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Backyard Buying

Your next big find could be as close as your neighbor's garage sale.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Many eBay entrepreneurs start with deals they find at garage sales. But Austin Hoffman turned the practice into an art form.

Hoffman (eBay User ID: nphoffman) of Tyler, Texas, uses a mix of psychology and product savoir-faire to snare garage sale deals and turn them into online sales. Since starting six years ago, he has sold more than 10,000 items, including books, CDs and DVDs. Part of his success lies in knowing how to read sellers.

Women are easier to bargain with than men, says Hoffman, 20. "Men are more attached to their items." He adds that it does depend on the item and whether traditional gender roles exist in the family hosting the garage sale. "If you're trying to buy a cookbook, it might be best to go to the male," says Hoffman. "If it's a fishing rod, you might want to approach the woman."

Another method that works well is striking up a conversation about an item you want to buy. If Hoffman wants to buy a fishing rod, he'll chat with the seller about fishing. "If you have a relationship, they'll give you a better price," he explains.

Garage sales provided some of the big eBay deals described in The 100 Best Things I've Sold on eBay, by Lynn Dralle of Palm Desert, California. When Dralle (eBay User ID: thequeenofauctions) started going to garage sales to buy goods for her grandmother's store, which she ran for 10 years, she set some rules for herself. She focused on items she knew had appeal, such as hand-painted china and Victorian-style antiques. "I also bought kitschy things that reminded me of my childhood," she says. Her other favorites were used children's clothing, Pez dispensers and Department 56 giftware.

Dralle advises sellers to go for volume by visiting at least 10 garage sales every Saturday and committing to spending $200 for the day. "The product doesn't have to be a signed Baccarat, which you won't find at a garage sale anyway," she says. "Go for the 25-cent item and see if you can sell it for $10."

One of Hoffman's best garage sale finds was a video about the painter Salvador Dali, which he bought for $1 and sold for $70. "It was probably out of [copy]," says Hoffman, who writes about his experiences buying and selling from garage sales, auctions and estate sales in Guerilla Garage Sales, available at

Garage sales and estate sales aren't the only product sources. Hoffman has expanded his interest in bookselling by selling friends' used college textbooks. Personal connections help launch many a new business on eBay. Listen for comments from relatives and friends about cleaning out the garage, and you may have an opportunity to find items with the potential for profit-able sales online. Make regular visits to your local thrift shops and consignment stores, where products are often priced well below their true value. Get on the mailing lists of local retailers--especially gift and flower shops--and arrive early for their big closeout sales.

Says Dralle, "These stores often have old, slow-moving inventory that can be really valuable on eBay."

Julie Monahan is a writer in Seattle whose articles on small business and emerging technology have appeared in numerous consumer and trade magazines.