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Car boot sales: Can you pick up a bargain?

Kerry McKittrick meets four people who regularly cash in on the household items they no longer want or need

A sharp-eyed punter at a car boot sale in England recently found himself with a bit of a bargain. The anonymous buyer paid £25 for a watch, having recognised it as being a top-end Breitling. If the story had ended there the buyer would have happily netted themselves around £30,000 for the watch.

However when the watch was taken to an expert it was discovered to be the one of a kind Breitling Top Time worn by Sean Connery in the James Bond film Thunderball.

The watch was auctioned at Christie's in June of this year and fetched more than £100,000.

Thanks to eBay, the Antiques Roadshow and the rise in popularity of vintage wares and salvage yards, netting a bargain at a car boot sale is certainly trickier than it used to be. Nevertheless the sales are as popular as ever – indeed if anything in this credit crunching climate they are undergoing something of a revival.

It's fair to say you might not find a Faberge egg nestling unrecognised among a stall full of brick-a-brac but that doesn't mean you won't net a bargain at one of the many car boot sales around Northern Ireland. If the second-hand goods on sale don't take your fancy then you may find the fresh fruit and veg and baked goods more to your taste. Many car boot sales also offer a great range of handicraft.

Spending a few hours in a car park on a Saturday afternoon can not only prove to be surprisingly lucrative, but can also get rid of the unwanted junk that's been festering in the roof space.

Here, we talk to four people who just love to drive a hard bargain at the car boot sale.

'A jumpsuit for €2 and money for school trips'

Heather Orr (50) lives in Newtownabbey with her husband John and their children, Jason (14), and Jodie (16). She says:

My mum has been going to car boot sales since the year dot. My dad came from England and he would bring her around big ones in Brighton. She went to buy, though, and never sold anything.

About eight years ago we wanted to get rid of some of the junk that we had accumulated over the years, mostly children's belongings. We packed the car with toys and clothes that they didn't use any more and went to a sale. We earned about £70 that day and were instantly hooked.

These days we tend to go about once a month. That's enough time to gather more things to sell, which we store in a special shed until it is time to go to the sale.

I change things in my house quite often, so when the wallpaper in the bedroom is changed I want new bedding to match and the old stuff goes into the shed.

Also the children go through things that cost quite a lot so quickly these days and even getting a little of what you spent back makes a difference.

My son loves his Xbox but the games can cost £45.

He now brings the games he's finished with down to the sale so he can put whatever cash he raises towards new games.

The best sale is usually the one at the start of the summer. We can gather up a lot of items over the winter for a really good sale. We made £180 at the beginning of the season this year.

The money we make tends to be spent on the kids – school trips cost a lot of money!

However, I get some nice little bargains. I recently bought a jumpsuit from Coast for just £2.

My mum often gets wonderful ornaments and pieces of art for just £1 and they're certainly worth more.

She's found Royal Doulton and Tyrone Crystal for next to nothing."

'I can make up to £500 ... it depends on punters on the day'

Samuel Hillerby (24) lives in Belfast. He says:

I went to my first car boot sale when I was 13. A friend started selling and I went along just to give a hand. I only started selling at car boot sales myself about four years ago.

I sell anything I can get my hands on, from toys to sweets to books and cutlery. My friends and family all bring things to me if they're having a clear out.

I also sell things I've bought myself at car boot sales. If I see something going cheap that I know I can sell for a profit then I'll buy it.

I can make up to £500 in a day. It all depends on the punters who show up on the day. I've found some great bargains, too. I once got 200 books for £3.

The best bargain though, was a full-sized running machine. It was originally worth £400 and had been used only three times. I got it for £25.

The owner just wanted to get rid of it.

I've always loved the atmosphere at car boot sales. You have great craic with the other stallholders and you get to know your regulars quite quickly. I decided to start running a sale myself about four weeks ago at the Ice Dome on Sandy Row in Belfast.

It works the same way as most other car boot sales; you load the car, show up and pay £5 for your pitch. You need to bring a table – any folding table will do – lay everything out with price tags and bring a tub or a bum bag for the money.

Good customer service and good prices are the secret – they'll both bring people to your stall."

'I bought a carving that's worth £1,000 more than I paid'

Leon Dunning (37) lives in Portstewart with his wife Jennifer and their children Chloe (7) and Jack (10). He says:

I've worked in a few different jobs but about 15 years ago I started working with a master cabinet maker.

I had a few projects of my own to practise on, pieces that were on their last legs that I would strip back and refinish, or items like tables that I made out of cast-off floor boards.

About 10 years ago my wife and I loaded a van up with the pieces I had finished off and brought them to a car boot sale to sell and we did quite well. We've been going to car boot sales ever since.

We go to a sale about once a month now.

