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Cleaning up at garage sales

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Smart strategies
• Skip the "tween" hours. Go early, when you can have your pick of the lot, or go late, when prices may be slashed by weary sale-givers looking to move merchandise. Or do both.

• Check considered purchases' battery compartments -- no, not to see that they have fresh batteries (bwahahaha!) -- but to make sure old ones haven't corroded their innards. Even if all's clear, ask for batteries to check that items are working properly (or tote your own, if you know you're in the market for a battery-operated product).

• Use the power of touch. Often, small chips in glassware can't be easily seen, so run your finger around glasses' rims.

• Plug it in. Never buy an electrical item without first getting a demo.

• Be aware that certain items -- hair dryers and children's car seats, among them -- have a high safety recall rate. If you're uncertain about something you've bought, or are considering, call the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission at (800) 638-2772, or visit its Web site at www.cpsc.gov.

The art of the deal
Can you bargain? Um, can Britney sell records?

• Start by asking for at least 10 percent to 20 percent off the marked or stated price. If in doubt, go for the greater reduction. Best-case scenario: Your offer's accepted. If not, the lower figure will give you room to maneuver in the back-and-forth that may ensue before a "happy medium" is reached.

• Don't insult the merchandise. Rather than exclaiming, "What, for this old rag?," either counteroffer or simply ask, "Can you do better on the price?" If the item has a flaw, politely use it to your advantage: "This crooked hem will mean a bit of work for me. If you can do better ..."

• Negotiate discreetly. You're asking for special consideration, something the seller may be unable or unwilling to do for everyone within earshot, so do be discreet.

• If you're considering a couple of items, try the "two-fer" tack and ask: "If I take both, can you do better on the price?" (Remember: The more the merrier, in terms of bargaining leverage.)

Never can say goodbye ... nor do you need to
If you're ambivalent about an item, or it's still too pricey, despite your best bargaining efforts, give the seller your name and phone number. Tell them that if the piece remains unsold, and they're willing to come down in price, you just might consider purchasing that velvet painting of the dogs playing poker. Or maybe not.

Bankrate.com's corrections policy -- Updated: Aug. 14, 2006
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