One man’s trash,another man's treasure

Even with the chill of a steady spring wind and only a few sun breaks on the horizon, Langley resident Kathy Torre was out this weekend hunting garage sales.

Any given Friday, Torre can be found scouring newspaper classified sections looking for garage and estate sales. She is among the growing number of people who are turning to garage and estate sales to outfit their lives and, in some cases, even turn a profit.

“I go every weekend to every one listed,” she said. “I’m always out looking for treasures.”

Torre has been a serious “garage saler” for over 20 years, and said 50 percent of her home furnishings came from garage and estate sales. In May she even began selling some of the garage sale items she has purchased at a rented a space in Port Townsend’s antique mall.

It may not be Labor Day yet — the first big garage sale day of the year — but garage sale season is kicking off with spring cleaning and Torre isn’t the only one on the trail of a bargain.

“Depending on the season I can go to one or 15 in a weekend,” said Phyllis Van Sandt of Coupeville.

Van Sandt has turned to holding her own garage sales to fund her addiction and recycle her collection. Every summer, she hosts a garage sale at which, she said, profits average $300-400, but have gone as high as $900.

“We get rid of what we grow out of, what we don’t want, or what we need to pay for going to other garage sales,” she said.

She has purchased items of clothes for $1 at garage sales and taken them to consignment stores where they sold for $25.

It was Gail Earl’s moving sale just off Honeymoon Bay Road where Torre and Van Sandt were searching for treasures Saturday. It was Earl’s second and final sale in three months and essential, since the family is transferring its belongings from a 4,000 square foot home to one that is a quarter that size.

“We had to down-size,” she said.

For Earl, garage sales are nothing new. She grew up in a family of 10 that would hold a garage sale each summer so she and her siblings could afford new clothes for school.

For a seasoned garage sale host like Earl, it can take as little as a day to prepare. But for the less-experienced person, it can take weeks of preparation to gather, sort and mark items to be sold.

“Prepare in advance and know what supplies you need ahead of time,” she advises. “It matters how you arrange it. Don’t put out junk, it puts people off.”

Saturday morning, Earl hadn’t planned to open her moving sale until 9 a.m. She went out at 8:15 a.m. to put signs out on Highway 525 and along Honeymoon Bay Road. People followed her to her house. She opened at 8:30 a.m.

But even Van Sandt draws the line when it comes to her garage sale devotion. She scoffs at hearing of others arriving to sales at 6 a.m.

“The early bird catches the worm, but the late one gets the biggest bargain,” she said.

Normally a casual garage saler who stops if he drives by a sale, David Day of Coupeville said that if an advertisement has the word “tools” in it, he gets a little more serious.

“People around here can usually afford to give away some pretty nice things,” he said Saturday while at the garage sale of M. Dennis Hill.

Hill, recently divorced, moved into a small rental house in Coupeville earlier this year.

“When you live in a house with an attic and basement, you collect stuff,” he said. “I had to go through everything and figure out what I was using and what I wasn’t.”

Hill advises those having a garage sale need to let go of the memories that accompany their stuff ahead of time.

“You can’t be emotionally attached to it,” he said.

Estate sales: Garage sales on steroids

Once thought of only for families selling homes after a loved one passed away, estate sales have a growing and changing popularity.

How do garage sales and estate sales differ?

“In an estate sale you’re selling everything in the house, wall-to-wall,” said Bob Livingston, owner of the Olympia-based Estate Liquidators.

Livingston was at a Greenbank home this weekend assisting Jane Trestrail of Seattle with a sale. The house was owned off and on by Trestrail’s aunt, Victoria Quinn, since the late 1960s. The sale this weekend was the final before the house was to be turned over to the new owners at 9 a.m. Monday.

“Everything has to go,” Livingston said.

Depending on the condition of the estate, Livingston said preparation for estate sales can take anywhere from a week or two, a couple of months or up to a year.

“This was a pretty clean estate so it came together quickly,” he said.

Trestrail recommends that estate owners have someone else handle the sale, since it can be difficult for a family to let things go.

He began organizing estate sales in 1976 after helping a friend with an estate sale, and now has close to 30 years experience in the business. He learned that it can be a good idea to have an estate appraised before a sale.

“Don’t throw things out just because you think they might be garbage,”

Garage sales have grown so popular that it’s not just the neighbors showing up anymore. Gail DiRe of Kirkland was driving around the island with friends when she noticed signs for the Greenbank estate sale. Bill VandenBush of Tacoma and Kathy McElan of Freeland stopped in after breakfast.

McElan admits she favors garage sales.

“Estate prices are too high,” she said.

The prices don’t intimidate VandenBush.

“Ask for bargains and see if you can dicker them down,” he said.

His best bargain? Four plastic chairs, all for $2.

Van Sandt admits that not everything is in great condition at the sales. Often, dressers, beds, tables and chairs can be found for cheap, but in need of just a little mending or a new paint job. He recommends being creative. Mirrors can turn into serving trays. Baskets can be decorated and used for gift-giving. Old shoes can turn into yard art planters. Tattered stuffed toys can become Fido’s best friend.

“Don’t look at things as they are supposed to be used or how they look sitting in someone’s garage,” she said. “Look at them and see the possibilities.”

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