. Or they might not see value in holding onto it… only to sell and find out the hard way that they missed out years later.
Some items to look for include vinyl records, comic books, action figures, and baseball card collections.
Unfortunately, most sports cards produced during the 1980s and 1990s have little value because of mass production. Cards from the 1940s or earlier have the most value, especially rookie cards and rare prints.
Typewriters haven’t been relevant in decades. But they have a romantic quality that some people (including my editor) find appealing. Some older models—like pristine Underwood typewriters—can go for several hundred dollars or more.
Not all vintage typewriters can lead to profits, and it may not be worth the money, care, and storage space. Make sure to look up the year and model before you purchase.
12. Vintage clothing
Clothes can be very expensive these days. So looking sharp on a budget may require creativity.
Visiting a garage sale can lead you to designer items at thrift store prices: neckties, dresses, sweaters, jeans, and shoes. You never know what you might uncover.
13. Sports equipment
In need of a new driver, fishing rod, tennis racket, or softball mitt? Visit a garage sale and see what you can find.
While these items can fetch top dollar at a retailer, they often cost next to nothing at a sale where someone is just trying to make space in their garage.
Just make sure to look for defects before purchasing. You don’t want to buy something that doesn’t work.
If you’re handy around the house and like making home repairs, you know firsthand how expensive tools can be.
Garage sales can serve as excellent opportunities for landing these items at discount prices. On top of that, garage sales can lead to excellent deals on yard tools like leaf blowers, lawnmowers, shovels, and rakes.
If you’re working your way through a list of home maintenance projects and need supplies, look for a garage sale.
15. Car accessories
While finding engine and replacement parts at garage sales is unlikely due to varying model specifications, you very well might find some useful car accessories.
This may include items like motor oil, cleaning supplies, floor mats, and unused air fresheners. You may even be able to find matching hub caps or a new steering wheel cover.
Vintage cameras can create photographs with a timeless quality—something digital devices simply can’t replicate.
One of these vintage cameras could be a money-maker if you use it to create high-quality artwork and sell it to galleries or stock photo sites like Shutterstock.
If you search hard, you might find a reasonably priced vintage camera at one of the next garage sales you peruse.
The odds of finding a hidden masterpiece at a garage or estate sale are rare, but you never know.
Consider the story of Eric Bowyer, who bought a rare painting at a garage sale for $25, only to find out it was from Italian-American artist Jon Corbino. The painting carried a value worth about 380 times the purchase amount: $9,500.
If this story teaches us anything, it’s that you always need to stay on the lookout for artwork. If something catches your eye, consider buying it.
At the very least, you can decorate your own house on the cheap!
18. Antique picture frames
In some cases, picture frames can be worth more than the artwork they contain. Garage sales often sell ornate, hand-carved frames made from expensive materials.
Even if the frame isn’t worth much outright, you could potentially take something that looks interesting or valuable and sell it at a higher markup online.
Buying furniture from a garage sale is incredibly risky due to bed bugs that hide in cushions and fabric. And once your place is infested with bed bugs, you might as well burn it down. So you have to be very careful about what you bring home. If you’re willing to take the risk, you can potentially find cheap sofas and chairs. Otherwise stick to hard wood rather than upholstered items.
Your best bet is to find cheap furniture at a garage sale, fix it up, and flip it for cash online or at your own sale. This requires a bit of handiwork, but it can lead to significant profits.
20. Baby accessories
Parents and caregivers spend thousands of dollars on baby clothes and accessories. For most families, it helps to cut costs with cheap, secondhand gear.
People often sell unwanted cribs, car seats, toys, strollers, and baby clothes at garage sales. Sometimes, high-quality items are available at fire sale prices.
You could easily spoil the kids on a secondhand budget!
21. Holiday decorations
It’s always good to have party accessories on hand like miniature Independence Day flags, Halloween supplies, and Christmas decorations.
Buying these items at garage sales can lead to cost savings: a cheaper way to show your holiday spirit.
Need a new stove or refrigerator? How about a microwave or Instant Pot?
Don’t pay full price for kitchen appliances. Visit a yard sale and load up on cheap items instead.
You can save thousands of dollars on used appliances if you’re willing to go this route. With a little disinfectant, these items can be good as new.
23. Exercise equipment
While health experts may advocate going to the gym, financial experts suggest otherwise.
Going to the gym and paying $10 to $30 every month can add up over time. It’s money that could otherwise go towards saving and investing.
Instead, check out a local sale and look for cheap gym equipment like Nordic Tracks, treadmills, and free weights. Try to build a home gym to save money.
24. Musical instruments
Garage sales often sell unwanted musical instruments and accessories like amplifiers, making them a go-to for amateur musicians.
Sometimes, people don’t realize what they’re throwing away. You may walk away with a rare and expensive vintage Les Paul or Stradivarius that can enhance your jam sessions or net you a lot of money, depending on if you decide to resell it.
25. Outdoor gear
It’s fun to explore nature. But it requires a lot of expensive gear like tents, backpacks, and camp stoves.
Instead of dropping hundreds of dollars at REI, go to a tag sale and see if you can score some outdoor camping equipment at reasonable pricing.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is an estate sale?
An estate sale is a type of auction where an individual or family sells their personal belongings to the public. Estate sales often take place following a death in the family.
Estate sales often sell high-end items at reasonable prices. You can potentially find quality artwork, expensive sofas, and electronic devices at these events.
Are tag sales safe?
Tag sales are generally safe. The only thing you have to be careful about is purchasing fake or stolen items… and bed bugs.
If you buy an item and it turns out to be stolen but you didn’t know it at the time, then you can’t be held liable for its theft.
If you suspect an item like a bag or pair of sunglasses may be fake, don’t buy it. You should also consider telling the owner so they don’t accidentally sell it as an original.
Should I have a garage sale?
If your house is full of unwanted electronics, books, furniture, and accessories, consider having a garage sale and selling your stuff. You can potentially make a lot of money this way and clear out some space in the process.
Having a garage sale is fun, easy, and profitable because it comes with almost no overhead but your time.
The Bottom Line
Garage sale finds can both help you save and earn extra money. Because yard sale prices are typically much lower than what retailers charge, if you find a bargained-priced item, you may be able to turn a nice profit by flipping it on Craigslist.
On top of that, you can potentially nab big-ticket items or rare antiques with tremendous resale value. So, if you want to make some extra cash, try visiting some local sales and looking for rare items.
For further reading on this topic, check out “The Garage Sale Millionaire” by Aaron LaPedis. In the book, LaPedis provides a comprehensive overview of what to look for at garage sales and how to rake in cash.
So when are you heading to your next garage sale?