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Garage Sale Tips For Success – How To Guide

Posted By Tipnut On May 25, 2009 @ 7:35 am In Household | 41 Comments

I’ve managed several garage sales (or yard sales) over the past 10 to 15 years, both for our own household goods as well as for family and friends. I love operating them, but they are a lot of work and if you don’t play your cards right–they can be a complete waste of time.

Here is my guide full of tips for running a successful sale, feel free to add yours too!

Stack of CashFirst: Determine Why You’re Having One

Is the goal to make as much money as possible or is the goal to get rid of as much as possible? The two are not compatible in my opinion, so you need to decide before you map out your plan.

For estate sales and downsizing or moving, your priority should be to shed as much “stuff” as you possibly can–at whatever price–or you will have a lot of boxes to fill again (and try to find storage for later) at the end of the day. For things that are pretty valuable that you want top dollar for (antiques, collectibles, etc.), you can try something like eBay if you don’t get the price you want. There are hassles with that too though (packing, shipping breakage, non-expert description, etc.).

Not worrying about top dollar and pricing to sell instead will bring in a pile of cash, but you have to be willing to part with items at much lower prices than what you paid. If you can’t bare to “just give things away”, but are willing to set aside the time–think about having two separate sales.

  • Duo Times: Have one in the Spring and one in late Summer (the hordes of garage sale regulars will likely recognize your house or address if you try again too soon–and they’ll skip it). For the first event, mark the prices that you think you should get for each item. You may get lucky and sell most of it, but if not–pack everything up and try again later in the Summer, this time at prices people will pay.
  • Another Option: Try it Friday afternoon at your chosen prices, then try selling the rest the next day (on Saturday). You won’t get back the crowd you had the day before, and you won’t draw the people that see you had an event the previous day (regulars know the best stuff goes early on the first day), but Saturdays are pretty busy and you may get lucky & still find a fresh crowd.
  • My Preference: Sell fast and cheap on the first day, then enjoy the rest of the weekend. With this approach you can still do a few merchandising and sales techniques to help increase your profits while you get rid of all your treasures. I’ve never operated a garage sale yet that didn’t bring in at least a few hundred dollars (and a couple over the $1,000 mark) but I price to sell, those quarters and dollar bills add up fast.

When Should You Have It

CalendarI plan one when I have enough to fill two or three large tables and more spread out throughout the yard or driveway (furniture, larger items, appliances). Having a garage sale consumes a lot of time and effort (organizing beforehand as well as the actual day) so I wait until I have enough stuff to sell that will make the time spent worthwhile.

If you only have a small table or two, I’d suggest waiting until you have more to offer. It’s up to you and it’s your time, but many people won’t bother stopping to park the vehicle and walk up to see what you have if there’s only a single table of goodies. There are just too many other garage sales to get to quickly before the good stuff goes.

  • Get The Neighbors Involved: If you can have a neighborhood or community garage sale–be prepared for a giddy mob to show up and buy, buy buy! Talk to your neighbors and see if you can organize a neighborhood event, 3 or more households would be good draw (the more the better).

How Many Days:

I’ve held them for 1 day, 2 days and 3 days (Friday afternoon/early evening, all day Saturday and Sunday). Now I’ll only do one if it’s for a single day only–my experience has been holding it on one main day is the best setup. You will be busy from morning to mid afternoon on the first day, but the other two days the traffic comes in dribs and drabs and it’s so not worth it to be tied to your yard the whole weekend. Your experience may be different, but I’ve never had good luck with an event that lasted more than one day. The best stuff is gone within the first several hours, and most people who garage sale know this–they’ll plan their route to skip you on Days 2 and 3.

What Days:

In my city, Friday afternoons and early evenings are becoming quite popular. Saturdays still rule as #1. Sunday’s are a washout. Long weekends aren’t the best, a lot of people go away or have company. However, there is less competition on long weekends so you could have some success (die-hard shoppers still in town will make the effort).

What Hours:

I find an 8 a.m. start time works very well, you’ll need a good hour or so to set things out in the morning. I like to get up early, shower, enjoy some coffee then hit the ground running. If you plan on holding it inside your garage, it really helps to have everything setup the night before (just make sure things are locked up tight for the night).

