Garage sale strategy: A champion shopper (yours truly) shows you how

More so than tulips or rosebuds, spring brings a multicolored sprout that makes my budget-loving heart leap up: poster-board signs of pink, yellow and green announcing yet another garage sale.

Yes, garage sale season has arrived, and if you toured the Carlozo abode, you'd see evidence of yard sale triumphs everywhere. A Cuisinart toaster over, out-of-the-box new, for $20. It sits next to our microwave oven, a $15 find. I've also landed a 1940s Slingerland snare drum for $25 -- worth 30 times that after I stripped the silver spray paint and refinished the wood shell.

But for sheer bragging rights, nothing tops my mint condition, navy-blue Ermenegildo Zegna tie. Garage sale price: $1. Sale price: $87-$160, depending on where you shop.

That said, I've brought home my share of duds. A Soldier Field-replica Chicago Bears serving platter, complete with football-shaped bowl for holding "da dip." Rusty power drills that fried the moment I plugged them in at home.

So based on my years of experience trawling the yards, garages and alleys of Chicago, I present my five tips for garage sale success. Read on, and prepare to score, and please: Share your tips and victory stories with me and WalletPop readers. So many sales, so much to learn!

1) Set out with a clear idea of what you need, and what you don't.
Impulse buying will doom your garage sale outing and drain your bankroll. Avoid tchotchkes and trinkets like the plague, unless that's your goal. Compare that to a pre-planned search for a particular item -- kid's clothes, let's say -- which will allow you to flit from sale to sale until you find that clothes bin at the end of the rainbow.

2) Always haggle. Remember that for almost all sellers, the main goal of garage sales is to clear out unwelcome clutter. I've found that almost every time, no reasonable offer gets refused, especially if you make a package buy.

3) Try it on, try it out. Unlike a department store, you can't return jeans bought from someone's backyard. That 33 on the jeans waist label may fit more like a 30 after countless washings. With electronics, inspect closely for loose wires, telltale dents and stuck/busted switches. One good test: Turn on and off in succession a half dozen times.

4) Be a "late bird." Most folks want to be garage sale early birds. Not me. At the end of a sale, a seller's desperation to purge goes up -- way up. This is how I landed three Italian-made suits in my size two years ago, for free. All needed minor alterations, but talk about sewing up a deal.

5) Ask for what you don't see. I love musical instruments, and two years ago I asked a seller if he had any. He had none on display, but from his basement he pulled out a vintage 1980s synthesizer, cloth case included. I scored it for $20. Fair market value: $350-$400.
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