Love Garage Sales? Learn How to Haggle Like a Pro

Drive through many neighborhoods this time of year on a Saturday or Sunday, and you'll likely find a street that's hard to navigate because of a row of cars parked on both sides of the block.

Whether you’re searching for new baby items, housewares, or just browsing for great finds, it’s no secret that shopping secondhand at garage sales is a surefire way to save. But, how to beat an item’s listed price?

Here’s how to negotiate a better deal when shopping garage sales, even if you hate to haggle:

1. Decide When to Show Up at a Sale

Depending on your strategy, there are two ideal times to show up at a yard sale: early morning or near the end of the day.

The advantage of showing up early is that you get your pick of what’s for sale, potentially spotting buried treasures before other interested buyers show up throughout the day. However, sellers are generally less motivated to bargain first thing in the morning.

Alternately, by showing up to a garage sale later in the afternoon, you can take advantage of the fact that what’s left is unlikely to be bought by anyone else and better negotiate close-out prices.

2. Appearance Matters

Bruce Littlefield, the author of “Garage Sale America,” claims that what you wear can affect the final price. His tip? Don’t go bargain hunting at garage sales while dressed in your nicest clothes—or driving the nicest car, for that matter. He says that doing so clues the seller in that you have cash to burn.

Pro Tip: Really want to haggle? Be sure you have an extra pocket or two to split up your cash. That way, you can make a show of offering the seller everything that you have on hand.

3. Decide If You’re Going to Be Sweet or Stern

Littlefield also offers the following insight: “People want to sell their things to someone that they like. So, when you’re trying to save, taking a minute to be friendly can go a long way.”

However, being friendly isn’t always your best bet. One expert haggler, Brad C., suggests a more tactical approach: milling around the sale for a few moments to casually observe how the seller interacts with others.

If they appear to be friendly, chatting with other browsers and readily lowering prices, then go ahead and start to chat!

If the seller appears to be unyielding with other bargain hunters, you may want to take a more business-like attitude. Keep in mind, it’s still important to be friendly and respectful. Always avoid devaluing the items or being rude—neither is bound to get you a bargain.

4. Never Name the Product

Have you spotted the perfect Bakelite dish or first-edition book to add to your collection? Whatever the item is, never name it out loud!

Showing that you know about an item clues the seller in that you’re really interested—thus, that you’re probably willing to pay a higher price. Even if it’s obvious, stating something’s brand name or model increases its value in the mind of the seller.

Brad C. suggests that you try not to pick up your newfound treasure at all, since doing so expresses interest. Instead of asking “How much for that Bakelite dutch oven?” just point to it and ask a simple, “How much for that?”

5. Compare Prices on Site

Assuming you have a smartphone on hand, take advantage of the ability to shop around in your pocket. Find an item that you’re not so sure about? Hop on Ebay, Craigslist, or even Amazon to see what it’s going for elsewhere—just don’t forget to calculate the cost of shipping and taxes.

Another reason to use your phone is checking whether or not an expensive, brand-name item is real. Sure, that Coach bag might appear to be a great deal. However, unless you’re familiar with a brand, you run the risk of paying high prices for a knockoff.

Pro Tip: If you do decide to compare prices, don’t do so within sight of the seller. They’ll likely think that you’re going to turn around and sell it for a profit, and be less likely to negotiate.

6. Approach Negotiations Alone

Shopping around garage sales is a fun way to spend time with a friend. However, when it’s time to determine how much, do so alone. Sellers are less likely to drop their price when there’s an audience.

7. Let Them Go First

Have you ever asked a seller how much, only for them to ask you to make the first offer? Don’t do it!

Naming the price first is the seller’s responsibility—and the buyer’s main advantage. Reason being, the seller already has a ballpark price in their head. Should your offer aim high, you’ve added value to the item, and they’ll likely ask for a tad more.

8. Bundle Items for a Better Deal

Have you spotted multiple items that you’d like to buy at a sale? Make it work in your favor!

Littlefield suggests asking the seller if you can start a pile, as doing so gives you a chance to start building rapport, as well as lets them know that you appreciate his or her taste.

When you’re ready to make a purchase, don’t ask for the price of each individually. Instead, piling everything together and asking for a bulk price works in your favor. The seller knows that they have the opportunity to offload so many more items—if they state an attractive price.

9. Wait Until You’re Finished Browsing to Haggle

If you attempt to negotiate prices for one item at a time, not only do you lose out on the chance to bundle for a better deal, you’ll alert the seller to the fact that you’re going to offer lower prices—giving them a chance to start off higher for each subsequent item that you’re interested in.

10. Don’t Start at Your Final Price

Once the seller gives a lump price, it’s up to you to counter. But, because negotiating is about meeting in the middle, don’t start where you want to end up! Instead, should the seller say that they’ll let the entire pile go for $100, and you’d like to wind up at $70, politely mention that you were hoping to only spend $50.

By framing the request for a discount as what you were hoping to spend, you can avoid that tricky moment of making the seller feel as if their belongings just aren’t worth it.

Pro Tip: One bargain hunting expert noted that he has extra luck haggling down small items when he keeps two-dollar bills on hand. Despite the denomination being in current circulation and widely available at banks, they’re a novelty and sellers are sometimes inspired to knock off a few extra bucks in exchange for a few.

Hate To Haggle? Here’s How To Start

Your attitude towards haggling probably depends on whether or not your parents taught you to strike a bargain. For some, haggling is a celebrated exchange between two individuals that can turn a mediocre deal into a great one for both parties. Others avoid it at all costs.

To become a better negotiator, the first hurdle is breaking down the negative connotations that come with asking for a better price. 

The truth is, haggling doesn’t have to be argumentative. Effective haggling isn’t done with an aggressive demeanor. It doesn’t look like an argument, and there’s no friction involved. Good haggling should build respect between two people, not diminish it. When haggling is done right, it should look and feel as comfortable as a conversation between two friends.

Effective haggling isn’t done with an aggressive demeanor. It doesn’t look like an argument, and there’s no friction involved.

More so, haggling doesn’t make people think that you’re poor or cheap. There’s nothing wrong with working to get a great deal—if anything, it shows that you respect the money that you’ve earned.

Don’t Be Afraid To Stay Silent

That’s great and all, but how to go about haggling if it really makes you uncomfortable? It’s as simple as staying quiet.

When someone quotes you a price, try acknowledging it by saying nothing but, “Hmmm,” and furrowing your brow like you’re contemplating it. Then, just sit quietly until they feel compelled to speak again.

There are only two likely responses you’ll get to that reaction: Either they’ll repeat themselves and prompt you again to tell them what you think, or they’ll fumble over themselves a little bit before sweetening the deal.

Similarly, if your counter offer is met with silence, don’t sabotage your efforts! If you absolutely can’t stand to sit in silence any longer, you can ask the seller to counter you—just be conscious of never negotiating against yourself.

Bottom Line? Know That Negotiation Means Give & Take

No matter who you’re attempting to negotiate with, one of the biggest mistakes is being set on just one possible outcome. Doing so limits your chances for success.

Haggling done right is a negotiation, not stating the lowest price as a take-it-or-leave-it term.

Why haggle at all? Because you rarely get anything you don’t ask for—and that includes a bargain. If you want something, it’s important to do your part to get it. Ask nicely, present a fair offer, and most people will go a long way to meet you in the middle.

Related: 10 Tricks to Save When You’re a New Parent on a Budget

Autumn Yates

Autumn draws from a reporting background and years of experience working remotely, while living abroad, to focus on topics in travel, beauty, and online safety.