Even though we can buy just about anything with the click of a mouse, garage and yard sales are bigger than ever. Sellers want to declutter their homes and are tempted by an easy path to making extra money. Shoppers are eager to score great deals at other people’s sales, rather than paying top retail dollar.
“Garage sales tap into emotion and impulse,” says garage sale maven Ava Seavey, author of Ava’s Guide to Garage Sale Gold.
“It’s a much more personal and immediate experience when you can see, touch and experience products in person, plus you don’t have to pay for shipping. Often, you’ll get a better deal at garage sales than you might get online because people are anxious to liquidate their inventories.”
We asked Seavey to share her best tips for organizing and hosting successful garage sales, plus her strategies for shopping on other people’s lawns and driveways. Follow her advice to make or save money at yard sales.
What’s the best day to hold a garage sale?
Contrary to what most people might think, the worst day to hold a sale is on Sunday, when everyone is busy with chores or church, says Seavey. Fridays are ideal for garage sales because that’s when most dealers shop.
“They’re looking for items that they can resell online or at their own stores,” she explains, noting that Fridays are when you’ll make the most sales on the highest-ticket items. Also, many garage sale buyers are retired and looking for something to do on a weekday.
Saturday is the second-best day to hold a sale. Whichever day you choose, be ready for early-bird buyers, who may show up an hour or two before your sale begins.
Do you need a permit to hold a garage sale?
Because every county has different regulations, it’s best to doublecheck with your local authorities, advises Seavey.
“In most towns, you do not need a permit, but some towns have a limit to how many times a year you can have a sale, or ordinances about displaying signs,” she adds.
How should you promote your garage sale?
Speaking of signs, you won’t move any merchandise unless you advertise your sale. Seavey suggests making at least five large signs that say “Yard Sale Today” with an arrow pointing the way to your home. Posting signs at nearby intersections the night before your sale or very early that morning will attract impulse buyers, she says.
You should also promote your sale on social media and on yard sale finder sites. Google your town plus the words “yard sale” or “garage sale.” In your posts, market your most valuable or unique items, describing things as vintage or antique to lure collectors and dealers.
In your ads, be sure to include your address, the date and time of the sale and a list of big-ticket items – with photos if possible. Post a few days in advance, and again very early the morning of your sale.
What else should you prepare in advance of a garage sale?
Stockpile paper and plastic shopping bags, as well newspaper or tissue paper so you can wrap fragile items, suggests Seavey.
Have a couple of outdoor extension cords on hand so people can test small appliances before purchasing them.
“Nobody’s going to buy an item if they can’t make sure it works, especially if it’s expensive,” she says.
Enlist family or friends to help; early morning crowds can overwhelm you, so an extra set of eyes and hands will be useful.
Should you host a yard sale with multiple families?
The short answer? Yes! Marketing your garage sale as a multifamily event will attract more buyers hoping for a larger shopping experience. Also, when you partner with neighbors or friends, they can share the workload to help prepare, price and promote the sale.
Pro tip: Use different colored pricing stickers for each family, so when buyers want to pay, you’ll know who the item belongs to and you can send them to the correct host.
How should garage sale items be displayed?
Forget piling things on your lawn. Instead, set up tables, clothing racks and benches to showcase your merchandise, and leave open space between them so people can easily move around, suggests Seavey.
“A lot of people that come to sales are older, and they don’t want to be stooping down, so make everything accessible and visible,” she says, adding that a nice display can get you more money for certain things. Put most goods at eye level, on shelves or tables.
“People perceive that items on the ground or thrown into a box are not quality items worth paying for. Emotionally, when somebody sees items nicely laid out on surfaces, they think they’re more valuable and will pay more for them.”
Dirty items turn buyers off. Dust things off or run them through the dishwasher or washing machine before your sale.
Put big-ticket items and large items like furniture out front. If you have jewelry or other expensive items, keep them at the checkout table, especially if they are small.
Group like items such as kitchenware, tools, toys, clothes, etc. If you’re selling books, separate nonfiction, fiction and children’s books and mark them accordingly. Separate clothing into sizes. Create color groupings with items that may not have a department. The more you can show your customer how to utilize an item, the more you will sell.
“Take the time to prep the sale properly because you’ll make so much more money,” says Seavey.
Is it worth pricing every item in advance?
