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Homeowners: Collect that never-used debris for your spring garage sale

A Side of Clyde

You dread the thought of spring cleaning? A garage sale might be the alternative because "stuff" collects during winter months.

Drive through a Los Altos or Los Altos Hills neighborhood on any weekend and you're sure to spot at least a half-dozen garage sales. And what's being sold? The accumulated "junk" that a lot of people no longer use or want taking up space in or around their homes.

Garage sales are really a front yard pawn shop. The basic philosophy is, if you can't give it away, put it on your front lawn and you'll probably sell it.

There are a lot of garage sales in Los Altos, and what's amusing is people will spend $20 on gas, drive around in air-conditioned Mercedes, stop the car when they see a "Garage Sale" sign , then get out and stand in the sun and bargain over an item marked $5 until they get it for 50 cents.

The first rule of a garage sale is: if it has any value, it won't sell. People don't want items at a good price. They can go to Macy's or Wal-Mart for that. They want cheap stuff they can haggle over.

If one asks too much, the article won't sell. Crafty shoppers will always try to bargain down, so one has to price the item high enough for haggle room. You've got to act like the Kenny Rogers song, "You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em."

A garage sale on Russell Avenue last summer had a 19-inch color TV playing in the garage with a price tag of $25. It was still there the second day, but most of the smaller items were haggled down to around a buck and gone.

Garage sales are not regulated in Los Altos. Several years ago they were going to limit garage sales, but the city council backed off after giving a first reading to an ordinance that would have restricted garage sales to one two-day sale every three months.

Visiting garage sales in Los Altos requires a bit of tact because you are traipsing into other people's homes. So the first rule at a Los Altos garage sale is be nice.

The second rule is to be prepared to haggle. Items are sold as-is, and the asking price reflects that. Don't be afraid to ask for a better price. Haggling is a requisite part of the flea market and garage sale experience.

The third rule is, know the items' value through knowledge or experience. Know in advance the items you are looking for and what they are worth to you if you buy them.

The last rule should be the first. Go early, but not before the sellers are up, unless you want hedge clippers, socket wrenches and dried flower arrangements. If you go too late, the good stuff is gone.

If you are holding a garage sale to sell your baby toys, french-fry makers, auto parts and cocktail shakers, then go to the library and check out a book on "secrets for a successful garage sale" or check the Internet.

After everything is ready for the sale, check the children's toys for breakage and hazards. Remember: If in doubt, throw it out.

Noel, a Los Altos Hills resident, is an expert bargain hunter at garage sales.

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