After scoring just one really good bargain, Kathy Thompson said she was hooked.
The Perkiomenville resident had found herself an antique steamer trunk, circa late 1800’s, for $10 at a local yard sale. In remarkable condition, Thompson said finding the piece and handing over a mere Alexander Hamilton for it was one of the highlights of her life.
It now holds a coveted spot in her living room where she gets to see it every day. She said the quality craftsmanship and detailing on the piece make it something she will cherish for a long time.
“Literally, it was like hitting the lottery and my birthday all in one,” Thompson laughed. “Not only was it a beautiful piece that I knew would look great in my house, I know it is worth at least 20 times what I paid for it.”
And that is one of the reasons experts say yard saling is becoming one of America’s fastest growing pastimes. Some people are in it for the thrill of the chase, looking for antiques and collectibles they hope could net them a small fortune. Yet others are in it to score more practical items, like housewares and clothing, for pennies on the dollar.
It is the subject of reality shows like HGTV’s “Endless Yard Sale” where three teams of shoppers compete to get the most bang for their buck on the infamous Route 127 yard sale from Michigan to Alabama.
It’s also likened to increasingly popular programs like “Storage Wars,” “Flea Market Finds” and “Auction Hunters” where bargain hunters find treasures in other people’s castoffs.
Yard saling, while not a new hobby, more resembles a sport. Diehards scour local newspapers and sites like Craigslist and gsalr.com to view listings and map out their routes. Yes, there’s an app for that too. The sales have evolved from a Saturday morning activity to a Friday through Sunday staple in many communities, with some holding them weekdays too.
At a Labor Day weekend yard sale in Pennsburg, borough resident Josie Bossert and a friend were looking through vintage clothing, jewelry and shoes.
“I think it you’re able to get it at a better price, why not? And it brings you closer to the community,” she said of getting to know her neighbors. Bossert, who said she also frequents thrift stores, noted one of her recent finds included a chic pair of Naturalizer shoes for $1.50, which retail for $70.
“This is our first time in a while,” said Trudy Stone of Hereford of yard sale shopping. “You never know what you’ll find though…You always pay much less for things. Maybe you’ll find a treasure.”
At a neighboring sale in East Greenville, Leeann Fichter said she was looking for baby clothes, a staple at many yard sales as children grow out of things quickly.
Nancy Esterly and her daughter, Sabrena, said they found some unique jewelry Friday but Nancy noted they have gotten many things over the years at yard sales that they regularly use, including a living room set and Nancy’s piece de resistance, an outdoor, four-person wooden glider for $25.
“I would have never been able to afford one,” she said of the furniture and her family’s recent layoffs. “They go for several hundred dollars.”
And the Easterlys weren’t the only mother-daughter team bargain-hunting in the Upper Perkiomen Valley Friday. Perkiomenville residents Patti and Mackenzie Hollins said they love a good yard sale.
“With this economy, every penny you can save you do,” Patti said. “We usually shop for household stuff and clothing, but if it seems like a good deal, and you know it is worth much more money, you can’t beat it.”
Experts offer several tips on how to shop a yard sale like a pro, including these from HGTV.com:
Wear comfortable shoes. You’ll be on your feet a lot.
Map out your routes and consider optimizing your time by stopping at sites with multiple vendors.
If you see something you like buy it; it will likely be gone if you come back later.
Bring a tape measure with you to ensure large pieces like furniture will fit inside your home.
Wear sunscreen or a hat.
Bring plenty of cash, water and snacks.
While most yard salers will tell you the process is addictive, it’s hard not to see the allure of spending a little and getting a lot.
“It’s like a game to many of us,” Thompson said of getting a good deal. “But really it makes you feel better about yourself in the end. To be able to afford things, especially antique or one-of-a-kind pieces that you love, that makes you happy.”