Every weekend, countless satisfying business transactions take place in front yards and garages across the country. Yard sales are America’s collective treasure hunt—a great way for homeowners to clear out clutter and for shoppers to score everything from vintage finds to kitchen gadgets still in their packaging. Maybe you can even find a painting so bad, it’s good!
But sometimes the thrill of saving a few bucks can seriously cloud your judgment. You’ll get home only to discover a few of those treasures you picked up are actually full-fledged trash you now need to jettison.
Here’s a list of things to never buy at a yard sale, lest you want to have a sale of your own to unload it.
Sure, spying a printer for $5 that runs you $100 in the store will tempt you to elbow a grandma out of the way so you can grab it. But IT tech and gadget guru Gregg Steiner cautions bargain-hunters to “stay away from used electronics. They aren’t worth the money ever.”
Same goes for old printers, TVs, computers, and speakers, which Steiner says is “all junk. Unfortunately, electronics don’t have a long life span.” Hence the likely reason people are unloading these items at sales is because they’re either broken or outdated. Resist the urge to buy that circa 2004 Motorola Razr flip phone! Electronic clutter should be responsibly recycled, not pawned off on unsuspecting victims at yard sales.
Paint is pricey, running anywhere from $15 to $30 a gallon. So we get why that can of paint marked for just 50 cents at a yard sale might be alluring, especially if you just want to give a quick coat to a single wall.
“But without being sure of how the paint was stored, it’s always best to steer clear,” says Carrie Aulenbacher, an author and third-generation fan of yard sales. Properly stored oil-based paint lasts 15 years. If you don’t know for certain that the can of paint was sealed properly and did not go through extreme temperatures, even 50 cents is too much to pay for moldy or chunky paint.
Beware of snapping up large power tools such as lawn mowers and hedge trimmers.
“You need to see it running,” says Bill Horne. It’s better to pass on these items and save yourself the money (not to mention room in your garage). If you absolutely can’t resist, negotiate a refund deal before you purchase it in case “you discover a bent drive shaft or other major problem” once you start using your new toy.
Strollers and car seats
Kids cycle through stuff at a terrifyingly fast pace, so it stands to reason that garage sales can be a great place to save a ton of money on stuff like clothes (kids barely wear them before growing another inch) and toys (so many toys!). But it’s important not to trade a child’s well-being for a deal.
“Items like strollers and car seats can become a serious safety hazard if they are damaged or have missing parts,” says Jonas Sickler, marketing director at ConsumerSafety.org. And children’s furniture, car seats, and strollers are more frequently recalled than other items. And let’s not even talk about the ground-in Cheerios.
Mattresses and sleeping bags
Never buy a sleeping bag at a yard sale, because, to put it delicately, “you just don’t know the history behind it,” says Leon Scott Baxter, a parenting author and blogger. Baxter, who has attended hundreds of yard sales, points out that “whatever is still in the bag that you can’t see will be right up close to you when it’s warm and dark.” Um, eeew!
Same goes for mattresses, which could be harboring bedbugs or other potential pest infestations. Shell out for a new mattress.
Two bucks for a pair of leather shoes might seem like an incredible deal—until you look at the foot fungus factor.
“You can’t really wash shoes, so you run into potential health risks,” says Sharon McRill, owner of The Betty Brigade, an organization and relocation company based in Ann Arbor, MI.
Another reason shoes are a yard sale no-no? “Everyone walks differently.” Even if a pair of kicks looks brand-new, it can be worn out in spots and ultimately hurt your feet, making you never want to wear them again. “You either throw these in the back of the closet to be broken in later, or they end up in the trash.”
A “contents of home sale” means everything is up for grabs, including whatever’s lurking in the kitchen cabinets.
“As a lifelong addict of every type of sale, I’m up for potentially buying anything,” says Aulenbacher. But she draws the line at buying food that’s likely well past its prime. “I don’t care how potentially well spices store, just go buy it fresh!”
What might be a better choice? Booze, which can safely keep for years.
McRill advises passing over any dodgy Christmas decorations. That strand of nearly free twinkly lights might be tempting. But do you really want to buy a string of lights and spend a half-hour trying to untangle the string only to find the lights don’t actually work? At the very least, insist on plugging it in before you pay.
Have any yard sale buys that you regret? Or any tips that we missed? Chime in on House Talk.