With warmer weather and a heightened desire to clear out clutter, summer is prime time for yard sales. From leather-bound books to designer clothing labels, there are plenty of deals to be had at a fraction of the original retail price -- if you know what to look for. Some items even have resale potential, according to Aaron LaPedis, author of "The Garage Sale Millionaire." On the other hand, there are a few pieces that aren't a steal at any price.
Serious yard salers start early and carry plenty of $1 bills, so they're ready to pounce on a deal when they find one. Of course, it can take some patience to sort through the mismatched kitchen utensils and sweat-stained T-shirts to find the real gems. Here's a look at what to buy -- and what to avoid -- at yard sales this summer.
Yard sales can be a treasure trove of coffee tables, dining sets and other furniture for a fraction of the original price. "Wooden furniture can be easily repainted as long as it has really good lines," says Lynda Hammond, founder of GarageSaleGal.com and author of "Garage Sale Gal's Guide to Making Money off Your Stuff." "Older furniture was made better, too," she says.
Chris Heiska, founder of YardSaleQueen.com, suggests looking for smaller tables or bookcases, since they're easier to transport than larger items. If you're buying an item to fit your home, make sure you know the measurements of your space and test out the item's quality.
"If you're buying a chest of drawers, you want to see how nice and smooth the drawers push in and out," she says. "If something is hard to open and close, the quality probably isn't there." If you plan to return with a truck to pick up a larger item, such as a chest of drawers, pay for the item, and take one of the drawers with you to deter other buyers from making a better offer, she says.
Steer clear of: Couches and beds. Upholstered furniture can carry bed bugs, and the cost of ridding your home of these pesky critters could easily cancel out the savings.
With many books selling for $1 or less, yard sales are the perfect place to stock up on beach reads. Of course, books aren't just for reading. "Reader's Digest books or other leather-bound books make great household items that you can display in a library setting," says Hammond.
Some people even buy yard-sale books to resell online and earn a profit. "Books are a huge seller at garage sales and there are several smartphone apps where you can scan the book's ISBN and find out if it's selling on Amazon.com and for how much," Hammond says.
Steer clear of: Water-stained books, especially if you're planning to resell them. According to LaPedis, "Water damage basically destroys the value of most books."
"If you find electronics that are less than a year old, you'll be able to get them dirt cheap, but they still have all the features that everybody needs," says LaPedis. He adds that high-end speakers or stereo equipment with the original box and instructions can attract potential buyers if you're reselling electronics on Craigslist.
Be sure to plug in electronics, and test them out before you buy. Also check the box to make sure it contains all the original parts. "If you have any doubts, try to bring up a picture of the item on your phone," says Hammond. And if you spot an item that's missing parts, know that it's not always a deal breaker. Hammond once spent $3 on a yard-sale coffee maker to replace a broken carafe in her own coffee maker.
Steer clear of: Low-end brands, as they have limited resale potential and aren't as durable as their higher-end counterparts, says LaPedis.
Visit yard sales in an upscale neighborhood, and you'll sometimes find designer clothes that can be resold on eBay. Heiska looks for clothes and shoes in larger sizes because those are easier to resell. "It's harder to find people in smaller sizes because people are fluffier these days," she says.
Whether you're buying clothes for yourself or for resale purposes, examine them carefully for rips and stains. Heiska suggests making sure all the buttons are intact and that zippers are in working condition. Some yard-sale sellers will let you try on clothes indoors, but others won't because of concerns about theft. Dress in layers, so you can try on, say, a sweater or dress over a tank top.
Steer clear of: Clothes that smell of smoke. "Even with dry cleaning, you cannot get the smoke smell out," says Hammond.
"Yard sales are probably the best place to buy children's clothing," says Hammond. "With infants and toddlers, those clothes are worn for a month, and then they outgrow them. You cannot beat the price."
Also, look for kids' toys and games on the cheap. "Read the instructions and count all the pieces to make sure it's all there," says Heiska. "If it's a small puzzle, you can easily count the pieces, but when it gets up to a 200-piece puzzle, you just take a chance. A lot of times, kids' puzzles are priced so inexpensively that it's a small price to pay for finding other puzzles that are complete." When she finds games or puzzles still shrink-wrapped in plastic, she'll buy those items to donate during the holiday season.
Steer clear of: Cribs and car seats because those are frequently recalled. In fact, drop-side cribs are now illegal to sell because of the strangulation risk.
Sports and exercise equipment
A lot of sports and exercise equipment sold at yard sales were purchased with good intentions and then barely used. As LaPedis points out, larger items are expensive to ship, so yard-sale sellers are often eager to unload them locally. Look for deals on bikes, free weights, tennis rackets, soccer cleats and other items.
"It's hard to break hand weights," says Hammond. "But with weight benches, just make sure the bench works well and goes up and down like it should."
Steer clear of: Treadmills and other exercise machines. Hammond cautions against buying a treadmill at a garage sale or yard sale, "because you're buying someone else's problem. Buy it at a store, and you'll have a warranty on it."
When people redecorate, they'll often sell perfectly good picture frames, bowls, table runners, candleholders and other decor items at a yard sale. Hammond says this is a golden opportunity to affordably decorate your own home. "I've purchased a few table runners, and instead of using them as table runners, I'll put them on top of a shelf or weave (them) in and out of baskets," she says. "I pay about $1 for a table runner."
Garage sales are also a gold mine for crafters and upcyclers. "You can buy a deep picture frame for a buck or two apiece and turn it into a serving tray by sanding it a little bit to make it shabby chic and adding handles," Hammond says. Broken or chipped pottery is perfect for mosaic projects, while old magazines make great material for collage-making.
Steer clear of: Nothing. When it comes to home decor items, "keep an open mind and have some patience," she says.
Many yard-sale sellers will price record albums around $1 apiece. Heiska recommends checking the record for scratches and making sure the right album is inside. Of course, some people buy records to use the album cover as artwork, so if you're planning to display the album cover, make sure the seller hasn't marred the cover with a price tag, she adds.
Audiophiles love records, so LPs by certain artists, such as the Beatles or Led Zeppelin, could be valuable -- assuming they're in good condition. "A lot of people never stored their records properly, so look for scratches and make sure the dust cover is still there and the album cover is in good condition," says LaPedis. "If the record is scratched, it really takes away 80 percent to 90 percent of the value."
Steer clear of: Cassettes and videotapes. Nowadays, they have very little resale value, and they break easily, so it's hard to ensure they still play properly. Also, be wary of signed albums. "A lot of them are forgeries," says LaPedis. "There's a good chance if you're paying extra for the signature that you're wasting your money."