I find browsers really start to dwindle after 2 p.m., but it’s still worthwhile to run until 4 p.m. or 5 p.m. (on Saturdays and Sundays). Anything later than that and you are just torturing yourself.

Fridays: Noon start times that run through to 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. at night are surprisingly well trafficked. This might be the case for larger communities, I’m not sure about smaller centers.

Advertising Is A Must

SignNo one will come if they don’t know about it…

  • Advertise in the local newspaper and on popular free online classified sites like craigslist and kijiji. There are lots of online sites that will take your advertisement for free, but it’s only worthwhile if people in your city or locale actually use those sites.
  • Have balloon bunches & streamers tied to trees and a big sign in the front yard so people can easily see at a glance you are having a sale. Large sheets of cardboard work great for this.
  • Park vehicles along busy streets close to where you live with balloons and big signs in the back window giving your address & Garage Sale (a big arrow pointing the direction to turn is a great idea too)
  • Place signs in boulevards that are clear (and large) print

Signage Details: Big, Bold, Clear Letters. Keep it simple.

  • Garage Sale or Yard Sale
  • Address
  • Date (Saturday, May 12th or *Today*)
  • Time (8am – 5pm)

That’s it, too much info and things get too complicated for drivers to read as they’re driving by. List your address on either the first or second line, sometimes drivers just have time to read the top of the sign. If your writing is too small, you’re wasting your time posting the signs. I did see once a couple that actually parked their car, walk across to the boulevard and stoop over to read the sign and write down the address–they’re rare. Make sure drivers can clearly read the details as they’re driving by. Post the signs along busy streets close to your home.

Careful: Some towns and cities do not allow signage posted on public property (like boulevards) or any signage displays that distract motorists (balloons, streamers)–check with your City or Town Hall to see what the rules are for your area and what is or is not allowed.

Advertisements: List your bigger ticket items like Treadmill, antique hutch, living room furniture, baby room furniture & baby equipment, etc. If you’re moving or it’s an estate sale–say so, lots of people will only go to those. Collectibles: If you have your mom’s salt & pepper shaker collection, vintage tablecloth collection, or grandma’s teacup collection–list it in the ad. You will have people driving in from out of town just to come to your sale.

Warning: Don’t exaggerate or mislead in your advertisements or you will really tick people off. Ticked off people do not buy things. And you will reap really bad Garage Sale Kharma.

If you are having a moving or estate sale, block sale or have a large collection or two of sought after collectibles–prepare yourself for a stampede.

What Sells

Everything and anything! You will be AMAZED at what people will buy. You truly will. Even if something is missing a piece or doesn’t work–put it out on display (note the defects clearly & honestly). People look for parts or DIY project supplies. I have seen the most hideous decorations and gizmos sell, there’s a buyer for everything (they just have to find you).

Where To Hold It

Our garage is in the back and I find more people will stop in if things are out front (in the yard). It’s easier to spot as cars are driving by and you’ll draw a lot of people who were just driving home and not even on the lookout for a sale.

If your garage is out front and easily visible from the street, have it in there or along the driveway. The main benefit of having the sale inside the garage is weather conditions: if it starts to rain, you don’t have to scramble to get things inside.

Backyards: Last option and least desirable. You can’t see it from the street and you’ll miss out on those who like to “shop by truck” (quickly scanning your items while they drive by). If you have a backyard, chances are you have a front yard or front drive–those are better options.

