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Garage sales thrive in online world

For buyers who want to see, touch, bargain and take their finds home immediately, Web sites can't beat traditional garage sales. Here's when to sell online -- and when to sell at home.

By MarketWatch

The dirty and tarnished bracelet sold for 50 cents, but cleaned up it revealed a sterling-silver and 18-carat gold piece of jewelry worth several hundred dollars.

It's one of Jenn Callum's best garage-sale finds and an example of why, even in the age of the online auction, many treasure hunters still seek out traditional rummage sales.

Call them garage sales, yard sales, tag sales or boot sales, but don't call them relics that online auctions have rendered obsolete.

In fact, the Internet is increasingly complementing traditional garage sales, making it easier to connect buyers and sellers who once relied solely on newspaper ads and roadside signs. Many newspapers post sale listings online, and other Web sites try to help sellers ramp up foot traffic by allowing them to post information about their events.

A greater amount of pricing information on the Web via online auction sites also is creating more savvy "garagers," said Callum, whose Web site, Garage Sale Seminar, offers information for buyers and sellers. Some shoppers search the residential sales specifically to find items that will fetch a much more attractive selling price online.

Despite the ability to point and click to purchases from home, many shoppers of secondhand gems simply crave the sensory experience that online auctions aren't able to provide, said John D. Schroeder, the author of "Garage Sale Fever!"

'The thrill of the hunt'

"Garage-sale buyers thrive on the thrill of the hunt and like to see, touch and ask questions about their purchases -- and even dicker on the price -- plus take the item home immediately from a garage sale," he said. "That does not happen in online auctions."

Many municipalities charge a nominal fee for a permit to hold a garage sale. But there is no national database that tracks the number of sales or the amount of money that clutter-clearing homeowners reap from them. Judging by the growth of online sites that focus on the sales, business is booming.

On many Saturday mornings, Callum heads out with a clipboard of garage-sale addresses found on the Internet, arranged geographically to make the most of her time. The 39-year-old from Toronto can hit dozens of sales in a day, deciding with a glance whether they're worth a stroll through.

"The online garage-sale-listings sites are slow to catch on, although they are certainly gaining in popularity," Callum said. Online newspaper ads are usually her sources of choice.

But newspapers are not the only sources for information on garage-sale whereabouts. Garage-sale-specific sites such as GarageSaleHunter.com also offer free listings to visitors.

Diana Matheou, a 33-year-old from the Cleveland area, created GarageSaleHunter.com with her brother in 1999 as a pilot project for their information-technology firm, E-ffective Services. Details on more than 1,000 garage sales can be viewed on any given day during the peak season of June through September, Matheou said.

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At the time the site launched, classified-ad Web sites had been created to help sell cars and homes, but the pair didn't know of one that helped advertise garage sales.

"There wasn't anything targeting this market," Matheou said.

The site allows visitors to search not only by a sale's location but also by what will be sold there. Visitors can have e-mails sent to them when sales come up that meet their criteria. Next up on the development list: a tool that will map out a garage-sale circuit for shoppers.

Listings of garage sales have also grown substantially at Craigslist.org in recent years, said Susan MacTavish Best, a Craigslist spokeswoman. In April 2002, a couple of months after the listings first started appearing on the site, 2,447 notices were posted there; in April 2006, 46,129 garage sales were advertised on Craigslist. By April 2007, notices for about 120,000 garage sales were posted during the month.

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