Be a cashier at your sale, not a negotiator, says Seavey. You don’t want people bothering you all day by asking how much each item is. Not only does it distract you from ringing up orders, but customers who are shy or don’t speak English very well might not feel comfortable approaching you, and could walk away without buying anything. Pro tip: Price things as you sort them for the garage sale.
Newer items in excellent condition can be priced at 50% of the retail price, while things that have more wear and tear should go for 25%, suggests Seavey. For more unique items, do some research online to see what others are charging.
You can simplify pricing by grouping similarly priced items. For example, designate a $1 table, a $5 table and a $10 table. Or use color coded stickers for set price points (pink = 25 cents, green = 50 cents).
“If everything’s marked and labeled, someone can always negotiate, but most people come to you with the item and money in their hand,” she says.
To avoid dealing with lots of small change, price everything at $1 and up, or bundle items that equal $1, she adds. Have plenty of $10 and $20 bills on hand – many re-sellers come to garage sales with $50 and $100 bills for large-ticket items. And it’s a good idea to purchase a counterfeit detector pen – which costs about $5 – to test big bills.
How can you make sure nobody steals anything?
Never host a garage sale by yourself because it’s easy to lose control, says Seavey.
“Theft, unfortunately, can occur, and I always recommend having a second set of eyes looking around so everything stays safe,” she says.
Recruit family and friends to help pack up items while you collect the cash. Wear a money apron or zippered fanny pack so you can keep your money on you, rather than in a cash box that someone can easily steal, she adds.
How should you handle difficult customers?
You’re guaranteed to meet all kinds of characters at your garage sale. Years ago, my aunt asked me to sell a 15-year-old sewing machine for her. An older woman spent more than 45 minutes fiddling with it before finally buying it for $25. Three hours later, she came back.
Woman: “Hi, I’d like to return this sewing machine, please.”
Me: “Do you have a receipt?”
Woman: “Well, no, of course not. This is a garage sale.”
Me, smiling sweetly: “Exactly.”
Woman: “I’m coming back with my son!”
Me: “Well, unless he has a receipt, I can’t help him, either.”
Stay calm and don’t let hagglers try to bully you into taking less than you want for your items. Eventually, they’ll leave. If someone is very aggressive or intoxicated, call the police.
What should you do with leftovers that didn’t sell?
We have a garage sale rule: Nothing comes back in the house. Once it’s out, it stays out, so we decide in advance how we’ll dispose of the stuff nobody bought.
Depending on the value of certain leftover items, Seavey suggests either filling the trunk of your car and heading straight to a donation center or church, or making a neat pile out on your curb with a large sign saying “Free.” Your things will be gone before morning.
What great finds can you buy at a garage sale?
If you’re a shopper, is it worth your time to rummage through someone else’s used stuff looking for deals? It can be. Seavey has found many treasures over the years, including vintage jewelry, antique porcelain dolls and other collectibles.
“I picked up a mahogany dining set; some beautiful, original framed artwork that was dirt cheap; and pretty decorative items,” she recalls.
You also never know when someone’s getting rid of the exact item you’ve been searching for. I once sold not one but three toilets at a garage sale. I had displayed the trio right in front of my driveway. A man slammed on his brakes when he spotted my circa-1973 pink toilet. Just that morning, he had broken his pink toilet, and was on his way to a big-box store to purchase a new one. He seemed overjoyed to hand over $50 for mine, rather than pay for the expensive bathroom renovation his wife started planning as soon as he’d broken their toilet.
Casual shoppers might find great deals on books, kids’ toys, clothing, tools, office supplies, picture frames, kitchenware and used sports equipment and outdoor gear. Before you buy, look for rust, stains and rips. Test electronics to make sure they work and test out sports equipment, like bikes.
Don’t be afraid to haggle if you think a used item is priced too high. Or, if you’re planning to purchase several items, you could ask for a lower flat rate, such as rounding down to a price that’s a multiple of $10 or $20 and doesn’t require change. However, be reasonable; if someone’s selling T-shirts for $1, don’t ask to pay 50 cents.
What should you avoid buying at yard sales?
Be wary of baby equipment such as car seats, high chairs or cribs that could either be unsafe or even illegal, depending on how old they are, says Seavey. Any clothing that can’t be thrown in the washing machine might not be a good buy, either.
“I’d also stay away from anything combustible or flammable, such as cleaning supplies or other liquids,” advises Seavey. “I also would never sell or buy food or even bottled water – anything consumable could be a liability if someone gets sick, and that’s not worth the risk.”
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- How to find deals at estate sales