Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Entering the Garage Sale Zone

Well folks, my less than pristine house is now a plethora of piles. That's right, it's garage sale time! This week, instead of visiting other folk's garage sales, I'll be holding one of my own.  Every year my homeowners group advertises two large community sales, one in the spring and one in the fall. Although it's legal to have sales at other times, I always have mine now.

In the interest of sharing yard sale tips both for the buyer and the seller, I thought I would share my techniques for holding a sale.  Everyone location has different rules and guidelines, but there are a few tried and true tips that will help you make more money - and let you be less than totally frazzled at the end of the day.

First let me gently say that as a yard sale shopper, there is nothing more frustrating than someone who has two sheets or beach blankets on their yard  with a few things strewn around. If that is all you have, do consider selling the items on craigslist, donating the items, or sharing with a friend, neighbor or relative. As a shopper, those are the sales I drive by. And frankly, unless you have Faberge eggs or electronics on those beach towels, your time/money/effort continuum will not be what you would wish.

Collecting the yard sale stuff. I've been going through the house slowly but surely, and have quite a few items to list. In our case, each time we went through a room, we neatly put those yard sale items in a location in that room, and made a working list.  Some folks may choose to put everything in their garage. In my case, I have a back (alley style) garage and my sale will be out on the front yard. I don't want the extra labor of moving things twice. Also, I like the idea of being able to double check and see if I have any second thoughts (rare, but it happens) Yesterday my son helped me go through the kitchen and one other room, eliminating all the extras and duplicates.  We did the garage last week. (note, if you are having a true "garage sale", find away to indicate what is NOT for sale, and/or put a table or barrier to the garage before people come. Otherwise you may get an offer on the extension cord hanging on the wall).

It's amazing how much stuff one can eliminate, even when one is not into the simplicity movement.  In addition to my downsizing, we have acquired some additional items. My son now has a "chore busters" business and although he's only had a few clients, almost all of them have wanted him to remove perfectly good items.  Those items now live in our garage, and will visit the dump if they are still let after the yard sale.

When it comes to pricing, every year I have the same debate with myself.  Price everything, or not. Every year I am somewhere in the middle. As a shopper, I am not put off by having to ask a price. Generally we price very small items (often bundled in groups), and leave the big ones for negotiation. In our case, with the exception of a few collectibles and more pricey items, nothing will come back into the house. That affects our pricing strategy.  Also, I am unwilling to go crazy with change. To that end, everything is a quarter, or a multiple of a quarter.  If it's not worth a quarter then it is free or bundled with something else.  As for how much, the old standard used to be that a pristine used item went for twenty five per cent of new. That no longer holds. In my case my goal is to make money. It is also not to have to haul items away or take them back into the house.  I've very flexible, and tend to accept reasonable offers.

My sale is very loosely organized in terms of how items are displayed.   Really, this area depends on you. In my case, I put like items in the same general area. I'm not obsessive about this. One table will have the two sets of glasses, the set of dishes, various kitchen stuff, all the tablecloths and other items I am letting go. The one place I do try to organize a little more is the smaller items. Ziploc bags are my friend. Jewelry pieces, small craft and sewing items, even groups of old DVDs go into bags to be sold as lots.

I always make sure I am (fairly) organized and comfortable. In my world, this means I have taken the most comfortable chair I can get on the front walk outside. I have organized myself in such a way I am not in the full sun. I have lots of change-in a designated container. Most importantly, I have at least one helper, so I can take a bathroom break, or show someone the inside dining table. Too many people turn the sale into a social event (not a bad thing, just not my thing).

Because I really want to make sure I get a good crowd, I always create my own listing listing on Craigslist as well as the community listing. One thing I have learned through yard-saleing is that people (especially us boomers) want to have a general idea of what is for sale.  When I put my listing up, I am always pretty specific. My current add lists the hours and then has three or four categories and some of the items I will have for sale. In my case this includes kitchen and household items, home improvement items and tools, three boxes of scrapbook supplies, fabric, a sewing machine, and outdoor furniture, and books (and more, my yard will be full).  While I cannot list everything, I try to give a good idea. A young mom scanning my ad would know that I don't have baby toys, car seats or other items, for example. Although, a fellow has already called and asked if my WWII memorabilia included weapons (not!).

Because I have many crafting items and a bunch of collectibles Department 56, world war II items, cookbooks from 1900), I also created two separate listing, one under collectibles and one under arts and crafts. This way people who are not traditional yard sale visitors can know about what I have that they may like and people who live near me looking for sewing deals may stop by or try to negotiate a sale.

Finally, my hours. WhenI place my own listing, I put my hours. These hours are driven by the neighborhood hours, but not in stone.  I always say that I will assume early birds are there to work. A friend's add says simply that every price is doubled before the hour stated. Whatever your method is, it's wise to somehow indicate that people should wait until the specified hour to arrive.  On rare occasions you will have twenty friends or family members helping with your sale. In that case you may wish to sell things as you put them out.  For the rest of us, it's very difficult to have people walking and looking while we're still trying to get things out (and drink our second cup of caffeine and wake up as well).

There you have it-the quick down and dirty on how I throw my annual garage sale. Last year I made three hundred dollars per day. I don't expect to do quite that well this year, but a good time should be had by all, and money will definitely be made. Coming soon-pictures of the process!

Disclaimer.........some of this advise will not apply to shared sales. For example, in that case you will want to price everything, probably giving each family a color code and removing it as the item sells.  The same is true of families where kids sell their own stuff-you either need to color code or give said kid his or her own money box, depending on age.


  1. Sounds like you have it down pretty well. One question (having just finished up a stint as a volunteer for our local library book sale): how do you deal with the dirt and dust and microscopic bugs that come along with all those old, used things from the attic or basement? I'm still coughing and wheezing from breathing in all that gunk last week.

  2. Oh Man, am I envious! We have so much stuff in our garage that we never use. We too should hold a garage sale. But we never do get around to doing so. Congratulations to you! Bill

  3. Great tips! We found that CraigsList ads brought the most people. We also used to have two-day weekend sales but since sales dropped so much on Sundays we changed to just one-day Saturday sales and made nearly the same amount of money for only one day of sale instead of two. Good idea for the early birds...people would usually be lined up as soon as we popped the garage door open to set up the sale, like how you solved that one!

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