So you need a bed for your preschooler. Or maybe a new dining room table, or a swingset. And you’d prefer not to pay retail prices for a spanking-new one. You have a few choices: Troll yard sales and thrift shops, hoping that by some magical alignment of the stars you’ll hit the right Goodwill on the right day and find a piece that meets your needs. Haunt Craigslist and hope that you find a listing with a full description of the item and a photo, and without a sketchy seller. Join every local Facebook buy/sell/trade group you can find, and then go blind reading each of their many, many listings.
Feeling overwhelmed yet?
Never fear; there’s another option that beats them all. Enter VarageSale. This 2-year-old website offers the inventory of Craigslist with the personal touch of your neighbor’s yard sale (think “virtual garage sale”), and it just might be your new favorite way to shop.
Shop locally, with real people
Most VarageSale transactions are done in your own backyard — or close to it. The site is organized into communities, most of which grew out of Facebook buy/sell/trade groups. The nearest VarageSale group to me was in Sumter (there are also communities in Clarendon County and Greenville-Spartanburg). But you can also join nationwide communities; there’s one for homeschooling supplies, one for cloth diapers and one for designer purses and shoes. In a local community items are picked up or delivered; in the nationwide ones, it’s expected that items will be shipped (and they’re priced accordingly).
You do have to create an account to browse and buy on VarageSale. But — tired as I am of creating an account to do every.single.thing online — this is a good thing. Most of the users I saw had used their Facebook accounts to log in to the VarageSale site (you can also log in with a unique username and password). Seeing people’s Facebook profiles gave me more confidence that I was dealing with an actual person, not a scamming bot. And if you view sellers’ profiles, you can view all the other items they have for sale — maybe a pair of earrings to go with that fab handbag? — and you can see the feedback other buyers have given them, so you’ll know if they’re likely to follow through on your purchase, or flake at the last minute.
In addition to its website, VarageSale also has apps for iOS, Android and Kindle Fire, so you can check your feed and send messages to buyers and sellers no matter where you are. I downloaded the app for my phone, but honestly I didn’t use it that much. I’m not a big apps user and it was just easier to wait until I was at my computer — there didn’t seem to be any urgency for the items I was buying. If I were selling an item, though, I could see using the app to get back to buyers as quickly as possible.
The search begins
I logged on in search of a twin bed for my son. I wanted something simple and classic — affordable but not cheap. Without pictures, it’s hard to tell if you’ve found what you’re looking for. But because every VarageSale listing has pictures, it was no trouble to find some likely candidates.
Once I found a few beds that seemed like good matches, I added them to my Watch List by clicking the ribbon icon on each listing. When you put an item on your Watch List, you’ll get notifications when the seller or other users post comments, when the price changes, or — sadly — when the item is sold and the listing is removed. (There’s also a Like button, but as best I can tell that’s all it’s for — telling a seller you like an item. I was never able to go back and find a list of my Likes, so after a while I stopped using the button.)
You’ll want to put items on your Watch List, because VarageSale moves fast. In the Sumter community, there can be a new item posted every few minutes. The site uses a news feed, similar to Facebook, so you’ll always see the newest items for sale. You can customize your feed by selecting categories you do or don’t want to see; if your children are all out of the baby stage, you don’t need to see baby items for sale. But you can always search for specific items — “infant bathtub,” for example — or add the baby category back to your feed. You can also follow individual sellers if you like their taste, so you’ll always see the items they’re selling regardless of category.
The best part of having a Watch List is that you can go back to items you liked once you’ve measured your space or confirmed that the colors match. No more searching for that listing you saw last week; no more trying to deduce whether an item posted last month might still be available. If it’s posted, it’s for sale.
Time to buy
After adding five or six beds to my Watch List, finally I settled on one that I liked best. I commented on the listing to let the seller know I was interested. I could see by reading other comments that other buyers had been in touch with him and he’d responded, but evidently they’d lost interest in the bed. So I was up next!
Once we’d agreed on a price, the seller and I set up a time to meet via private message. (Common-sense moment: Any time you’re meeting a stranger, for any purpose, you should meet in a public place. To be extra safe, bring a friend, or let someone know your whereabouts.) One ATM withdrawal and a handshake later, he and I went away happy — me with a bed, him with some cash. My son is excited to be getting a bigger bed and I’m thrilled to have a solidly built bed for a great price.
Because you’ll have to drive to Sumter for most VarageSale items, I’d advise using it for large items that make it worth the trip. But there’s nothing stopping someone from creating a Columbia-based group. Most VarageSale communities started as Facebook buy/sell/trade groups. If you manage a Columbia Facebook group and want to move it to VarageSale, email the site at [email protected].
We’re looking for a few more pieces of furniture before we set up my son’s room with his new bed — a dresser, a desk, a chair. And guess where we’re looking? No surprise — VarageSale. The site makes it so easy to search for and find merchandise that it’s worth the drive.
See you in the listings!
Have you bought anything through VarageSale? Share your experience in the comments.
** Disclaimer: Columbia SC Moms Blog was compensated for this post, but all views and opinions are proudly our own.