Dos and Don'ts of Garage-Sale Shopping
Read our tips on secondhand buying before you head to your next garage, yard, or stoop sale
'Tis the season for yard sales! But even though streets are lined with bargains, not everything is fit for snagging. Here, your guide to what's a steal…and what may not be worth the hassle.
Buy: See hand tools of the vintage variety? Grab 'em! Even if there's a little rust, these can be cleaned up and make for handsome collectors' items. (Depending on the condition, they can still be functional, too!)
Leave: Forget gas- or electric-powered tools unless they're dirt cheap, or you can guarantee that they were properly maintained. They could cost you more money in upkeep than you'd pay to get them new.
Buy: Bricks, cinder blocks, and tile are all worth loading onto your truck—just make sure that none of the individual pieces have been chipped. You should always buy about 15 percent more than you plan to use for a project to account for cuts and breaks. And keep in mind that unique patterns and colors might be hard to track down if you need to replace any pieces a few years down the road. Wood, engineered, or laminate flooring can also be a good bet.
Leave: Bypass that extra lumber—before 2003, pressure-treated wood contained arsenic, a proven carcinogen. Since you can't guarantee the age of the boards, it's better to be safe and buy them brand-new.
Leave: It's tempting, but avoid buying paint of unknown age or origin. If you don't know how it was stored or if it was subject to freezing, you can't trust the quality, no matter how new the can looks.
Buy: Wood pieces with sturdy construction are worth buying, but anything that wobbles could cost more to repair than to purchase. The exception: Rickety pieces with handsome wood grain, dovetail finishes, or other heirloom-like qualities, which could be worth the refurbishing investment.
Leave: Avoid bringing upholstered furniture home, lest you invite bugs to hitch a ride to your house.
Buy: Small-scale electronics, such as speakers, are a good bet if they include the original box and instructions. But if they're missing any parts, leave them be…and make sure to test everything on-site, too.
Leave: Walk away from kitchen appliances, such as blenders, food processors, or juicers. Blades and other parts can become dull and ineffective over time, and the replacement parts for old models can be difficult to come by.