Supplies You Need

Tables

  • Lots of signage (big, bold lettering)
  • Balloons & Streamers (hang them high enough so people can clearly see your house is having a sale when they’re driving by)
  • Waterproof black marker or sharpie, masking tape or sticky labels (to price things)
  • Clean plastic grocery bags, stack of newspapers, smaller boxes (to offer buyers with large or heavy loads)
  • Clean tablecloths, sheets (to lay across the tables and on the ground to lay items on)
  • Measuring tape (to enable customers to measure furniture or shelving, etc.)
  • Coin wrappers – you’ll need these at the end of the day to wrap all the change you collected
  • You’ll need a big thermos of coffee ready (for you) and lots of beverages chilling–you’re going to be hot and thirsty throughout the busy day
  • Calculator (just in case you need to tally purchases)
  • Pad of paper – sometimes you’ll receive an offer for a large purchase that you don’t want to commit to (it’s lower than you hoped). You can offer to take the person’s name & phone number and call them the next day if you decide to sell it at that price (this gives you the day to try for a better price)
  • Lots of tables, clean blankets or sheets to display things in, big boxes to hold the toys and stuffed animals
  • Have an extension cord handy to plug in any electrical items being sold, and an assortment of batteries to test items. Some people want to test and make sure the item works before buying. Use the outside electrical outlet–do not let people in your home!
  • Fanny pack to hold the money (do not use a cash box–too easy to grab and run and too awkward to hold all day).

The Money Float

Have lots of change on hand at the start of the day, here’s my suggested float:

  • Roll of quarters
  • Roll of loonies and toonies (Canadians)
  • 20 $1 dollar bills
  • 5 $5 dollar bills
  • 4 $10 dollar bills

If you have big ticket items (furniture, heavy appliances), having a couple $20 bills will be needed if you decide to accept $50 or $100 bills. You’ll pick up lots of small change throughout the day, but the first few hours you’ll likely be breaking lots of $5, $10 and $20 bills.

Prep Work – The Day Before

  • Make sure the yard and surrounding area is neat and clean, hedges trimmed, leaves raked, weeds pulled and grass mowed. Move the garbage bin out of sight. Yes presentation makes a difference.
  • Save yourself a headache — mark everything with a price! Less questions asked, people will see for themselves how much something is. Sticky labels work, so does masking tape, mark prices right on the roll then tear off the tape or label–do not price directly on an item since the ink may seep through. Make sure the ink is nice and dark (black sharpie or maker works great). Include boxes, manuals and instructions if you still have them (you can get a better price). If you can, price things the day before (and have things sorted in boxes). This makes things move a lot quicker the morning of the sale.
  • Thoroughly review each item before putting it out. Look for forgotten money in pockets, old receipts, etc.
  • Clean everything really well–the shinier the better. Wash clothes, blankets, towels, bedding.
  • Mark the measurements for things like curtains and drapes, sheet sizes (twin, double, etc.). You can do this on masking tape.
  • Move your vehicles over a block, especially if you live on a small street. If people can’t find a place to park, they won’t be buying anything (do this the morning of the event).

Presentation & Display Tips

Organized

  • Take the time to organize: Keep all glass items together, collectibles together, books and magazines together, toys together, etc. You can use shallow boxes, baskets or tubs to hold glassware (helps prevent them from falling off the table & breaking).
  • Set everything up on tables so people don’t have to bend and dig through boxes, have kids toys and stuffed animals in boxes or laid out on a blanket on the grass, easier for the kids to dig through (keep the kids section away from the breakables area).
  • If you can’t beg, borrow or steal enough sturdy tables, lay things out individually on clean blankets or sheets. Don’t bury things in boxes, the more things that are displayed, the easier it is for someone to spot them and buy them.
  • Keep sections spaced far enough apart so people can browse on both sides of the table or blankets (really makes a difference when there are a lot of people milling around).
  • Your appearance counts too! Brush out the bed hair, have a shower, wear clean clothes, shave. You don’t need to look like you stepped out of a magazine, but looking clean is really important. Wear comfy clothes and have a sweater at easy reach in case it gets chilly.

Staffing Needs

A successful event has to be an organized affair. What works best for me is have one person handling the money, sales and bartering prices, at least one other person watching the crowd (for theft, believe it or not) and answering questions, and an older child to run quick errands (run in to get more bags, etc.) and to help the kids look through toys and trading cards.

