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Garage sale do's and don'ts: 15 tips for sellers

Once upon a time, the knick knacks in your living room were sweet and charming. Today, they’re just dust collectors and clutter. The quickest way to get rid of your “junk” may be to throw it all into a bag and head to Goodwill, but why not spend some extra time to put together a garage sale? You’ll turn your trash into someone else’s treasure while earning cash.

Just a little bit of planning can go a long way to making your sale a successful (and profitable) de-cluttering mission.
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

4 Garage Sale Do's:

Do: Advertise Online You can still put up paper flyers, but don’t skip over Internet advertising. One week before the sale, post on Craigslist, your Facebook profile and your community’s Facebook pages. Include high quality photos of your best items as well as prices - you may sell some pieces before the sale’s even begun!

Do: Have a Section With Free Items Once people are browsing, they’re likely to spend money - getting them out of the car is the hard part. Create an area with just free items, put it close to the road and make sure there’s a big “FREE” sign to accompany it. Also, don’t put junk nobody will want in the free pile just for the sake of creating one.

Do: Greet People as They Arrive Sitting behind a table with your eyes averted and your arms crossed doesn’t exactly invite people to your garage sale. Potential customers will shy away from the whole thing if you’re unapproachable. Say “hello” when guests walk up, smile, be friendly and stay nearby (without hovering) to answer any questions.

Do: Play Music It’s sort of awkward to visit an eerily quiet garage sale. If two want to chat about an item, they don’t want the seller to overhear everything they’re saying. Steer clear of any music that may be considered offensive; just play something appropriate that will drown out subtle conversations.

4 Garage Sale Don'ts:

Don’t: Make an Itsy Bitsy Flyer Remember that drivers have to read your flyer as they’re cruising by at 35 mph. Help them avoid veering off the road by using paint to create thick letters on a large board. Include both the house number and arrows, and set up signs along busy routes at least a full day in advance.

Don’t: Make Prices a Mystery There are two things shoppers don’t want to do at a garage sale: guess at prices and approach strangers (i.e. you, the seller). You may prefer to haggle, but it’s still necessary to put price tags on everything. Lower prices will sell because people go to garage sales to score deals; don’t err on the side of pricing items unreasonably high. Remember, the point of your garage sale is to get rid of clutter, not to make enough money to buy a new car.

Don’t: Insult Your Own Items We know you’re sick of looking at the pieces you’re desperately trying to pawn off on other people, but that’s not an excuse to insult your collection of ceramic angels. What you think of as junk may be important to somebody else. Plus, if you tell somebody they shouldn’t like something, they’re going to listen to you. Then they’re going to find a more lighthearted garage sale at which to spend their money.

Don’t: Compete With Another Event Face it, your garage sale isn’t going to beat out the holiday parade or annual floral market. Schedule your sale for another day or smartly work around the event. For example, if there’s a farmer’s market a block away from you, schedule the garage sale to start when the market closes and put signs up near the fruit and veggie stands.

15 Additional Tips for Sellers:

  1. Put larger items up front, closer to the road. Your smaller items might be the best finds at the sale, but they’re not going to attract passersby who can’t actually see them. Anything big and easily noticeable should be front and center.

  2. Label everything. If customers have to ask questions, they may pass up buying the item altogether. What size are those never-worn running sneakers? What model iPhone does that cell phone case fit? Make it very easy for shoppers to spot and distinguish must-have items.

  3. Group items together by their similarity, not their price tag. For example, parents who are interested in children’s toys should be able to find them all in one place. Put kitchen gear with cookbooks, jewelry with purses, etc.

  4. Be open to bargaining, but don’t start discounting right from the start. As the day goes on, you should be more and more flexible when it comes to lowering your prices. This way, you’ll know what people haven’t been interested in and you can reduce those items more than others.

  5. Reposition items and organize as the day goes on. As people come and go, your inventory will start to drop (hopefully). Keep everything looking beguiling by rearranging to keep your sale looking full, not sparse and picked over.

  6. Stock up on cash, including rolls of change and plenty of $1 and $5 dollar bills. Also, you can sell to people who only carry plastic by ordering a PayPal Here, which lets you swipe cards with a small cell phone attachment.

  7. Ask friends and family members to help expand your sale by supplying items they’re trying to get rid of. Figure out beforehand how you’ll split up the earnings. Will everyone get an equal share? Should contributors receive a percentage of sales depending on how much they provided? Try to come up with a simpler plan than attempting to keep track of each and every item that’s sold.

  8. Rethink how you’re displaying items that aren’t selling. Your books may not be getting scooped up even though they’re just 50 cents each because they’re stuffed into a musty box. Put them on a bookshelf to see if people respond better to their presentation.

  9. Electronic items won’t sell if they can’t be tested. Keep batteries and an extension cord nearby so shoppers can try before they buy.

  10. Keep items with multiple parts together neatly in plastic baggies. If you have items that are too large for a little Ziplock, use a nice looking reusable grocery sack, not something unappealing like your plastic Target bag.

  11. Clean and repair items before displaying them. It may seem like a hassle to wash every one of the 40 coffee mugs you’re hoping to get rid of, but if you sell them all because they’re sparkling clean, it’s worth it.

  12. Make sure to check your town or city’s ordinances concerning garage sales. Some areas regulate how many days in a row your garage sale can span and how many sales you can have in a year.

  13. Use hanging tags on items that can be ruined by sticky tags. People may not buy a paper item, like a map or a soft cover book, if they think it’s going to be ruined when they try to peel the price sticker off.

  14. Collect plenty of bags and newspapers to pack up items for shoppers.

  15. Cover items that aren’t for sale with sheets or tarps. Otherwise, someone may walk away with your outdoor furniture set! To that end, make sure that everybody working with you knows what is and what is not for sale.

Just a little bit of planning can go a long way to making your sale a successful (and profitable) de-cluttering mission.

Note: Content contribution from Tommy Mello, who owns A1 Garage Door Service in Phoenix, Arizona. He enjoys sharing garage improvement ideas and maintenance tips.

Contact: Marv Dumon at marvin.dumon@gmail.com