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Cashing Out Your Junk: Garage Sale Tips For Success

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!

First: 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.

When Should You Have It

I 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.

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

No one will come if they don’t know about it…

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

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

The Money Float

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

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

Presentation & Display Tips

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:

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

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.

Here’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:

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

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:

Raise More Cash Ideas

If 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:

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

The Day Is Over – Cleaning Up

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!