These Yard Sale Bargain Hunters Are Making a Killing Off Your Junk
Photo by Anna JonesDino Anello scans the goods at a yard sale.
It is 7 a.m. on a Saturday, and Dino Anello is cruising the back streets of Beverly Hills in his Champagne-colored Camry. With him is his affable brother-in-law, Ryan Paul, as well as a documentary cameraman, who monitors the action from a remote-controlled cab camera mounted under the rearview mirror.
Their prey is not celebrities but yard sales — a surprisingly technical (and action-packed) undertaking.
Using a combination of Craigslist and Yardmapper.com on several handheld devices (including two SocketScan scanners, which allow them to track the real-time resale value of any item with an ISBN number), Paul heads west, zeroing in on a possible target in Santa Monica — only to realize that the sale isn't scheduled to begin until 9 a.m.
Anello is dismayed.
"It's a 9 o'clocker! I can't use a 9 o'clocker right now," Anello hollers over the roar of the engine as he abruptly turns right onto Ocean Avenue. "Give me an 8 o'clocker!"
Suddenly he's surrounded by orange traffic cones. The street is closed.
"What is this? Some kind of marathon?" Exasperated, Anello maneuvers around the cones, flawlessly executing a U-turn on the nearly deserted street. "OK. We gotta find a way around these crazy detours!"
Anello's intensity is not a put-on for the cameras. This morning, the pair will hit 10 yard sales — before 11 a.m. The wheeling and dealing that goes on would be enough to make any casual shopper's head spin: Along with Anello's wife, Kristy Paul, who is also Ryan Paul's sister, they've turned their talent for buying and reselling other people's junk into a family business.
Anello moved to L.A. from Marin County in the early 1990s, hoping to become an actor. He landed speaking roles in movies and small parts on TV shows, including Baywatch and ER, before focusing on screenwriting. But like so many others seeking stardom, he found it hard to make ends meet. He knew he would have to find a backup plan.
Enter Kristy, who goes by either KP or "the Godmother." When she met Anello four years ago, he was throwing a yard sale in front of his apartment off Olympic Boulevard. She began browsing through his items, and the two hit it off instantly.
They quickly discovered that both had grown up in big families whose members often bargain-hunted for household basics at yard sales — a habit that had carried over into both their adult lives, although at that point both considered it more hobby than business opportunity.
It was destiny. Both early risers, they went hiking at 6 a.m. for their first date. Just a few months later, they decided to start a family. They now live in that same apartment, a one-bedroom, with their bulldog, a 2-year-old daughter and an infant son — a home life that is both hectic and joyful.
And they make their money on yard sales. They hit sales every Friday, Saturday and Sunday and spend the rest of the week listing their haul on eBay and Amazon and shipping it to eager buyers — netting an annual income that they say is well over six figures.
Their buying strategy is simple. Anello repeats it almost like a mantra: "Connect, distract, close! You put the money in their hand and thank them. You want them to think to themselves, 'I don't know what just happened — but I feel good.' Plus, you are doing people a service by getting rid of the stuff they don't want anymore. People come from all over the world to try and make it in this city, and then they leave — and we've figured out a way to earn a living from that process."
The couple doesn't buy just anything. They specialize in rare memorabilia and other collectibles, although, somewhat counterintuitively, the bulk of their purchases are books, CDs and DVDs.
When they "sweep a sale," they use their SocketScan devices to ascertain the real-time demand for any given item. On online sales forums, they have a pristine review score and an established history of being go-tos for certain types of hard-to-find or out-of-print material (photography books, instruction manuals, early editions, movie scripts).
At yard sales, "I would say that, on average, about 2 to 5 percent of stuff has resale value," Anello says. "If it won't sell for more than about 200 percent what we pay for it, then we don't buy it at all."
Not surprisingly, in light of the amount of money involved, they're not the only ones on the prowl. That has led to a zany cast of friends, enemies and rivals on the L.A. yard-sale circuit: They've dubbed various competitors Lurch, Mulletman, Leo the Liar, the Bobbsey Twins and Krusty the Klown — a Lithuanian who smells like cigarettes and has been known to shout "you scanner people!" in frustration over their efficient tactics.
"We plan it like a war!" Paul says.
Donning matching leather wristbands, they sweep sales so fast you might miss them if not for their signature "What else you got?" — always uttered just before moving on.
They've had some scores. Paul once paid $20 for a safe, which contained an old record contract signed by Michael Jackson. One flat-price grab bag of "junk" ended up holding a treasure trove of silver, gold and turquoise jewelry with huge resale value. Their near-endless list of finds also includes a complete collection of Beatles posters autographed by all four members of the iconic band — found in a dumpster. "I've always been lucky!" Paul says.
The trio's combination of skill and exuberance attracted the attention of an independent film crew, and they have a spec pilot in development for a series they envision as part Real Housewives, part Storage Wars. They also have a growing base of clients who call them to remove unwanted items for a flat fee. "Everybody wins," Paul says. "All we do is redistribute the stuff to the people who want it!"
They opened a storefront office downtown in September to deal with those clients, as well as house a much larger stock of items as they expand their vision and their business. They call themselves the Hollywood Junkys (hollywoodjunkys.com).
After completing their morning haul, the brothers-in-law drag "the kill," as they lovingly refer to their new inventory, into their cramped living room. They've purchased more than 200 items (mostly books, plus a big collection of sealed DVD box sets), all for a total of about $235 — which they estimate they can resell for at least $1,000 online, maybe more.
At the apartment, Kristy Paul looks over the kill proudly, carefully assessing the morning's hard work. Of her family's trade, she says, "Because our life is unconventional, we are able to stay home and be with our daughter and son all the time. There are no real days off — but we are basically blazing a new trail and creating our own way."
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