Chances are it will get VERY busy for the person handling the money and you won’t be able to breathe for 2 hours straight, but I find it works well for several reasons:

  • The money person knows every item that was sold–this helps when trying to upsell (notes on that below)
  • Only one person has to know the prices–labels can get lost or switched by accident (or accidentally on purpose). There’s no danger of the antique clock being sold for $1 instead of $100.
  • Only one money float needed

Early Bird Alert

You advertise with an 8 a.m. start time. People will begin to drift in at 7 a.m., in fact–some may start wandering into your house as you’re moving stuff out or even ring your doorbell *the night before* (just say no).

The Early Birds are serious contenders and chances are they’re eBay sellers or make a profit professionally off of selling 2nd hand goods. You can include “No Early Birds” in your advertisement, but that won’t stop all of them. You’ll need a person to police the outside once the Early Birds show up, so count on losing a body to help move things out. Yes, Early Birds can be a PITA–but that’s garage sale life and they’re usually pretty cool just hanging out and taking their time to look through things as items are being brought out.

Things To Keep In Mind When Pricing

  • If you have a lot of low priced items, try to sell in bundles, like “This Table Buy 1 Get 1 Free” or this box “3 Items For $5″. It’s really important you know your prices because some items may get mixed or dropped in the bargain bins by mistake by your customers. Don’t back down if someone insists it was in the bargain bin, gently inform them another customer must have placed it in there by mistake.
  • I know you paid $50 for that blender and never used it, but selling it for $40 will be tough. Yes $10 off is a good deal for someone, however if they buy it at the store they get a warranty and they get to take it back if it doesn’t work or something goes wrong or they change their mind. If I was pricing that brand new, in the box blender, I’d start with $20–that’s a price hard to walk away from.
  • Price things in 25 cent increments, it’s less hassle, easy to do the math and you won’t have to fuss with nickels and dimes.
  • The Witching Hour: Reduce prices after 1 p.m. You only have a few hours left to get rid of stuff, now’s the time to hustle and move the stuff off the tables and into your customers vehicles.

How Much To Sell Things For

If you don’t shop at a lot of garage sales yourself, you will have a hard time determining what good prices are. Why not take a weekend before your sale to shop around at a few and see what others are pricing their items at.

It depends on your area what things will sell for too, people living in large cities have a lot of options when buying so you’ll probably find lower pricing is best.

Thumbs UpHere’s a guide I work with for some basic items, I’ve only been involved with events where I’m trying to sell as much as possible just to get rid of it, results will vary for you:

  • Paperbacks – 25 cents or 5/$1.00
  • Hardcover books – 75 cents or 2/$1.00
  • Reference books – Hardcover dictionaries, thesaurus, etc. – $1 to $2
  • CDs, Video Tapes – $1
  • DVDs (recent) – $3 to $5
  • Dishes, glassware – 25 to 50 cents a piece, larger items (like casserole dishes) a buck or two, sets anywhere from $2 to $5
  • Blankets, Curtains – $2 to $5
  • Planters, Gardening Tools – $1 to $5 depending on the item
  • Kitchen Electronics (Slow cookers, Coffee Pots, Tea Kettles, Gadgets) – $2 to $5
  • Old TVs – $10 to $25, up to $40 depending on how old it is. If it’s in good shape and fairly new (up to 5 years old) and with a remote, I’ve been able to sell it for $75 to $100
  • Bookcases, Desks & Shelving – Depends. If it’s wooden and in good shape, $10 up to $25. For thin material cheapies–$5.
  • Bikes – Really old ones – $5. Newer models – $25 to $75 (depends how expensive that type of bike is new)
  • Freezers – $25 to $50
  • Kitchen Stove, Fridge, Dishwasher – depends on how old they are, chances are they’re at least 10 yrs old–$25 to $75
  • Sofas, Chairs – $50 to $100
  • Coffee Tables, End Tables – $10 to $25
  • Lamps – $5 and up if they’re nice, $1 or $2 if they’re cheapies
  • Kitchen Table & Chairs – $20 to $50
  • Toys & Stuffed Animals – 25 cents to $3 (high end for really nice and fairly new toys)
  • Board Games (complete) – $1 to $3
  • Puzzles (complete) – 50 cents to a $1
  • DVD Players – $20
  • CD Players – $10
  • VCRs – $5 to $10
  • Plastic Containers (Food & storage) – 25 cents to $1
  • BBQs (propane, good condition) – $15 to $25, up to $40 if it’s quite new and in excellent shape
  • BBQs & Grills (briquette) – $5
  • Lawn mowers – $10 to $25 (depends how old/new it is–you could go higher if it’s a newer mower)
  • Framed Wall Pictures & Mirrors – $5 and up

