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Tip of the Week, May 21, 2012

A question I am asked frequently is how do I expand my vinyl collection? Most definitely the best way to add to your collection is through yard sales. This requires a lot of work on your part, but the rewards can make it very worthwhile. The past few years, I have backed off a bit from heavy duty “yardsaling” because I am at a place in my own collection where the stuff I really want isn’t out there…or it is spaced so far apart, that the empty-handed days aren’t making it worth all of the effort. In any event, for those unschooled in the fine art of the yard-sale, I’ll describe my process.

The first step in a successful experience is to find the local publication in which the majority of yard sales in your area are listed. In my area, the Friday edition of the paper has a special section devoted to yard sales. (In case you didn’t know, Saturday morning is THE prime yard sale time.) Grab a highlighter, scan through the listings, and see if anyone is offering lps, records. vinyl, etc. Those will be your first stops the next morning.

If one of those locations happens to be several towns over and you are wondering whether it will be worth the ride, use the “reverse phone number lookup” on one of the several websites devoted to phone listings. Type in the yard sale address, and give the folks running it a phone call. Immediately apologize for bothering them, then briefly explain your plight, and ask them what kinds of vinyl they will be selling. If it’s grandma’s Lawrence Welk collection consisting of five lps, you will have saved yourself some wasted gas and wasted time. If it’s a promising collection, ask them what time is the very earliest you can stop by. Thank them profusely for their time.

After you’ve made your call(s) and highlighted the sales that have vinyl, develop a “game plan” for the next morning. Look over the start times, and take into account the geographical location. Get a loose idea in your mind of where you will start and what general direction in which you will travel. Mapquest is invaluable if you don’t know the local area well. Plug in the info from address to address and print off the directions as needed.

Speaking of yard sale start times, there is a fine line between what is called an “early bird” and a stalker. Most definitely I always arrive prior to the starting time listed in the paper if the sale looks promising; however, you need to assess the situation when you get there. Have some respect if the poor people haven’t even set up a table and are just barely getting things put out. Go to another sale first, and come back again. On the other hand, if there is lots of stuff out, it doesn’t hurt to roll down your window and ask politely if you can begin to look over their stuff. Most times the answer will be yes. They will appreciate that you asked. I have seen folks just run out their cars and accost folks who are barely set up. I just think that’s in poor taste.

When you get to a yard sale, try to get the “big picture” of what’s offered first. Take a quick walk through the entire area. Be on the look out for milk crates and liquor boxes, the two types of containers most often used for lps. Even if you spot some lps right away, complete your walk-through to make sure there’s not a bigger and better stash offered a few feet away. (That happened to me several times before I started always doing a quick walk-through.)

After you have visited the yard sales that specifically mentioned lps or records, start on the rest of the yard sale list that looks promising. “Estate Sales” and “Moving Sales” are usually the most desireable, because a whole house is being cleared. One particularly effective technique I started using a few years back was to ALWAYS ask one of the people running the sale whether or not they have some “old records” they might be willing to sell. Nine times out of ten the answer is no, but every so often you might hit the jackpot and be the first person to peruse a collection.

Another moderately successful technique is, when someone says they HAVE records but they are NOT for sale, is to leave your name and phone number with them. Write the word “Records” in big letters across the top. It has worked for me a couple of times that when folks realized how much they had to move and/or they realize how small their new home is, they decide they WILL get rid of their records. Once again, you get to be the first person to peruse their collection.

Folks run yard sales for different reasons. You can get a sense for that within a few moments of being there. While looking around, listen to the response to low ball offers on items. If someone else offers 2 bucks for a 5 buck item, and the seller accepts, that leaves the door open for you to deal too. In general, the more you buy, the more you can try for a discount. A lot of times I find lps for 50 cents a piece. I end up with 12-13 albums, and I offer a total of five bucks. They are usually happy to get five bucks, and will allow the extra 2-3. (Oh yeah, psychologically, it’s advisable to have the five dollar bill right in your hand where they can see it, and your wallet put away.)

Yard sale prices per album vary, but most assuredly, this is the way to expand your collection on the cheap. It’s ironic, but I often find the best collections have the cheapest prices (twenty-five or fifty cents) while the sales with junk charge outrageous prices such as two dollars each. One thing I personally never try to do is take advantage of someone who looks like they really need the money, and the lp titles and condition are great. In those cases, I always pay full price.

You are probably wondering about the condition of lps you will find. For me, given the low prices I am paying, I am not going to take a ot of time examining an lp. I take five seconds to make sure the album inside is correct and that there are not any “death scratches.” Lastly I make sure it’s not warped. In my yard sale travels I frequently bump into a fellow vinylphile. He must spend a minute or more examining each lp before he buys. I simply can’t justify that much time when the prices are so darn low to begin with. (Obviously if I am in a record store paying 8-10 dollars, that’s a different story.) If you later get the lp home and it’s unplayable for something you didn’t catch in your five seond perusal, you are out a quarter or fifty cents. Big deal.

One final aspect of condition of yard sale lps I should mention is the prevalance of mold. If the albums are damp and smell heavily of mold, you will most likely NEVER get rid of the smell and the mold spores. Avoid. In some cases, if it’s a really desireable lp, I will take it, but later discard the cover. Briefly cleaning the lp itself in a light solution of bleach/water usually kills the mold there. If you find an lp in the “iffy” zone, I soak the lp in the bleach solution, and I use a BARELY wet sponge (from the bleach solution) and wipe down the cover. I follow this up by leaving the lp cover for 4-5 days in a deep freeze. I have been told this will kill the spores.

Well, that’s the lowdown on yardsales, complete with a couple of pro “secrets.” Happy hunting..and remember, just when you are about to give up is usually exactly the time when you get the biggest reward.