My wife and children come too and bring the dog – the children have a great time playing with the dog while Jennifer and I can take turns manning the stall.

You have a great bit of banter with the stall next to you and with passers-by.

Some people will stop and chat for 20 minutes – it's all very casual. We've been doing it for so long that we have all the kit; stacking boxes, lock boxes for cash and trestle tables.

Of course, I buy at car boot sales too. I found a Black Forest carving for €100 (approx £84) – it's worth about £1,200.

The problem is, with programmes like Antiques Roadshow or Salvage Hunters, everyone is looking for a bargain, so they're a lot rarer than they used to be.

With smartphones, too, you can look something up instantly instead of running home to check a guide book and check if you've bought an item that might be worth something.

Car boot sales have actually led to my wife and I starting our own business.

We're about to open a shop in Portstewart called Quirky Curiosities. It will have furniture by me and pieces by local craftspeople.

The thing about a boot sale is that people come down with £20 in their pocket looking for a bargain – but they go to a shop with £200 expecting to pay the full price for something nice.

In saying that, people will buy items from me for £100 or more and we could then make around £600.

It depends on the crowd and what we're selling.

We have had minus numbers, however – days when we have sold nothing but still had to fork out money for the pitch and, of course, the petrol."

'Our children made cash for their iPads at car boot sales'

Brenda Shankey (41) is managing director of the Jason Shankey Male Grooming company and chair of the Ballyhackamore Business Association. She lives in Belfast with husband Jason and their children Lauren (12) and Will (10). She says:

It all started two summers ago. The children wanted an iPad or an iPod each. I said no, and told Lauren and Will they would have to save up for them themselves – an iPad for each of them would cost close to £1,000.

Lauren saw a sign for a car boot sale and decided it was one of the things they should do to help save up.

They went round the house getting all the old toys they didn't want and I did a big clear-out of other bits and pieces for them, too.

We brought everything down to the car boot sale on the Crumlin Road in Belfast and ended up making a profit of £180. After that Jason saw it as a great way of teaching the children about profit and loss so we tend to go down now every Saturday for the eight weeks of the summer holidays.

Nothing in my house gets thrown out any more – there's a big box in the garage and anything that's not wanted goes in there for the car boot sale. The children now have their iPads, but they still keep selling on old stuff for pocket money.

It's certainly teaching them about working for a living. Lauren wanted some pocket money for Halloween in Derry so instead of asking for it she asked me to take her to the car boot sale.

She spent the day before cooking up big batches of scones to sell too – they sold out on the day.

She earned £35 which was enough for her night out and she was happy. Not bad for a 12 year-old! I go to keep an eye on them and make sure no one takes advantage.

Most of the time I sit in the car and read a book or go for a wander to see if I can spy a bargain or two. I've actually found really nice bits and pieces for the house like lamps or cushions. There are often fruit and veg stalls too, so you can get some nice, fresh produce. The pitch costs £5 and we price our goods depending on what they are, but we rarely sell anything for more than £5.

You start to know if something is too expensive – if you've labelled it £10 and lots of people ask about it but no one buys it then it probably costs too much.

The only thing I can't sell is clothes. For some reason mine just don't sell."

How to make a success of it

Be prepared – Saturday car boot sales can have early starts. Pack everything you need the night before so you can stay in bed longer. Don't bury your table under everything else in the boot – it will be one of the first things you need when you arrive.

Presentation – If selling clothes, make sure they're clean and ironed and try and get hold of a lightweight clothes rail. Make sure your stall is well laid out and the prices are visible on each item.

Take a float – £20-£40 in loose change and small notes. If someone offers you a £20 for a £1 item and you don't have the change you could lose the sale.

Smile – be an approachable seller, friendly but not overbearing. Offer help then get on with something else so you don't scare customers away.

Don't be afraid to barter – at the end of the day when people are trying to get rid of stock you might find yourself in the perfect position to make a trade with another stallholder.

Where to pitch up

Some of the most popular car boot sales in Northern Ireland:

The Ice Dome, Sandy Row. Sundays, 1-5pm (set-up from noon). £5 per car, £7 per pitch

St James' Chapel, Shore Road, Whiteabbey. Saturdays, 7am-10am. £5 per car, £10 per van. Contact Brian, tel: 0752 580 8819

Crumlin Road, Belfast. Sundays, 6am-3pm. £5 per space.

King Street, Bangor. Saturday, 9am-2pm. £5 per space. Contact Willie, tel: 07866 725 965

Open Arms Centre, Glenvarca Centre, 34a Ballynure Road, BT36 5SW. 7.30am-1pm. Car, £5

Kennels, 28 Benvardin Road, Ballymoney. Sunday from 7.30am. Sellers £5, buyers 50p.

Dundrum. Saturdays from 8am. £5 per car

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