Tip: If someone tells you they want to buy the couch but they need to go get more money to pay for it or they need to go get the truck to pick it up, make sure to get a non-refundable deposit ($20 is what I usually ask for). Then set it to the side with a big “Sold” sign on it or out of sight somewhere so you don’t accidentally sell it. The deposit is required because the person may not come back (they either forgot, changed their mind, got lost or were just trying a “browsing” tactic to check out what was available elsewhere before committing to your item). This way if the person doesn’t come back, you haven’t sold the item but you at least have $20 to help soften the blow.

Setting the item aside or out of sight it really important because you just might mistakenly re-sell it to someone else (I’ve done it and it’s embarrassing). Things can get really busy, leave no room for error.

Throughout The Day

  • Make sure things stay as neat as possible. Watch that the sections stay as organized as possible, people will pick things up, carry them to another section and change their mind about buying it. That’s ok, but watch for the t-shirts in the kitchen gadget section.
  • Reduce from 3 tables to 2 tables when there’s room to do so, keeping your sections organized and your tables full. This helps make it look like there’s still a lot of stuff to buy as people are driving through (shopping from the truck I call it). If everything’s spread out with lots of holes and empty spaces–it looks like leftovers.
  • Pick up any litter that may have happened, sometimes stray plastic bags get loose.

Bring Out Your Inner Social Butterfly

When family and friends have a garage sale, I’m one of the first people they call. I’m willing to be sociable and approachable, I have no problem gently bartering and I’m pretty darn good at upselling. But I think my main talent is that I really enjoy myself and am happy to be part of the process. You don’t have to be a circus act, just smile and enjoy yourself.

Upsell, Upsell, Upsell: If someone’s buying a bag of yarn, I point them to the pile of knitting and crochet patterns and books. If someone’s buying some old gardening tools, I’ll make sure they know about the perennials and the old planters in the corner. Just mention one or two things quickly and casually as you’re collecting money for the initial purchase, don’t put any pressure on your customers because they’ll feel that and be turned off.

There are some key points to successful selling:

  • Have fun and enjoy having people browse through your stuff–it shows, and people respond to that
  • Know what your selling and what your rock bottom prices are. Pay attention, if you see someone debating whether or not to buy that old wool blanket for $5, sweeten the offer by throwing in that little gadget in their hands for free or come down a buck or two on the price.
  • Don’t hover over people, don’t be pushy, loud or abrasive. And don’t sit in the corner talking on the cordless phone or watching your portable TV. Acknowledge people and be approachable.
  • Bartering Is A Sport – don’t be intimidated, insulted or shy about it. If someone offers you $2 for a $10 item and it’s only an hour into your sale–suggest $8. If it’s 4 p.m. and you’re starting to pack up–take the offer or pack it up–it’s your item and your choice.

Raise More Cash Ideas

Piggy BankIf you have a sneaking feeling that your event is going to be through the roof and mobs of people will be milling about (estate sale, moving sale, block sale, etc.), you can juice up the day’s revenue by preparing for the extra cash opportunities:

  • Sell cold sodas in a chest full of ice (water, pop). Keep it visible and make sure people can see the piles of ice (these will sell like hotcakes if they’re clearly ice cold)
  • BBQ (if it’s legal in your area)…have lots of onions frying (the smell will sell the food), hotdogs and hamburgers. Keep condiments in squeeze bottles if possible (protect from bugs and flies). 11 a.m. is a good time to start and keep cooking throughout the day. There’s no way to plan ahead food amounts since it’s hard to say how many people will come, but if you pre-buy an amount of burgers and hotdogs that your family will have no trouble eating over the summer, you’ll be fine if you don’t sell that much. Keep 2 or 3 burgers and hot dogs on the ready at all times unless things really speed up–then fill up the grill. Make sure there are napkins available too. Burgers (with cheese and onions) will sell for $2 to $3 and hotdogs for $1 to $2 (again–depends on your locale). Remember to factor in the cost of condiments, buns, onions and cheese.
  • Puffed wheat cake and rice krispy cake, individually wrapped in big squares
  • Freezies
  • 50 cent bags of nickel candy, licorice, chips
  • Have a big box of donuts for the morning crowd (sell individually)

