Garage and Yard Sales: How to be a Buyer and a Seller
by Jeff Day
In the world of bargain hunters, garage sale shoppers are known as garage sailors, and sailing with the best of them requires:
- Hitting as many sales as you can in the least amount of time
- Know your market and your needs
Here are some garage sale tips to get you started.
Advice for Buyers
Prepare. As a buyer, start by scouting out sales in newspapers, on grocery store bulletin boards and online. As a rule, sales advertised in the paper are better organized, larger and have better items — ads cost money, and the investment doesn’t pay off for lesser sales.
Cut out or print the listings and prioritize. If there’s a contact number, call to find out what’s for sale. Block sales, multi-family yards sales and church bazaars are larger, so you can look at more goods in less time. Sales in ritzy neighborhoods are likely to have the best quality. Map out the locations and plan your route.
The best times to go are early in the day, when selection is largest, and late in the day, when prices are falling. If you get to a good sale, ignore your itinerary and shop it thoroughly before moving on.
Dress comfortably. Protect yourself against the sun with a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen. Wear sensible shoes — your feet will get wet from the morning dew in sandals or open-toed shoes. Heels? You’ll sink into the lawn. Dress down — you can’t bargain over a $2 item wearing your Armani slacks. Drive your worst-looking car.
Get ready to shop. Stuff some plastic bags in your coat so you can carry items with you as you shop. Have a box in the car to keep things from rattling around. Take some old newspaper for wrapping breakable items. Bring an antique price guide, so you know what those old watches or kerosene lamps really sell for.
Shopping. Clothes are usually a bargain at yard sales. Sellers often offer a bag of clothes for $5 — you can get more in the bag if you roll the clothes up instead of stuffing them in the bag. Know which brands are sold at discount stores and which are sold at high end-stores. If you’re shopping for other people, take some of their clothing along and compare the size with items you’re thinking about buying. If you think you might want a pair of skates or some athletic shoes for the kids, make a pattern by tracing around their bare feet and cutting along the lines. Slip the pattern in the footwear you’re considering to get an idea of how it will fit.
Check out all items carefully before you buy. Look inside boxes and CD cases to make sure you’re getting what you think you’re getting. If it runs on batteries, look inside for corroded batteries or damage created by them. Ask to plug in anything that has a cord. Feel the edge of plates and glasses for chips.
And if you’re going to be coming back to pick up a larger item — get a receipt so there’s no confusion at the end of the day.
Bargaining. Be ready to bargain. Most sellers come down 10 to 20 percent with no problem. If the seller says there’s no flexibility, have the seller total up your items and then offer somewhat less — round down to the nearest dollar, or even a dollar below that. Prices will come down later in the day, so if you see something you really want, but can’t get the right price, come back later in the day and try again. If you still can’t agree on price, leave your name and number, and ask the seller to call you after the sale if the item still hasn’t sold.
Don’t bargain somebody down and then whip out a $50 bill. Carry small change — quarters, $1s and $5s.
Advice for Sellers
Having a garage sale is a lot like running a department store. The scale is smaller, but you still need to plan, advertise, price your goods, market them and sell them. It also doesn’t hurt to have someone on hand who knows how to make change.
Planning. It’s always worth staying on the right side of the law, so start with a phone call to city hall. Find out if there are any regulations about yard sales and whether you need a permit. If your neighborhood has a homeowner’s association, check with it, too. The association may have stricter standards than the town.
Choosing a date for the sale is the obvious next step. Most yard sales are on Saturdays when people have time to run errands. Spring and fall, when the weather is comfortable, are better than extremely hot or cold weather. Spring and fall may also be better because people have started looking for seasonal items — they’ve put away the ice skates, for example, and are looking for in-line skates.
Collect your sale items. Gather up your goods well in advance and go through everything. Check pockets for notes, receipts and money. Flip through books to make sure nothing valuable was used as a long-since forgotten bookmark. Look through the boxes; check the sofas for change. You don’t want to sell an old jacket for $1, only to remember that it you left Grandma’s diamond broach in the pocket
Clean items sell for more than dirty ones, which usually don’t sell at all. Sharp tools with the rust removed and a light coat of oil sell for more than a bunch of rusty tools clanging around in a box.
