by Kimberly Blackford
When it comes to de-cluttering your home, most homeowners see two options: throw it out or give it away. However, garage sales are an often-overlooked third option. True, they take a fair amount of work and the pay off is not always worth the investment. With a few insider tips, you can make the most of your re-sale efforts and have some fun a long the way!
Once you have decided to hold a garage sale, the first thing to determine is intent: are you having a sale to make money or move out lots of stuff? Ideally, both will be accomplished, but knowing your main goal will help you as the sale goes on.
- Determine a date - A profitable garage sale cannot be thrown together in a matter of days. Plan to prepare for a sale at least one month in advance. Look to the date in mind and see what else is happening. Long weekends and holidays drive people out of town and are not ideal for drawing local crowds. Local events such as parades or high school and community happenings will cause competition and draw buyers away. The dead heat of summer may be best avoided, though spring and fall hold more school obligations for bargain hunting families. Finding a date is perhaps the trickiest part!
- Determine a length of time - Garage sales traditionally run an entire weekend, however, today’s busy families find their time more and more restricted. Saturdays are still the most popular for garage sales with Friday afternoons and evenings becoming more regular. Sundays often only bring in stragglers and may not be worth the time unless you already plan to be hanging out at home.
- Open to Close - 8-4 is a full garage sale day though most traffic will dwindle in the early afternoon. Be prepared for Early Birds to arrive around 7am or even the night before, looking to get an edge on the competition. It can be incredibly beneficial to be ready for sales at 7am. However, if it’s not feasible, make it clear that Early Birds are not welcome or they pay double- whatever best fits your schedule and your sale motives.
- Advertisement - When the details have been determined, it’s time to start getting the word out. Newspaper ads, online advertisement, and flyers on bulletin boards are all great ways to advertise. Never underestimate word of mouth, too. A week prior to the garage sale, sending an email with information and special sale items to friends and family is a great way to remind them of the upcoming sale. They in turn can forward the email reminder on to other friends at your request.
- Get permission - Every home owners association and city has rules about how and where signs can be posted. Some places do not allow personal signs to be attached to poles or placed on certain common grounds. Find out the rules so that you know what kind of sign to use for your sale.
- Make it nice - Signs should be made neatly, simply, and clearly. Keep lettering bold, dark, and large. Boxes and thick posterboard are best for large signs that withstand weather and attract attention.
- What to write - Keep the sign information to four lines, as people will be driving when they are observing them. Garage Sale, Address, Date, and Time are really all that is needed. As the signs get closer to your neighborhood, arrows can be incorporated.
- Keep it constant - Make all your signage similar, with the same color scheme and writing style. This way customers can be sure to find your sale and not get distracted by others along the way.
- Placement - Some signs can be put out a week or so in advance to encourage customers to find your sale. However, signs with arrows should be placed the morning of or night before. After placing the signs, drive the route to ensure you can read them from your car. Signs should be able to be seen for 3 car lengths in order to take in the information. It is also important to drive the route to ensure all arrows are facing the correct direction- pranksters can move signs causing frustration for customers and ruining a potentially great garage sale.
- The Big Day - Balloons and signage in front of the house are just as important as signs along the way. This is especially important for people who may have to park down the block or if your house is deep in a subdivision.
- Sort it out - As you begin determining what is to be sold, keep your items organized by type from the beginning. This will make it easier to set-up sale items closer to the date if they are already divided.
- Label clearly - How you determine to price your items is up to you and the things you have available. The easiest method is assigning colored labels a price and simply sticking items with labels. However, this method makes it very easy for someone to swindle the seller. A simple switch of a sticker means someone could make off with a valuable item for next to nothing. What is easier is dividing by type. Make clear signs that state items divided by price: “All books=X, All dresses=Y, All Shirts=Z.” When selling items for a variety of prices, for example children’s toys have a wide range, be certain to label every item carefully. Most buyers prefer items labeled individually, with a felt tip marker, on the front of the item. If prices are not seen clearly, buyers will either ignore it completely or pester you with endless questions. Both scenarios are best avoided!
- Pricing - Many sellers attach sentimental value to their items when it comes time for pricing. It is important to be objective- what you are selling is essentially junk. Look carefully at items. Clean them up, test them for functionality, and assign a price that works for the item at the time. Out of style, outdated, and unpopular items are not worth what they once were, no matter how fondly you recall owning them. A good rule of thumb is 10% the original value. The lower the prices, the more likely the sales.
- Place it carefully - Garage sales are generally cluttered- so much random stuff in one place, it can hardly be anything else! However, it’s important to tame the chaos as much as possible. A little extra effort to keep tables tidy and walkways easily navigated will go a long way with potential buyers. Despite the name, no one wants to rummage at a rummage sale. Borrow tables, keep items off the ground and out of boxes, and limit stacking items on top of one another. Hang clothes, arrange books and CDs with spines facing the buyer, and arrange tables so that buyers can peruse without causing congestion. It will probably be necessary to use the driveway, lawn, and garage. In fact, placing higher end items in clear view of the street will draw drive-by customers who are reluctant to stop for typical garage sale stuff.
