On Facebook, a Yard Sale in Lakewood Goes Digital

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It used to be that when you wanted to get rid of old junk that inevitably accumulates in the home, you had to host a yard sale. Yard sales are colossal pains in the ass and require setting up a bunch of card tables and sitting in the hot sun while haggling with strangers over the price of your grandma's antique dining table and some old paper back books.

Then, technology came along and made things a little easier. Sites like Craigslist allowed people to connect with others in their area via the Internet to specifically buy the used items they wanted without having to drive across the city all weekend long and browse through garage sales. But Craigslist was not without its problems. The ability to arrange anonymous sex on the same site that you were using to sell your used children's clothing was certainly creepy, and horror stories of robbery and even murder after arranged Craigslist sales made many people wary of the site.

So, the junk piled up, and most of us decided to just donate it to Goodwill instead of trying to make a few bucks. Karla Zimmerman, a resident in Dallas' Lakewood neighborhood, she first realized that she needed to declutter when her family was making a big move to a new home after almost 20 years. She'd never heard of anything like a "Facebook garage sale" until a childhood friend added to her a group in her hometown back in Alabama, which gave her the idea to start Lakewood Facebook Yard Sale.

"Lakewood is known for its garage sales, and even just junk pickup," says Zimmerman. People from all over the city drive around Lakewood to pick up junk from the curb on bulk trash days, so Zimmerman knew that her idea would take off. "It started off with just my original friends from the neighborhood, and then they would add their friends, and it just grew from there.

Now, Lakewood Facebook Yard Sale is a massive semi-private Facebook group with close to 9,000 members, and the site has grown entirely by word-of-mouth. People as far away as Frisco and Allen are members of the group, but they'll usually stipulate that they work in the area or are willing to meet with their wares somewhere close to the neighborhood.

On any given day, any item that you can think of is for sale, and business for many of these spare-time entrepreneurs is booming. Parents with growing kids sell their outgrown toys and clothes for pennies on the dollar while handbag enthusiasts try to get top-dollar for their Louis Vuitton and Coach bags. Antique refinishers scour the sites for hidden treasures that just need a few coats of paint. Even seemingly random items, like a half-used package of diapers and canned goods that are weeks away from their expiration date, are up for grabs. The only items that have been explicitly banned on the Lakewood Facebook Yard Sale site are pets for sale and guns, but there are other niche sites that offer both. Zimmerman has also banned multi-level marketing scams and people who are using the site to promote their businesses in her group, and most others have followed suit.

A set of both unwritten rules governs transaction etiquette in the Lakewood Facebook Yard Sale. Users who are interested in buying an item are encouraged to comment "want" under an item they desire, then arrange the nuts and bolts of the sale, including the final price, through private messages on Facebook. The "winner" of the item is usually determined by who expresses interest first, but there are often arguments in these garage sale groups about who really has dibs. Zimmerman doesn't get in the middle of transactions in her own group, because everybody is a "grown-up," she says. "I'm not a referee or boss, and I don't make any money off of these sales."

Deciding who has first dibs isn't the only thing that causes drama in the online garage sale groups. Many times, people commit to buying an item, set up a time to pick it up and then never show. A few months ago, a clueless husband who was cleaning out his wife's handbag collection unknowingly posted a series of "replica" designer handbags to a Park Cities group, and was promptly torn to shreds by women in the know who threatened to alert the police about the fakes. For sellers who offer "porch pick-up," or leave their goods on the patio and tell buyers to place cash inside the mailbox or another designated area, sometimes things go missing. In these transactions, buyers and sellers communicate online, but never actually meet in person. There is also a sort of language that has evolved with the Facebook yard sale that is beyond what you remember from old-school classified ads, but some is still the same. If you're willing to haggle, post "OBO," for "or best offer" beside the price. In the Lakewood Facebook Yard Sale Group, "EUC" means "excellent used condition," and a comment that is only an asterisk indicates that a user is "watching" the item, likely to see if the price drops. Commenting "bump" on your post moves it back up to the top of the ever-changing group feed, which is essential if you want your stuff to stand out amongst the hundreds of posts in each group every day.

The Lakewood group isn't the only online garage sale in Dallas, though Zimmerman thinks she might have been the first in the area. Multiple groups exist for the Park Cities, including Highland Park Garage Sale, a group for "unique and upscale items only." In this group, which boasts almost 10,000 Facebook users of its own, members are only allowed to post items that are valued higher than $20, and it isn't unusual to see everything from bone china to fur coats priced at well over $1,000.

Even with inexpensive items, though, it's easy to see why so many people are drawn to the concept of a Facebook yard sale. Most of us already spend hours on Facebook and online shopping throughout the day, why not try to get a bargain on some used baby clothes or a barely used treadmill at the same time? Along with the convenience factor and the constant presence of good deals in your Facebook feed, Zimmerman also thinks there's an added sense of security for people who believe that they're transacting with their neighbors.

Every post made by members of these online yard sale groups is associated with a personal Facebook page, which is certainly less sketchy than anonymous email messages, and helps people feel more safe in buying and selling. Many times, buyers and sellers have mutual friends, which also provides peace of mind. Occasionally, you'll even see these mutual friends vouching for the seller or the item.

There are still some risks, though, and no online garage sale transaction can be completely safe. The "porch pick up" system has resulted in more than a few stolen items across the various online yard sale groups in the area, and there have even been thefts on patios after legitimate sales a few weeks later. "No one can prove that's what happened, but I always make sure to tell people to be careful," says Zimmerman. "There's also no way to truly know who you're dealing with on Facebook, so you have to use common sense."

Still, the majority of what happens in these online yard sale groups goes off without a hitch, and some people have even formed friendships with their buyers and sellers once the transactions are over. Many times, items are sold between people who already know each other, and dropped off to the buyer as they're bringing their kids for play dates or girl's night out. Some sellers have even started hosting "sip and sales," where they offer wine and snacks to potential buyers who browse through their home much like a traditional garage or estate sale.

The system created by Zimmerman and other enterprising people who have created these Facebook yard sales isn't without its flaws, but it does provide an alternative for people who are looking to make extra cash without having to deal with the seedier side of the Internet on Craigslist or the hassle of listing items on eBay. One user I spoke to made $400 selling her castoffs in her first three days of selling, which is seriously inspiring to those among us who need a little extra room in the budget.

Despite the drama and occasional bad blood between "upscale" and "working class" groups, groups like Lakewood Facebook Yard Sale are giving people in some of Dallas' most diverse and interesting neighborhoods a new way to connect beyond the carpool lane or a passing wave on the way to soccer practice. Besides, who wouldn't want the constant convenience of being able to pick up whatever you need at a reduced price from someone who's a lot more friendly and worthy of your cash than a corporate discount store?

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