Round up some display tables — even an old door across saw horses is better than spreading stuff on the lawn, where people have to bend down to look at it. You won’t need enough space to display everything — hold some items back to replenish your stock as things get sold. If the sale will be inside a garage, cover everything not for sale with a tarp or sheet.
Cut the grass a few days before the sale and clean up after the dog the day of the sale. Remove or repair anything people might trip over.
Advertising. Advertising is best done at the last minute — the Sunday before the sale at the earliest and as late as the day before the sale. Deciding where to place ads is decidedly not last minute. Scout grocery store bulletin boards and websites for places you can post notices. Check the cost of advertising in your local paper, decide if it’s worth it, and find out the deadline for placing ads. Have all your ads, notices and web entries written and ready to go.
Then start making signs. Make them large — shirt cardboard size at a bare minimum. Make them professional looking and easy to read–solid black type on a white background, for example. Include your address and an arrow pointing in the direction of the house. Make all the signs the same size and shape — it sets your sales apart from the other sales. Attach the signs to 1×3 or 2×2 stakes that you drive into the ground. Don’t attach them to utility poles or trees. Take down the signs when the sale is over.
Pricing. You’re selling stuff you want to get rid of to people who are looking for bargains. Forget about what you paid for it. What can you get for it?
Hit a few yard sales in advance to see what the market will bear. You’ll probably find that pants, shirts, sweaters and vests sell for well under a dollar. You can usually buy a paperback book for a couple of coins — usually nickels. The price of a hardcover book may take you into the range of four or five quarters. Bigger items — small appliances, furniture and so on — go for 10 to 30 percent of the original price, depending on age and condition.
Expect people to haggle, so price things 10 to 20 percent above what you’ll settle for. Keep the prices in multiples of dimes and quarters so you can bargain without doing complicated math and so you can make change easily. If you think you can get more than $100 for something, sell it somewhere else.
Put a price tag on everything. Otherwise you’ll be hounded all day by people asking how much something costs.
Marketing. Display everything nicely. Put big, eye-catching items nearest the road to draw people in. If you have tools — and this includes everything from table saws to old shovels and broken lawnmowers — put them nearest the road, too. Mention tools prominently on all your signs. Men who go deaf when asked to stop for a yard sale will stop without asking if tools are involved. If you don’t have tools to sell, get some.
If it will fit on a table, put it on a table. Avoid putting items in boxes on the ground. Have a bargain table on which everything sells for a dollar or two.
Separate the good clothes from the worn clothes. Hang the good clothes on hangers. Display worn clothes neatly on a table and sell them by the bagful for $5 dollars — or less. You’re goal is to get rid of them, right?
Use the same strategy for books — if they’re selling for a dime, let people know you’ll sell 12 books for $1.00. Display the books spine up and one layer deep in a shallow box.
Cut your prices around midday — if an item is still there, it’s not selling. Put up a sign announcing prices are reduced by a given percentage. If you want to keep a few particular pieces at their original price, say so on the sign: “Most items 25 percent off,” or “10 percent off on all items under $10″ and so on. Leave the original price tags on everything.
Sales. Go to the bank and get $50 in $1s and $5s before the sale. Get another $10 in change. Put the bills in a cash box or an old tackle box. You can keep the coins in a muffin tin for making change. Have at least one helper, so that someone is always sitting with the money. Have a calculator and use it.
Handle large bills the way they do at the store: if someone hands you a big bill, leave it out in plain sight until after you’ve given them their change.
Three final pieces of advice:
- Have plastic bags on hand, along with newspapers to pack breakables.
- Post a sign saying all sales are final.
- If someone asks to use the bathroom, politely say no.
Freelance DIY writer and carpenter Jeff Day once got grouchy at a yard sale, but his wife and daughters have since forgiven him.
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