How to get a steal at garage, es­tate sales

The Progress-Index - At Home - - NEWS - BY DANIELLE BRAFF

The plethora of flu­o­res­cent yel­low signs and tiny flags clut­ter­ing ev­ery sub­ur­ban cor­ner of the United States may have given us a few hints: It’s prime sea­son for hit­ting garage and es­tate sales.

But if you feel as if you’re the lone soul who goes week af­ter week and re­turns home with flops — then it’s time you hear from the ex­perts to learn how to score big, and how not to lose when shop­ping at an es­tate sale or at a garage sale.

Come pre­pared. “There are three pieces of equip­ment that are manda­tory: A flash­light, a mag­ni­fy­ing glass and a tape mea­sure,” said Joe Ros­son, antiques ap­praiser and for­mer co-host of “Trea­sures in Your At­tic” on PBS. “With­out these, you will al­ways en­counter a sit­u­a­tion where one of them is ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary to mak­ing a de­ci­sion.” A tape mea­sure can tell you if it will fit in your liv­ing room or in your ve­hi­cle. A flash­light might help you peek into the back of a closet, or get a good look at how a piece was made.

A mag­ni­fy­ing glass might illuminate an item’s chip, crack or mark.

Bring a strong mag­net. “Gold and sil­ver will not stick to a mag­net,” said Nor­man Gorn­bein, a Cal­i­for­nia-based pawn­broking con­sul­tant and pre­cious metal re­finer and au­thor of “How to Open a Suc­cess­ful Pawn­shop.” While you may think that the piece of jew­elry you’re hold­ing is real gold be­cause it’s got the 14-carat gold stamp, “There’s no guar­an­tee,” Gorn­bein said. “For $2.50, any­one can buy a stamp.”

Buy a mag­ni­fy­ing glass. If you’re look­ing for a di­a­mond, you should come to the sale with a mag­ni­fier (Carson Lu­milLoupe 10X Power Stand Mag­ni­fier, $10.99 at ama­zon. com). “Most di­a­monds have im­per­fec­tions,” Gorn­bein said. “If you look at it through the loop and you see flaws, it’s a di­a­mond. If there are no flaws, mostly likely — it’s not.”

Get or­ga­nized. Ros­son sug­gested choos­ing sales the night be­fore, mak­ing a list and map­ping the lo­ca­tions. There are two meth­ods, Ros­son said. One is the serendip­i­tous ap­proach. “You go, and you find things by chance that in­ter­est you,” he said. “But this method is not for the se­ri­ous-minded.” The se­ri­ous are like the Boy Scouts — al­ways pre­pared. These people know what they’re look­ing for and what those items will look like when they find them. They’ve read about the items, they’ve gone to an­tique shows to see the gen­uine items and they’ve been to the mu­se­ums that carry them.

Stay away. You might want to avoid the fol­low­ing items: bed pil­lows, shoes, stained mat­tresses, com­put­ers or elec­tric com­po­nents, bathing suits, hats, food, games and puz­zles, Ros­son said. “Be care­ful about buy­ing things that need re­pair un­less you are good about get­ting to projects right away,” he said.

Look for au­then­tic­ity. If you’re buy­ing a piece of art­work, ask if it comes with a cer­tifi­cate of au­then­tic­ity, said Char­lotte Marra, part-owner of Lori Palmer Es­tate Sales, which op­er­ates es­tate sales in New Jersey. You could also gauge the piece’s worth by check­ing to see what the last work sold for at auc­tion. “But some art is sim­ply dec­o­ra­tive art, and if you like it, you buy it,” she said.

Check for a name. Bet­ter qual­ity fur­ni­ture should have a name etched into it, such as Baker, Kin­del or Henre­don, said Marra. The name is usu­ally marked on the side of the drawer. If it’s a good piece of fur­ni­ture, it would be made out of solid wood rather than pressed wood, and it wouldn’t be wob­bly. An­other mis­con­cep­tion about fur­ni­ture is that you can sim­ply up­hol­ster a chair. “But up­hol­stery isn’t cheap,” Marra said. “If you pick up a chair for $50 or $100, you could put some money into up­hol­ster­ing it, but you shouldn’t spend more than that.”

It’s all about the pack­age. “When buy­ing vin­tage toys, they’re worth more if they’re in their orig­i­nal pack­ag­ing,” Marra said. If you’re a col­lec­tor, you know how much the other vin­tage toys are worth sim­ply from do­ing your re­search — but any­one can quickly catch up by look­ing up the toy on to see if it has value out­side of the box.

Don’t ex­pect a mir­a­cle. “To­day, a lot of people are savvy as to what they’re sell­ing and what they’re not sell­ing,” Marra said. While it may be fun to watch some­one on TV share sto­ries of buy­ing art­work for $3 at a garage sale and find out it’s worth $10,000, the re­al­ity is this doesn’t hap­pen of­ten.

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