Brian Webster

In the beginning, when we first started in the Internet Book business, we already had quite a few volumes to sell, but it became obvious that we neither had enough books or a wide enough range to do very well. What we needed was stock and variety.
Searching around in the used books section of our local libraries, Goodwill stores, op shops etc., we found very little of any great resale value and so we turned to Garage Sales.
Our very first was a winner. The owner had two boxes of books and was glad to sell them to us for $10.00. We got them home and researched prices and found very little worth entering. Enough to make a profit, but not enough to make it worthwhile. That is until we hit about 10 Books all on raising Rare Birds. We had no idea what we had until we saw the priceson “Bookfinder”. All were worth at least $20.00 and several were much more. And they were sold within a couple of weeks.
Now obviously we had uncovered the secret – Yard or Garage Sales.
But after a couple of months it became obvious that this was a BIG mistake. In the poorer areas the quality and type (and condition) was not even worth looking at. Middle income people seemed to have a ton of best sellers, but as we all know, there are too many of these on the market already. The affluent areas, although many had good books, also knew their value, so these was no help there either.
So we turned out sights on Estate or Moving Sales.
Our first was a Divorce/Estate Sale. Don’t ever get involved in these. We did two and they were the carbon copy of each other. First was that the atmosphere was murderous. Both couples hated their ex mates and anything we picked up was snatched back as they argued about the ownership or the price. Then they got into an argument as to why was their favorite book was being sold, which led to a fight as to whose fault the divorces was anyway. Both times we crept out unnoticed, before they came to blows.
Another shock came when we tried Estate Sales run by the Family. Usually there were differences of opinion on price. Quite often items were pulled from the Sale since “Mother promised me that,” and a Volume was taken out. Also there was the factor that every one considered everything underpriced and we got the announcement “Father valued these greatly, and I am sure he would feel insulted if we accepted this price.” Usually that was applied to 50 Volumes of Readers Digest Books that they would have have paid us to take away – avoid them like the plague.
We found one great one, where the Deceased ran a School for Jewish Children. We learned quite early that the best system was to go to these sales on the first day, size up what was there and come back at the last day day at the final hours. If there were still a decent number it was worth offering a low ball bid because by then the family was tired of the whole affair and wanted to get away from it all. But this one School sale was different. There was a very large amount of books for young children and we knew, with their age, thay were going to be winners. Sure enough, when we phoned, they assured us there was still most of the books unsold. It had been a wet weekend and the turnout was pretty low. Yes, they would take a low bid for the books, just to empty the house.
When we got there we discovered that the shelves of books we were eager about were gone. We were horrified at this and, when they saw our faces they assured us the books were still available, they had just thrown them in the dumpster. Well, quick as a wink we went to the dumpster, and there were the books, floating in the water from the wet weather. Not one was salvageable.
Depressed, we went back in the house and told them what they had done. Well their apologies were profuse and they insisted we took the remainder of the books free as recompense for their action.
When we got them home we were amazed at the prices and rarity of the collection we had. The were great. Mind you there was a lot of erasing of pencil and crayon marks and a few couldn’t be saved, but all in all we had got a tremendous deal.
Another disaster with one of these family sales was a house that had some lovely books, eminently saleable, and plenty of them. So we talked to the family and they were agreeable to a low bid on the remainder on the last day. We always made a habit of calling first because on two occasions we drove miles to pick up a remainder only to discover that they had decided to donate the books to charity, a waste of a whole day and a lot of gas. For pickups we used a gas guzzling minivan so you can imagine how we felt.
But accidents do happen and there is little you can do beforehand to stop them and this was the occasion for another one. A friend had offered to help them and had marked all the books with the selling price. How had he done that?, you may ask.
Well he got himself a roll of Duct Tape and ripped off a piece for each volume, stick it down hard and write the price on in black marker. How kind! Remove the Duct Tape and you took off the spine of the book. Oh joy.
But you learn. We attended a sale run by a professional and she gave us a lot of ideas. The house she was clearing was a Bank deal, and all the Bank wanted was an empty house that they could sell.
The Deceased was very well known Psychologist and there were lots of books on his speciality, as well as a lot of others. So we ended up not merely with about 500 pretty good books, an electric typewriter and lots of bookshelves. Quite a few of the books were signed by the Authors, other famous Psychologists who knew the ex owner so we had a real find.
What we thought we had learned was that only professionally run Estate Sales were worth attending.
Boy were we wrong. Some knew what their books were worth and either wanted that or they would do their own selling. Many tried to overprice. A few were out and out crooks. But most were honest but had no idea of books. You had to go to the site and and make you own decision. Even when they advertised “lots of books” that ould mean anything from one or two shelves to hundreds.
But we have made really good relations with about three Estate Sale operators and they always call or email us if they have anything decent. If we are at a loose end we call around to see what is going on.
But I can tell you some things to avoid. Estates sales or Moving Sales in “Yuppie” areas. Any books there are going to be best sellers or coffee table. Books that are stored in Garages.
What you need are sales in the middle income areas. Really affluent neighborhoods may have some wonderful stuff, but they know the value.
Always look around. I’ll never forget one where we bought all the books and a woman came up to us and asked if we had bought all the books. When we said we had she replied “Well you missed that one, pointing to a floor lamp that was supported by a book. Turned out it was a first Edition of “Tarzan of the Apes”.

[thanks to Beth Leintz for the images, she has many Estate Sales finds/stories]

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5 thoughts on “On the Hunt – Estate Sales and Yard Sales”

  1. Fun stuff, fun stuff. But I have a jealous, as they say. We have no estate sales as you describe out here. An estate either turns it over to an auction company (which can sell the house, too) or the family has a bigger yard sale than usual.

    But at the estate yard sale you still get the items snatched back out of your hands as some member of the family decides it is not for sale or the price is wrong. I hate that!

    I had an auctioneer tell me once that when he has the time before the sale, he had each book opened and “shook” to make sure the family member hadn’t kept his spare cash there. I bet it doesn’t do the books any good at all.

  2. Fun article! Makes me hunger for the next sale. But Please have somebody proofread (“their” not “there”, “yuppie,” not “yuppy.” It takes away from your credibility.

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