Yard Sale Savvy: Tough Times Lead to Tougher Sells

Hard up for cash, some Americans put their lives on the lawn.

Nov. 11, 2008— -- Before the sun was up, Patty Cervenka was starting her day, a day she hoped her garage sale made a lot of money.

Out on her front lawn, she brought her favorite rocking chair, her collection of nutcrackers, her snow globes and a host of other items.

"I did my research on the Internet yesterday on what used furniture was going for to make it fair," said Cervenka.

She's not selling her possessions because she wants to. She has to. Cervenka, who is facing foreclosure, hopes to make enough money to cover her next mortgage payment.

The garage sale has long been a way to do a little household cleaning. As the saying goes, "One person's junk is another's treasure."

"It's kind of like a treasure hunt," said Jan Leathersich. "You look for treasures. ... Or they try to find something, like a collection of dishes and they want a piece to go with it, things that are unique or a good price."

Selling Heirlooms to Pay the Bills

The Leathersiches, who were on vacation in Florida, are professional antique dealers, but still they're still hitting garage sales. There's a name for what they do -- it's called "saling."

Tony Turek is another serious saler, looking for good deals on items he might be able to resell. On the day "Nightline" visited, an astounding 170 garage sales were taking place in Gulfport, Fla.

"I am going to go to at least 100 sales or until I run out of money," said Turek. "I only bring $100."

But something is different this year. "You're not finding things for a nickel, dime [or] a quarter," said Turek. "You're finding things for $1, $5, $10, rather than incredible bargains. ... I think people are starting to turn to selling more beloved things rather than just junk that is lying around. [They're selling] family heirlooms … because people are needing money more."

"For sale" and foreclosure signs can still be seen across America. But now garage sale signs are popping up at a staggering rate. They are all signs of the weakening economy and the horrible housing market. People are selling clothes and goods to put a little cash in their pocket or because they have to move out of their homes.

Yard Sales on the Rise: 'I Brought My Life Outside'

Across the country, the number of garage sale ads on the classified Internet site Craigslist has doubled from last year.

"This year it's incredible the amount of people we had. … It's been just crazy," said Wendy Gidardo, who lives north of Tampa in Magnolia Estates, a community that didn't exist four years ago. It is a microcosm of so many of the country's neighborhoods.

Home prices in Magnolia Estates skyrocketed and then plummeted and many there are in trouble. Ten homes are now in foreclosure.

"I think people need money and they are selling what they can to survive," said Tom Hodges, the neighborhood president. "I don't see it stopping till the housing market is corrected."

But it's not just the housing market, it's the job market too. Beth Antonelli lost her job in January, then nearly lost her house. Now she works garage sales, scouring them for good deals.

"We start really early and by about 3 we are usually done for the day," she said.

"I do buy and resell things at times. I have been dabbling in the Craigslist and eBay and reselling things so I can be home with the kids and contribute to bills as well."

So now these garage sales are no longer about just cleaning out the garage. Kay Dobe made about $600. "But I had larger items," she said. "I had furniture, larger items." Dobe will use the cash to help pay her bills.

Losing Things They Love

People are giving up things they love. For Kathy Glover, it's her favorite gadget -- a robot carpet cleaner. "My Roomba. My vacuum cleaner. I have an upright, and I need the money, so there are things I have to part with."

For Glover it's a Roomba, but at Cervenka's, it's about saving her home where she's raised her 16-year-old daughter. The first foreclosure letters have already arrived.

"This is just real, real, real hard for me to do," said Cervenka. "This is my life out here. I brought my life outside. My daughter's and mine."

She hopes the sale will help her make the next payment on her mortgage and its 18 percent loan.

"I had one guy who was an estates person," said Cervenka. "Looking for 'where is the gold jewelry' and I told him it's all been already turned in. That was the last mortgage payment."

By the afternoon, many of the nutcrackers were still around but Cervenka had some money in her pocket. She made $210.

"I need a whole lot more than that," she said. "If I could have sold my wood rocking chair for $650 I would have been right in."