Food sales can be tricky depending where you live, see what you can do in your locale. Some places require a permit, but you may find selling prepackaged goods (pop, water bottles, bags of chips, etc.) will be ok. It’s quite common where I live to see burgers cooking and smell onions frying at large garage sales. One year we sold a mountain of cotton candy–we had a machine at the time and it was quick & cheap to make up as needed. Think of different ways like this that you may be able to implement.

If you are going to serve food or have a treat & candy stand, you will need an extra person to handle it. The older kids do great sitting at a small table selling donuts, bags of nickel candy and canned or bottled beverages.

Presentation Tips When Selling Food: If you are going to cook and serve food, please wear a clean bbq apron, wear a shirt that covers your belly and have a visible pail of hot, soapy water that you regularly wash your hands in and a clean hand towel to dry your hands on. And don’t smoke a cigarette over the food sizzling on the grill or drizzle beer from the can you were drinking out of over the flame flareups. If you have a cough or cold, don’t cook or handle the food. Yes, I’ve seen each of those things happen (ugh).

Security Tips

  • If you’re setting up in the back yard, have all the windows and doors in the front of the house closed and locked. If it’s in the front of the house, lockup the back. Make sure someone knows their job is to watch the door.
  • Throughout the day, run extra money into the house and keep it hidden (just in case someone does get in). If you don’t have time to run in, discreetly stash a wad of bills deep into your pockets.
  • Don’t broadcast how much money you’ve generated throughout the day, yes, there is a person or two who will probably ask. Don’t broadcast how you sold unbelievable amounts of stuff and it was the biggest garage sale you ever had. The wrong person just might hear you.
  • The banks are likely closed when your day ends, deposit cash through the ATM (if you trust it) or wait till first thing Monday morning when the bank opens.
  • Cash sales only, no matter how sweet Grandma looks.
  • Train your hawk eyes: I believe most people are honest, but if someone comes to you with an armful and offers $5, take each item and make sure nothing’s tucked inside a sweater and forgotten about. Watch for items tucked inside tote bags and backpacks. I have to say I really haven’t experienced any outright theft at any of the sales I’ve held, but I’m sure it happens.

The Day Is Over – Cleaning Up

  • Pack up the leftovers in three categories–things you want to keep and try to sell again at your next event, things to garbage and things for the charity groups to come pick up (or for you to drop off–pack them in your vehicle asap so you won’t delay in dropping them off). Remove the price tags from the charity items as you pack them away and it’s nice to keep them somewhat organized (toys in one box, clothing in another, etc.).
  • Some ideas for charity groups: Salvation Army, the local Crisis Nursery, local Womens Shelters. I believe you can request a receipt for items donated to use as tax deductions (in the U.S.), keep that in mind.
  • Think carefully about the items you choose to keep, some things are just too good to give away and may be debatable whether or not you really want to get rid of it, but remember that these items take up room. I have no problem keeping a box or two but space needs might be an issue. Some churches, daycares and community centers hold garage sales for fundraising, consider giving your better leftovers to them.
  • At the end of the day I’ve also left boxes open on the yard (just off the sidewalk or driveway) with a big “FREE – Take What You Need” sign for neighbors to take what they want. The neighborhood kids will love you if there are some goodies for them. Don’t include anything with glass in this box, just in case of breakage.

Important: Be considerate and make sure to go back and collect all the signs you planted and displayed on public property. One of the main reasons cities have banned the practice is because too many just leave the signs for city crews to clean up (leaving them is just like littering).

And Now Your Event Is Over…

Most of your clutter has moved on to bigger and better, you have a nice stash of cash and you have an exhausted body to contend with. I hope you find great success with your garage sale!


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