x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

The transient UAE life is a boom for the garage sale

Garage sales are catching on in the UAE, driven in part by a classified web site and a growing number of cost-conscious expatriates who now see the value in previously owned stuff.

Items for sale at a garage sale. Charles Crowell for The National
Items for sale at a garage sale. Charles Crowell for The National

Marie Nelson surveys the remnants of her life in Dubai. Piles of kitchen items, baby clothes, toys and unwanted camping gear are strewn across the downstairs of her four-bedroom villa in Jebel Ali.

After eight years in the city, the Briton is relocating back to the UK and, with 131 boxes of possessions in a six-metre container already shipped home, she wants to sell off what's left.

So, the mother-of-two children has organised a garage sale of her unwanted items.

"I didn't want to leave a house full of stuff," says Nelson, 30, who has a daughter, aged six, and a son, aged three. "We live in a transient place where people are coming and going all the time, so sales like this are really important. I might not want these things, but I shouldn't assume nobody else does, either."

Like many expats in the UAE, the housewife advertised her sale on Dubizzle, the nation's premier classifieds website, as well as on signposts around her Jebel Ali villa compound.

Promoting a sale online ahead of the event, rather than relying on passing trade, has helped the UAE garage sale come out of the shadows in recent years.

While the garage, yard or car boot sale are popular concepts around the world - allowing sellers to make money on their unwanted clutter - they have only recently caught on in the UAE.

At the height of the boom, expats generally gave away unwanted items or sold them to friends, work colleagues or via ads posted in supermarkets.

To hold a public garage sale might be a sign that the finances were not flourishing - something that was not de rigueur when the economy was riding high.

"Before the credit crunch, going to the malls was affordable so nobody had sales, and Dubizzle wasn't there," says Filipino Warren Garcia, 38, who has come to Nelson's villa to scour for deals.

Dubizzle, along with the credit crunch, can certainly be credited for the growth of the garage sale. It has the power to bring in customers from across the UAE and there is no longer any shame in buying and selling unwanted wares.

This is the case for Yousef, 38, from Jordan who has come to Nelson's villa from Sharjah with two of his three children, a daughter, aged nine, and a son aged eight.

"Every Thursday night I check Dubizzle for sales and write the addresses down," says Yousef, who works for a law firm and was looking for items for his three-week-old baby.

"There is a big difference between prices in the shops and prices at sales like this. I especially like sales in Emirates Hills - the Springs and Meadows - as well as Arabian Ranches and villas in Jebel Ali. There are others sales in less wealthy areas, which I don't go to because I know the stuff will not be good."

At Nelson's sale, Yousef has spent Dh330 on a suitcase full of baby clothes, a pram and matching car seat for his newborn, as well as toys for his older children and household goods such as tools, plugs and light bulbs.

"This is a nebuliser," he says, pointing to a boxed-up device. "My kids are sensitive and in the hospital they said 'you have to buy one to keep in the home so that you don't need to go to the hospital'. So I found one here."

Yousef's story is an example of how the popularity of garage sales is growing in the UAE. Up until 18 months ago, he rarely attended sales. Now, he says it is his weekend hobby.

"I take the children because they like to come and buy games. Today there is only one sale but we usually go to three or four every weekend and I spend around Dh300."

Log onto Dubizzle and search for "garage sale" and dozens of ads pop up. The listing typically includes the type of goods on offer and the event's time and date.

One seller writes: "Lots of bits and bobs clothes books treadmill wine rack garden pot etc. Please do not come before 10am."

Another writes: "Lots of items for sale on the day as we are returning to the uk. We also have furniture etc which deposits can be put on for collection before we leave shortly. If you require anything particular please contact us before hand."

For Dubizzle, the growing popularity of the garage sale means they are considering launching an events section specifically for this ad category.

"We definitely see a need for it in the UAE," says Sim Whatley, co-founder of Dubizzle. "At the moment, most people place ads in, say, Furniture or Clothing or somewhere else, trying to advertise the event.

