In a Shift, Yard Sales Remain Hot in Cold Season

By Annie Gowen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sandy Leaf, a self-described "starving Realtor" from Fairfax County, had her second yard sale of the season last week, despite frigid temperatures. She dragged a fire pit into the driveway and served hot cider while she set out children's books, clothes and housewares. She hoped for a little money to offset bills while clearing clutter from two bedrooms she plans to rent out.

It's cold out, but yard sales are hot.

This year, the economic downturn and widespread foreclosures have extended the yard sale season well into the chilly months, as residents search for ways to raise cash in hard times. Classified ads, including on Craigslist, are up. Bright yard sale signs dot telephone poles. Devotees used to shopping on sunny Saturdays in flip-flops are donning ski coats and mittens to find bargains.

"I can't believe somebody is having a yard sale on such a cold day," said bargain-hunter Cheryl Flood at Leaf's yard sale, with temperatures hovering near freezing. "Who would have expected one?"

At Leaf's home, friends and neighbors gathered in the driveway, a sense of unease in the cold, smoky air. One had just been laid off as a security guard. Another sold her spare car to pay bills. The residents of Glen Chase Court seemed to be bracing against forces out of their control. It brought to mind the words of another Craigslist poster from the same weekend: "End of the world forces sale."

"When all the news is about the economic downturn, everybody thinks about saving money and . . . starting to simplify," said Mary Ann Borkowski, 50, a stay-at-home mom and neighbor.

Leaf emerged from the house carrying a steaming coffee carafe.

"Want some cider?" she called. "Over by the fire pit?"

Nationally, the number of yard sales on Craigslist more than doubled last month from the same period in 2007, from 102,942 to 227,398, said Susan MacTavish Best, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco-based online service. Even regions with cool weather like Seattle have seen an uptick.

"Even as winter descends upon us, we're seeing astonishing growth in the Craigslist garage sale category as thrifty folks sell their unwanted belongings in order to fatten their wallets prior to the holiday season," MacTavish Best said via e-mail.

Locally, yard sale permits have increased this year in some municipalities, such as in Laurel, where permits are up from 112 last year to 145 this year.

The Washington Post's classified ads for garage sales increased by 26 percent from September to October this year, up from a 2 percent increase during the same time last year -- a "significant change," said Tim Condon, director of classified advertising. Condon said November is when yard sale listings traditionally fall off dramatically, but this year they are far more plentiful than expected.

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