Garage sales 2.0: How bargain hunting has moved from driveways to social media

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published July 29, 2015


METRO DETROIT — For bargain hunters, there’s nothing quite like a garage sale. The search for an oh-so-good deal — that needle-in-the-haystack item that was barely used and is priced to sell — is about as thrilling as it gets.

Many people are now realizing that the same thrill can be found without even leaving the couch. Thanks to secondary market websites like Craigslist and eBay, along with online resale groups on Facebook, the clearance rack is always open.

Sara Pelker, from Madison Heights, is always looking for the next big steal — or even giveaway.

“Recently, I got a three-story Barbie house for my kids for free,” she said. “I follow at least 10 (Facebook sale sites). I’m on every day to look for another deal, honestly.”

She also sells used items of her own on those same sites; it’s not extremely lucrative, but it’s something.

“Especially for kids clothes, they outgrow them so fast, so why buy something new?” Pelker said. “When we’re done with whatever it is we bought, we resell it. (It’s) a couple dollars here and there. Most of the time, that money goes to the ice cream truck.”

Marisa Lyn, of Birmingham, scopes out lots of Facebook sale sites, too. Like Pelker, she’s a member of Oakland County Virtual Garage Sale and a few mom-to-mom groups. But she said there’s usually a specialized site to suit any buyer.

“I’m also on a wedding one where you can sell your old wedding (décor), and a page where you can sell your old prom and bridesmaids dresses,” said Lyn. “There’s even a men’s only page, where they buy and sell tools and other stuff from the garage.”

Lyn said she buys plenty of items at deep discounts from community sale pages. A favorite find of hers was a good-as-new baby carrier — a necessary item she needed for her child that would cost $70 retail, but she snagged for just $7.

She’s always looking to sell items from her home, too. She got $80 for the 200 charger plates she used at her wedding that were just sitting in her house collecting dust. Lyn said the key to selling online is knowing what an item is worth.

“Only certain things sell on there, and certain things just sit,” she said. “It’s got to be good quality and priced to sell.”

Designer purses, gently used clothing and furniture are always hot items online, Lyn said. Sellers should carefully vet what they want to try to get money for — and that’s not all. Both parties should take great care when it comes time to seal the deal.

“I used to go on Craigslist all the time, but then I got so scared of it from what I was seeing on the news,” Lyn said. “Now I just stick to these (groups), because you can look at their profile and get a good idea of who you’re dealing with. You can see their picture and say ‘Oh, she’s a mom like me and she’s coming from down the street.’”

Lyn prefers to meet up for transactions in the parking lot of her local CVS Pharmacy, because with so many people going in and out of the store — along with security cameras posted around the building — she feels like she’s not alone.

Parking lot meetings are a great idea, according to the Shelby Township Police Department’s Deputy Chief Mark Coil. In fact, Shelby is one of many police agencies around metro Detroit that welcome people to complete transactions right in the station’s parking lot for added safety.

“Daylight and public places are important, and also make sure to tell someone where you’re going and leave (the other person’s) contact information with someone. Don’t go anywhere and not leave a trace. God forbid something goes wrong, we want to know where you were,” Coil said.

Years ago, Coil said, Craigslist and eBay transactions began to gain popularity, and the number of criminal incidents started to increase, as well. After so many news reports of people being robbed or even injured at transaction meetings, shoppers began to be more careful about where they would swap their goods. Since then, the number of reported incidents has gone down.

“At all costs, you have to protect yourself,” he said. “Is a savings of $50 really worth your life?”

Another thing to consider, Coil said, is whether that great deal is a little too great.

“If something is too good to be true, then it’s probably too good to be true,” he said. “You can look up the retail price of almost anything online. So if you see a generator that sells at the store for $800 is being sold online for $100, it’s probably stolen.”

Even if a person buys a stolen good unknowingly, they could still be in trouble with the law if they didn’t show due diligence to make sure what they were buying was on the up-and-up.

“Part of receiving and concealing stolen goods is whether you knew it was stolen when you took possession of it,” he explained. “A judge might look at you and say, ‘You mean the seller was asking for that much less than what it’s worth and that didn’t alarm you?’ Those are the kinds of things I’ve seen in the past. Buyers need to beware.”