Realizing time flies, we participated in the annual neighborhood garage sale today. Sponsored by a local real estate agent, it’s designed to be a quick way to earn some cash for unwanted stuff. Realistically, it’s more like an eight-hour waste of time. With six months to go until the magical Malaysian visa filing date, we thought getting a head start couldn’t hurt. Unfortunately, almost nobody came and those that did wouldn’t part with $5 for an $800 bicycle.
Experienced movers, we successfully divested almost every unwanted item less than eight years ago during the move from Calgary to San Francisco. Proving easier than taking candy from a baby, I discovered what Diane already knew: Canadians like bargains and drive almost anywhere for a great deal. Bargaining barely becomes necessary because they realize a great deal when they see it. Eliminating the need for a six month liquidation period, we simply stuck a sign on the main street and they came in droves. Standing out as the silliest example, someone drove over 40 miles to buy Diane’s used foot bath. Gross.
Previously residing in a 2,000 square foot house featuring a large undeveloped basement, most crap wound up in boxes collecting dust. As a childless couple we had our share of excess stuff and we are not over-consumers. Early retirees rarely own too many things; it’s one reason we can retire early. $1,000 couch: sold in two days for $600. Canadians even come in pickup trucks and haul it away. $2,000 worth of miscellaneous furniture: Gone within a week. Responding to almost anything, Craigslist proved to be a valuable asset. We sold everything below quickly and easily.
Circumstances are different, however, when you’re selling almost everything and moving 8,000 miles to a furnished apartment. Unable to bring furniture, it’s either sell it or waste money to cart it away. Oddly enough, it’s almost $4,000 cheaper to ship a less-than-container (LCL) load from across the ocean than it is to drive a two bedroom apartment across the US-Canadian border.
Figuring on similar circumstances in Walnut Creek, California, we spent two weekends sorting through stuff and piled it up in the garage. Lacking basements in California due to earthquakes, houses get cluttered relatively fast and we soon discovered several hundred dollars worth of stuff to sell, including some furniture that sat unused in the entry room where we’ve spent about two hours in seven years. Piece of cake and easy money.
Owing to the heat wave that refuses to lift, they begin driving down the street an hour before the announced start time. Early on, a young Latino guy told me he’s searching for a bicycle. Steering him to my $875 Trek 750 in perfect condition, I showed him the extra stuff attached to it and mentioned the recent $75 tune up. And he offered me $20. Almost astounded, I told him sayonara. (Well, not literally, this being California and all).
Next came the Filipino woman who tried on some garden gloves and offered me a quarter. TWENTY FIVE CENTS. Three minutes later came the old white folks admiring the $300 bench, $1,000 Natuzzi custom-made Italian chair and $150 dresser. Highest offer: $20. They walked away quietly. Next came the Asian woman who wouldn’t pay $5 for some Pottery Barn end table pieces, the guy who wanted “non-fiction books” similar to New Yorker magazine articles, and the family needing to buy a purse for a wedding in Sacramento. Diane had about six of those,. When we came down to the ridiculous price of $5, she grumbled and finally gave in. Woo-hoo. Five bucks for a whole day’s work.
Progressing through the first hour, we quickly realized the foolish nature of garage sales in overpriced neighborhoods where houses cost so much and draw customers to cheap to pay five bucks for anything. Unlike Canada, none of the expensive camping equipment received even a glance. Always the first thing to sell in Alberta, now I know why so many 1-800-JUNK employees vacation in California state campgrounds.
Frustrated, we took turns walking around to neighbors houses. Some had kids screaming, others had large signs, and a few even dragged large pieces of furniture on their lawn. Five hours later, the mercury hit 95 and the items for sale baked in the sun. Strikingly different from our middle class Calgary neighborhood was the lack of curiosity, openness and general friendly attitude of our neighbors. Perhaps Canadians are more reserved but they sure made better conversation with each other when it came time for garage sales.
Chalking it up to experience and lessons learned I can see this is the first and last garage sale we’ll be having. Unsure how other American expats liquidated all their stuff so easily, I’ve seen charts, graphs and articles about this topic on similar blogs. Maybe the San Francisco Bay Area is an anomaly. Disparity of wealth reads like a government statistic in a county where the per capita income ranges from $70,000 lower to $500,000 higher than Walnut Creek. Expecting things to make sense in this strange Utopia where everyone wants to live but nobody can spare five bucks at a garage sale is obviously asking too much.
As I write this, someone emailed to offer $50 for our portable air conditioner. Responding quickly and positively at the prospect of any success today, sure enough the second email came back “Oh, sorry; we didn’t mean to offer that. How much will you sell it for?”. We never heard back.
I think they forgot the “b” in “garage sale “.