The yard sale/real estate connection

Posted by Jenny in Field Trip, Grab Bag | 6 Comments

I was visiting my parents in Berkeley the weekend before last. As I’ve mentioned before, I got my love of yard sales from my folks, who have been loving the wacky second-hand stuff since before I was born. We hadn’t originally planned to hit any sales while I was there, but when Saturday morning turned out to be free, we decided to stop at a few. Every time I look at the East Bay garage sale listings on Craigslist I appreciate how good we have it in Seattle, and I would say that is both in quantity and quality — granted, there are occasionally some super blowout great sales in Berkeley, but they seem to be way too few and far between. Still, we rustled up a short list and headed off.

My mom was navigating and she said that she recognized the address of an estate sale from having seen the house recently on a real estate tour. She said it was almost certainly going to be bad and we should just skip it. While I figured she was probably right, I was a little sad since the ad had made it sound pretty good. Meanwhile, we stopped at boring sale after boring sale and hardly bought anything. As we were navigating back from the last stop we drove right past a sign for the sale she’d recognized, and since we were practically there already we decided what the hell.

The house looked cute from the outside, but inside it was just yucky. Everything was dingy and there was a super strange vibe. It felt like something bad had happened there … or at least nothing good had ever happened there. The rooms appeared to have been decorated in the ’70s (in a pseudo-hippie bad taste kind of style), and their stuff was all terrible. The last straw was the basement, which could have been a testimonial for why you should really get rid of things, rather than stack them up in the crawl space (mattresses) or keep them in open cardboard boxes (newspapers) or just dump them on the floor (Easter baskets) and then not touch them again for about 25 years.

I did take some pictures, but I hope you will not be too upset to hear that I ended up deleting them off my camera. I just had such a weirded-out vibe from the place, I really didn’t want to see anything from that sale again.

So, my mom was right, thanks to her inside real-estate scoop. She mentioned how getting to know the city streets so well from her job was useful when trying to navigate to yard sales, or find an obscure address for some other reason. I’ve certainly been able to use my yard-sale-gained knowledge of Seattle’s streets to get around quicker. Granted, a lot of our streets are numbered, which makes it easier, but there are still enough oddball nooks and crannies that it helps to have driven through a whole lot of different neighborhoods already.

And then I started thinking about other aspects of being a real estate agent that have something in common with being a yard sale regular. Like the stuff factor. It’s obvious that you go to yard sales to find stuff. But did you know that real estate agents occasionally end up with random unwanted stuff left behind when a house is sold? My mom has ended up with furniture, rugs, planters — all from houses that she helped people buy. And while I was in town, she actually had to run out to pick up her latest score, which she had described as “stained glass art with a naked lady on it.” I guess the previous owner had been a stained glass artist and left a few pieces behind, and the new owners decided they could live without that one. I was kind of scared of what it was going to look like, imagining some kind of tawdry raunch, but it turned out to be rather pretty.

Naked lady stained glass

I think that real estate agents are also very tuned into the concept of value being fluid. That is, an item’s value is really whatever someone is actually willing to pay at a given time and place, and not some well-defined number that can’t be argued with (no matter what some “collectible price guides” would like to think). Haggling (or “making a counter-offer”) is a completely normal thing to do in both activities — though I’m glad to say that having someone offer more than the asking price is practically unheard of at yard sales. This price fluidity can be really great or really frustrating when you are dealing with secondhand items. Just like people might have a hard time accepting that their house isn’t going to sell for what they think it should, there are yard sale sellers who think that if something sold on eBay for a certain amount, their similar item should get the same price at their yard sale. On the other hand, when you find something that’s priced fairly to you, it’s a beautiful thing (even if the person next to you wouldn’t have paid half that much for it).

And of course there’s the fact that both of these activities involve going into a whole lot of strangers’ houses. That’s interesting in and of itself. Sales have taken us into some of the coolest houses around … and the creepiest ones too. And I think along with getting a glimpse of the insides of houses, there’s also the opportunity to see a lot of interesting outsides of houses too. Although maybe this last part is a stretch, because you can also see a lot of interesting houses just by driving or walking around. Like this one, which we were excited to stumble across randomly.

Obama art on Berkeley house

Now, granted, this is Berkeley, where you are about as likely to see a Republican as you are a leprechaun. But even so, it was cool to see so much enthusiasm for a presidential candidate. It’s pretty well-painted, too (even if I do keep trying to figure out if the hand is coming right out of his ear!)

That’s a No on Prop 8 sign there, too. I swear, it has been over 10 years since I moved out of California, but I keep sort of wishing I was still registered there just so I could vote against that shit.

Obama house art closeup

There are certainly a lot of things that real estate and yard sales don’t have in common. For one thing, the general prices you’re dealing with are off by a factor of, oh … 10,000? And being in the real estate business certainly doesn’t necessarily mean one is inclined to like yard sales. But I do think it can give you an interesting take on things … and maybe even keep you away from some of the worst sales, if you stick to your intuition!

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