As the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and Aaron LaPedis is living proof. Over the years he’s been so successful buying and reselling other people’s unwanted items, he’s earned the nickname The Garage Sale Millionaire and even written a book about it. His most recent gem: photo negatives of Elvis Presley’s famous appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show — the one where Sullivan told him he couldn’t shake his hips — that he hopes to sell for six figures.
I recently visited LaPedis in his hometown of Denver to learn how to spot valuable items.
What’s Hot and What’s Not
My first lesson came during our visit to his local Goodwill store. There, LaPedis found a signed graduation speech by President Lyndon B. Johnson. While the signature couldn’t be authenticated on-site, if it proved to be real, LaPedis was certain it could fetch at least $100. For a purchase price of $5, he was willing to take the risk. Later, a quick call to a local appraiser proved he was right.
Along with signed presidential memorabilia, the best items to consider purchasing for resale value, according to LaPedis, include fine art, antiques, Beatles or Elvis collectables, coins, toy trains, rare books, antique firearms, antique furniture, china and some baseball cards and comic books.
You should avoid purchasing the following items: autographed sports memorabilia (since so much is fake), antique rugs, old newspapers and magazines, or fad collectibles such as Beanie Babies. His rule of thumb is that if something’s been mass-produced, even if it’s historic, it’s not going to fetch much money since there are likely many more still in existence.
When In Doubt, Search eBay
While perusing a yard sale or your local thrift store, LaPedis' shopping tip is to keep your mobile device handy and search online for clues about an item’s worth. Consult sites like Worthpoint.com and, of course, the ever-popular eBay, where you can search its “completed auctions” section to judge whether the item in question has potential value.
Fake antiques contain glue, staples, modern screws or nails. Examine items like paintings, pottery, china and Depression-era glass with a black light to see if they’ve been repaired or restored. Glue and residue from cleaning agents will typically glow under a black light. Depression-era glass will glow, as well, but that’s usually a sign it’s the real deal.
LaPedis has a few tricks for spotting real antique silver. “A lot of real silver, somewhere underneath, will say ‘.925.’ Another nice, really cool trick is to put a magnet to [the silver]. If a magnet attaches itself, it’s not real,” he says.
Be an Early Bird
Timing is everything when it comes to scoring the perfect treasure, says LaPedis. Shop garage sales early to get first pick, and swing by at the end of the day, about an hour before closing, when sellers are desperate to unload. Visit thrift stores regularly and kindly ask management to give you a heads up when deliveries are made.
Don’t Show All Your Cash
When trying to haggle, LaPedis says it helps to pretend you only have a limited amount of cash. For instance, if a yard sale item is marked $15, but you only want to pay $10, show the seller you only have a $10 bill.
Dress the Part
Presentation goes a long way when trying to score a deal. It’s less likely you can get a discount after driving up in a fancy car and carrying a designer handbag. “Dress the part,” LaPedis urges. “Wear jeans, tennis shoes and maybe a teeshirt. You don’t have to look like a bum, but you shouldn’t look like a millionaire, either. If you have a nice car, park it down the block.”
As always, we want to hear from you. What’s your most valuable garage sale find? Connect with me on Twitter @Farnoosh and use the hashtag #finfit. For YF, I’m Farnoosh Torabi.