"We are working on an event-type feature that will allow people to list their sales on a calendar-type interface with pictures of what will be sold and a map of locations. Hopefully sooner rather than later."

At Nelson's home, the lure of a bargain is plain to see. Hordes of people rush through the door when the event starts at 8am.

Ranging from maids and drivers living on the compound to neighbours and those from farther afield, for the first hour the home is packed.

The words "how much" ring throughout the house as prices are haggled and deals struck.

"I'm looking for clothes, toys and shoes for my two-year-old daughter, Princess," says Liza Rayas, 43, from the Philippines, who works as a maid in the compound. "I saw the notice outside and if I ever hear about a sale on my day off I go along.

"I save up all the stuff and then take it to the Philippines when I fly back to give to Princess."

Two Indian gardeners from the nearby hospital walk away with a pair of flip flops and a router for Dh20 and, nearby, a woman spends Dh22 on jewellery and scarves.

No matter what the condition of the items on sale, there is a buyer. One woman spends Dh20 on a pair of broken glasses because the frames are designer, while another is delighted after securing an old set of crutches for Dh10 for her brother who has sprained his ankle.

"We can't find that price in this market so these are good deals," says the Sri Lankan Kumundu Vijikha, 38, who has lived in Dubai for 10 years and spent Dh80 on table mats, a vase, a handbag and kitchen items.

"I was looking for kitchen items, sheets and small kids items for my four-year-old daughter. I always buy for her and not for me."

While some at the sale are looking for cheap bargains, others, like Warren Garcia, are looking for antiques they can sell on for a profit.

"The best deal was two claret jugs that my sister bought for Dh50. They are cut-glass with a silver-plated lid and she later sold them on eBay for US$250 [Dh918] each," says Garcia, who lives in Sharjah and has come with his wife, Love, 28, and his sister Maggie, 39, to scour for collectables.

Maggie adds: "I look for crystals and silver things because that's what I like. If the advert says clothes and baby stuff then I don't go."

The trio run a limousine company and have visited garage sales every weekend since the global financial crisis hit Dubai.

"The credit crunch affected our business and our spending powers and people suddenly had good things to sell second-hand" says Warren, who spent more than Dh300 on a rug, some paints and household items, which he later loaded into his Nissan Xterra.

"The best deal I ever found was a 32-inch flat-screen TV for Dh250."

Two of Nelson's friends are also selling their wares at her sale because they say it is cheaper to pitch up at a friend's garage sale than to attend one of Dubai's increasingly popular flea markets.

"I was going to do a flea market about six weeks ago and then decided not to because of Marie's sale," says Briton Jane Giddings, 33, a mother of two sons aged 6 and 4.

"At Safa Park, you pay Dh280 for your table, so if you only sell a few things you might make less than you paid out.

"And they are such hard work because you have to queue to unload your stuff and then run backwards and forwards to get it all.

"The fact that Marie was having a garage sale meant I could park my car up, unload and then be in an environment I know."

Giddings, who regularly de-clutters her home by selling at sales, storing all her unwanted items in a cupboard, made Dh500 in the sale at her friend's house.

"Today, I've sold lots of baby clothes, teddy bears, some toys, some household items and a set of golf clubs for Dh150 to one of the neighbours," she Giddings, breaking off mid-flow as she spies a skirt she likes.

"Oh, that looks quite nice," she says, holding her friend's skirt against herself. "I think I'll buy that."

Giddings is not the only one to make a random purchase. Two delivery men who came to transport a fridge-freezer and oven to a neighbouring house spent Dh24 on 12 men's shirts and Dh30 on a water cooler. And a friend who popped in to offer Nelson moral support bought toys for her children.

As Nelson's sale comes to an end, she counts her earnings and admits she was disappointed by the turnout.

"There was another big sale going on at Arabian Ranches so we had competition today," she says. "I expected a lot more people but I've made Dh700 on what I call tat, which is not bad. The big items I sold separately to friends or on Dubizzle.

"I didn't have a figure to make; it was more that I wanted to get rid of stuff like old cool boxes and Christmas trees - I had two of them."