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HOW TO BECOME ADEPT AT SHOPPING YARD SALES

Ten tips for successful garage and yard sale buying:

1. Buy a newspaper and a city map: A newspaper and map make it easy to plot your route. Pick the sale that sounds as if it has most of what you're looking for, or the sale that opens earliest, and start from there. Knowing where you're headed keeps you from wasting time backtracking or getting lost.2. Get there early: Garage sale shoppers who begin their quest after 10 a.m. might as well stay home. Dealers sometimes descend before the break of day, trying to intimidate garage sale sellers into opening early. The tactic usually just makes people mad. Still, if the dealers get there first, they will snatch up the best buys. It is best to be at the sale a few minutes before it opens.

3. Examine the item carefully: In furniture, check the feet for cracks. Look for spots that might have been repaired with wood putty. Check to make sure all legs, drawers, handles and other parts match. In glassware or lamps, check for small chips and cracks. Hold items up to a light. If you don't have the time or money to spend on repairing or refinishing a broken item, then look for something that's in better shape. And remember, while it may look like an antique, there are many good reproductions. The fact that it is a reproduction may not seem important to you, but the ability to detect the differences might bring an inflated price down considerably.

4. Always ask questions: If you see a bed you'd like to buy, there may be a matching dresser inside the owners might consider selling as well.

5. Never assume something isn't for sale: If you see it, and you're interested, ask. The prospective seller may have thought the prize you want is junk and didn't bother to include it.

6. Learn to dicker: It's good to have at least one family member who knows the fine art of dickering. My dad, a champion dickerer if ever there was one, looks at the ground, scuffs his foot against the dirt and says something like "Aw, it's probably worth it, but I just couldn't go that high." He then offers a third as much as the seller is asking. Often, they are happy to sell.

7. Check for bugs: Could that beautiful cabinet really be a Trojan horse filled with warrior roaches? Just one stowaway egg case could result in an invasion. If it looks questionable, clean it out thoroughly and spray it with insecticide before bringing it into the house.

8. Use your imagination: Imagine what the furniture will look like cleaned or refinished. Imagine it without the paint or with a new paint job. What looks like junk could be a treasure.

9. Be practical: Although our Victorian sofa covered with wood ornamentation and velvet fabric is beautiful to look at, when we recline to watch television it turns into the black hole of Calcutta, mercilessly sucking us back behind the cushions. If you're going to sit or lie on the furniture at home, buy something that is comfortable. Sit on it. Lie on it. Test it with whatever you would do at home.

10. Don't give up: It may take months of garage sale shopping to find something you really want.