THERE is no surer beacon of springtime in Winnipeg than balloon-adorned signs for garage sales.
It's one thing to open up your yard to strangers who you hope will buy your old Bay City Rollers albums but you shouldn't slap a 25-cent price tag on just anything.
Steven Uster, founder and CEO of Zillidy Inc., a Toronto personal lender, said there are more than a few garage-sale cases of homeowners thinking they've committed grand theft larceny after convincing a customer to pay a couple of bucks for some old junk only to find out later that it was a valuable antique.
He cites a couple of high-profile cases, including the person who bought a Chinese bowl at a garage sale for $3 and had it displayed in their living room until a friend suggested they get it appraised.
"Turns out it was worth $2.2 million. It was great for the buyer, not so great for the seller," he said.
Another woman who liked to restore various items bought an old stuffed doll at a yard sale for $23. After she took it home, she noticed it was wearing gold-coloured cufflinks.
She had them appraised and discovered they were 18-carat gold and worth $250 each.
"This kind of thing does happen. It's not just the things you hear about on television," he said.
So, how do you avoid giving away a potential fortune?
Uster said there are no hard and fast rules, but generally you're safe selling old clothes and worn-out toys. But if you don't recognize it or it was in your attic when you bought your house, don't take any chances -- have it appraised.
"Take a quick glance. It doesn't take more than five minutes to see something you might not recognize or an item that's interesting and doesn't say 'made in China' and you can pull it (from the sale).
"You don't want to be that person who sells the $2.2-million bowl for $3," he said.
Just like electronics and airline tickets, garage sales are going online.
Local coupon expert Michelle Roy started a Facebook group a couple of months ago called Winnipeg Garage Sale where people -- once they're approved by a moderator -- can post pictures of various items, the area of town in which they live and a price.
If somebody else likes it, a transaction is made.
"I started the page when winter was lingering on and on and on, and I always seemed to have a lot of extra stuff around my house. My toddler is growing like a weed. This was a great way to bring in some cash and get rid of some things we're not using," she said, noting the page has more than 800 members.
"It's kind of nice to be able to do it at 3 a.m. in your pyjamas when you can't sleep."
Now that the weather has improved, the page can also be used to advertise garage sales, she said.