What’s the best part of having a garage sale: Cleaning up your clutter or turning it into cash?
A yard sale will be worth the effort of sorting, pricing and spending the day haggling with strangers if it is financially successful.
“I am a firm believer in ‘one person’s trash is another person’s treasure,’” said Christina Heiska, who runs Yard Sale Queen (yardsalequeen.com), a resource for buyers and sellers.
A great sale is hard work, Heiska said, but she’s willing to share her secrets.
“Try to use many different ways to advertise,” Heiska said. Tell your friends and family about your sale. Post on local garage sale Facebook groups in your area, and look for free local online classifieds to post your ad. Advertise in the newspaper.
“Having good, sturdy, readable, eye-catching signs will help people find your sale. Go low-tech and put up a flyer on any local community bulletin boards (like at the grocery store) that your community has,” she said.
“Check with your local government or your homeowners association to see if there are any garage sale restrictions,” Heiska said. There may be fees or strict instructions on signage, and you can be fined if they are in violation of the garage sale ordinance.
Time of sale depends on what is typical for your area. Sales generally start at 8 or 9 a.m., or earlier if it’s particularly hot. Two-day sales (Friday and Saturday) are common, Heiska said.
Having tables to display your treasures makes for a better presentation of your items.
“Anything you can do to get your stuff off the ground is helpful. You can put a board between two milk crates to make a low shelf. Ask your grocery store for banana boxes, use the top as the base and put your items for sale in the box that is sitting on top of the base,” Heiska said.
“I try to arrange my sale as if I’m running a mini department store — housewares sections, sporting goods, kids section, etc. When I am at a sale and it looks like the seller took some time to sort and organize their stuff, I tend to think that they must have taken good care of their stuff. If I open a box and see a dead mouse or something, I won’t be staying long at the sale.”
Stock up on plastic bags and newspaper to wrap breakables. A calculator will help with math (and doesn’t need charging like your phone does). Have starter money to be able to make change when your first customer wants to buy something for 50 cents and he hands you a $10 bill, she said. Have enough ones and fives to make change.
Shoppers appreciate and will buy more if your items are priced, so it’s worth the effort to price everything or as much as possible, Heiska said. Sort similar items together and make signs: “All CDs $1,” “DVDs $3.”
“A general rule of thumb is to price things about a quarter to a third of what something costs when it is new, but again, that varies. If you are not a regular yard-sale shopper yourself, go to a few sales before you hold your own to see what others in your area price things. People are looking for bargains. If you have something that is very valuable,” you will get a better price selling it elsewhere such as eBay or consignment stores, Heiska said.
What sells best
“You just never know what will sell at your sale, but I always say it’s best to have a variety of stuff that will appeal to wide variety of people,” Heiska said.
If it looks like your sale only has newborn baby clothes and car seats, it will only attract a certain kind of customer.
“Many shoppers may just do a ‘drive-by’ and keep on driving if that is the only thing, one type of item at your sale,” she said.
Items that sell best are new stuff that has never been used, vintage stuff, everyday items that people need to set up a new household (can openers, toasters, dishes), kids toys, kids clothes, holiday decorations, tools and sporting goods, Heiska said.
Ideally you’ll have a table for the shopper to set down the items they are buying, Heiska said.
“That gives you a chance to tally up the cost and wrap any breakables ... I use a carpenter’s apron or fanny pack to hold all the cash,” said Heiska, who doesn’t use a cash box because it’s too easy to be stolen. “Yes, unfortunately it can happen,” she said. After the sale
Find out when local non-profit thrift stores will accept donations, or find an organization such as a church or scouting group that is having a sale a few weeks after yours and ask if they are taking donations, Heiska said. Put a “free curb alert” posting on Craigslist or Freecycle and put your leftovers at the end of your driveway with a “free” sign. Or, have a free pile at your yard sale and as the day goes on, keep adding to it.
After the sale, take down all your signs.
Word of caution
“Sometimes bad people go to yard sales looking for ways to rip off the seller,” Heiska said. Check out yardsalequeen.com for common scams. “Know how to check money for counterfeits. No special pen is needed. Just hold the bill up to the sun to see the vertical security thread that runs through larger bills. Security thread is only visible when held up to a light.”
Expect the unexpected
“You really never know what may happen,” Heiska said.
A customer may ask to use your bathroom, and she advises saying no unless you know the person. Be ready to point people to a local public restroom. If it will make you more comfortable, “make up a little lie and tell them that your toilet is acting up or something,” Heiska said. — “If you have a freebie box, don’t be surprised if you see someone walking off with the entire contents,” Heiska said.
Expect that your first customer may want to buy a 50-cent item with a $20 bill.
Random lost people may just stop by to ask directions.
People may want you to “hold” something while they go to the bank or home for additional cash. They may or may not come back, so tell them you will hold something for only 30 minutes and then it goes back into the sale.
People will want to know if something works or not, or how to actually use something you are selling. “For things like kids’ electronic games, I make sure I know where the on/off switch is,” Heiska said.
Customers may want to write a check for their purchases. “Tell them it’s cash only, or if you have a credit card reader you can take credit cards, Heiska said.
“People will want to buy stuff they see in your garage that is not for sale,” Heiska said, so cover up your belongings with sheets.
The shopper may be a smoker and will come to your sale smoking cigarettes or vaping. Tell them to put it out if you don’t want someone smoking at your sale, Heiska said.
Shoppers may think nothing of bringing their dog to your sale. “I’ve had customers’ dogs pee on my table,” Heiska said.
“Some people will want to haggle — remember it’s your sale. If you don’t want to haggle you can just say that your prices are firm or that prices will be lowered later in the day,” Heiska said.