While garage sales and yard sales can be found year-round, even in the coldest climates, for much of the country this is the month when things get into full swing. The weather is finally turning nicer -- well, in most years, anyway -- and families fresh off of a bout of spring cleaning have unearthed all sorts of things that they've decided they can live without. Most know that shopping at a garage sale is fun -- especially if someone's trash is literally your treasure. Holding a garage sale, on the other hand, can be hard work if you want it to be successful. But it, too, can be tons of fun -- and a great way to meet your neighbors, empty your home of clutter, and pocket a few extra dollars in the bargain.
Planning is key
Posting a few scribbled signs that morning and just tossing your stuff onto your driveway is one way to have a stress-free garage sale or yard sale, but it's also likely to be a success-free one as well. If your goal is to clear out as much unwanted "stuff" as possible, or to pocket as much spare change as possible, a little bit of planning goes a long way.
First things first, know your local ordinances. Most places in the country don't place any real restrictions on yard sales and garage sales, but some do. A permit might be required, for example. Some communities place regulations on how many garage sales you can have in a year. Others might have rules regarding signs or parking. Not knowing the laws isn't much of a defense if the local authorities decide to enforce them, and fines can be stiff enough in some locales to more than wipe out any proceeds your garage sale brings in.
No one will come to your yard sale if they don't know about it. Make lots of signs (or at least as many as your local laws will allow), and make sure that they are easy to read without causing a traffic jam -- or a traffic accident. As a test, drive by one yourself and see if you can pick out the important details -- the where and the when --- with just a glance as you pass at normal speeds.
Advertising pays off -- especially if it is free. There are lots of places where you can place free classified ads for your garage sale on line. Craigslist is one obvious example. Yardies.com is another site with free listings, and the site will also list your ad on several other free classified ad sites. Some community papers also offer area residents free or at least low-cost garage sale classified ads.
When and how long?
When planning your garage sale, pick a date that fits into your family's schedule. That makes it easier to get buy-in from your spouse and other family members. Holding a yard sale is much more fun if you have helping hands getting things set up and during the day ... or days.
Which brings us to the question of how long your garage sale should run. Multi-day sales (we've seen sales that seem like they never end) increase your exposure to the public, but it's fair to expect diminishing returns as the sale goes on. Shoppers won't make attending your sale a priority in its later days, expecting that the prime items have been picked through and already sold. The exception to that are the bargain hunters, who figure that any leftovers can be had for very little. Again, be aware of any local laws that place restrictions on how many days a sale can run, and/or on how often you can run them.
Pick a price
Pricing your items is often the trickiest part of holding a garage sale. The key is to be realistic. No one cares what you paid for something originally, and no one will be interested if they can buy the same thing or something similar brand new for only a little more at any store. We found lots of garage-sale pricing advice on the Internet, such as this article at Familes.com. However, spending a weekend going to other garage sales in your community can go a long way toward helping you figure out what things actually sell for in your neck of the woods.
Don't forget that what might be trash to you might actually be treasure. Before the sale, take a little time to inventory your goods, looking for items that might have collectible or other value. Toys (especially older toys still in their boxes); sports, movie and TV memorabilia; old records; pottery and china with makers' marks; and jewelry with makers' marks are some of the categories that deserve a second look. If nothing else, a quick search on eBay won't hurt. If something does pop up, don't expect to get a collectors' price at a garage sale. If that matters to you, remove that item from the sale and consider either keeping it after all, at least until you've had the time to do more research, or selling it via a more appropriate avenue.
Haggling is a ritual and an art form, and some of it should be expected at your garage sale or yard sale. Whether or not you want to take part, however, is up to you. If you do expect to bend a little if asked, you should keep that in mind as you price so that you don't wind up selling an item for less than you wanted to -- unless, of course, your goal is to be rid of it for any reasonable offer.
Finally, put price tags on everything before the sale. Individual tags or price stickers (be sure to get the removable kind) are best, but signs listing prices will do. Never write directly on something's original box. Yes, pricing everything in advance can be a pain, but on garage sale day, both you and your customers will be glad you did.
And that brings us to the day of the sale itself, which we delve into in Part 2 of our Garage Sale Survival Guide.