- Money - The number one rule of garage sales is keeping the money out of sight and out of mind. Many sellers prefer to have no cash box, keeping all cash on their person in a fanny pack close to the body. However, this can also be chaotic if the person in charge of transactions is wandering among shoppers. It is important to assign one person to handle all the money and station that person close to the exit- probably the end of the driveway. This way they can ensure no one wanders out with more than they’ve paid for. This same person should also be in charge of all negotiating and bargaining. Otherwise it becomes too easy for a customer to claim they were promised a deal by someone else at the sale.
- Assistants - No one can run a garage sale entirely alone. Three people are ideal, though more are welcome. One adult should handle all transactions, another can work with customers to answer questions and keep things tidy, and one more can be relied upon to watch for theft or issues. Older children can help sell inexpensive refreshments or help with little tasks. If small expensive items are for sale, it may be best to assign one person to monitor those items until sold.
- Lock it up - Though you may think you have an eye on what’s happening, be sure the house is locked up tight throughout the sale. It would be all too easy for someone to get inside and swipe something valuable or make off with cash you’ve stored away from the sale. Never let anyone enter your home to try on clothing or use the restroom. If younger children will not be participating in the garage sale, make arrangements for them to spend time at a friend’s or family members to keep them from needing to come in and out of the house all day long. While you may need to occasionally step inside, traffic flow in the home should be kept to a minimum throughout the day. Be certain that the house is locked up both back and front, as it is easy for someone to slip in opposite of where the crowd is gathered.
A Few More Things
- Don’t forget the Golden Rule! Never try to falsely sell items that are broken, damaged or contaminated. If you truthfully note that items have flaws, they will likely still sell for parts. Or make them part of a Free Table, and you can still get rid of junk that is taking up room in your home. Being dishonest could spark unnecessary trouble or arguments.
- On the other hand, it may be important to have a sign stating that all sales are final. Buyers remorse has been known to plague customers who show up days later asking for a refund. Be clear from the very beginning- you buy it, you own it, end of story.
- Keep pets out from under foot along with small children. Though your puppy may be the nicest pet around, customers have allergies, fears, and accidents happen. Keep Sparky inside and away from the chaos.
- It’s also a good idea to keep all pet evidence away from customers. Clean up the lawn and other walkways, trim the grass, and pull the weeds. Sweep the garage and driveway and keep all power cords or other tripping hazards out of the way. You may need an extension cord so customers can test electronic items, but put it away when not in use or tape it down with a sign pointing it out to passersby.
- Take measurements on all large items before the sale and label them clearly along with the price. Have a measuring tape on hand so that customers can double-check those measurements first hand.
- Make arrangements to park your vehicles at a neighbor’s house a few doors down. This keeps the sale visible and parking open for customers.
- Put all non-sale items elsewhere or clearly label them “Not for Sale.” You will still get inquiries, but hopefully this will avoid tantrums and arguments.
- Do not accept checks. No matter how kind the customer, there is no guarantee that a check will clear. Cash only is the easiest rule for you and for customers.
- Be prepared with adequate change! 4 ten dollar bills, 5 five dollar bills, 25 one dollar bills, $5 in quarters, $5 in dimes, and $2 in nickels will be a good starting point. Try to price items in increments of 50 cents to lessen the need for difficult change making. Also, keep a calculator handy to make transactions smoother, no matter how great your mental arithmetic.
- Check all sales yourself, no matter how busy you are at the moment. A helpful customer may give you their total while forgetting another item they picked up earlier. Also bag every sale to ensure small children or forgetful adults do not walk out with something in hand.
- One last thing - have fun! Customers that approach a garage sale with friendly homeowners, pleasant background music, and cold drinks for sale are likely to linger. And lingering typically results in sales. Greet customers, answer questions with enthusiasm, and allow them to wander leisurely though your possessions. The atmosphere you create will truly affect the outcome of your sales.
Wrap It Up
- At the end of each sale day have covers for tables and a way to move items inside for the evening. Anything you leave outside should be something you are willing to give away for nothing.
- At the end of the sale, have in mind what is being done with the leftover items. You can lower prices and throw in free items with the last sales.
- When closing up for good, automatically divide items into three groupings: save for future sales, throw away, and donate. Immediately box up donation and trash items and get rid of them. If you let the clutter back in, who knows how long before it gets out again. Do not forget to remove the price tags from all donation items. Future sale items should be things you genuinely think could make some money. It may not even be your own future sale, but perhaps a community rummage sale or a friend’s.
- Lastly, as soon as the sale is over, make the trip around to pull down your signage. It is frustrating for you and for buyers when they are seeking out a sale that no longer exists. This little act of common courtesy is extremely important.
Garage sales are undeniably huge endeavors that can have wonderful benefits when executed carefully. The next time you take on the clutter in your home, try to sell it off. In the end, whatever does not sell can still make its way to charities or the trash. But that one weekend could be more profitable than you ever imagined!
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