How to hold a garage sale

It’s early Saturday morning. You pour your coffee, open your curtains, and….hey! Where’d all those cars come from?

Welcome to Minnesota’s garage sale season, where the sun shines (if you’re lucky), the signs are up, and few can resist the lure of getting somebody else’s stuff, cheap. Surely, the next Antiques Roadshow treasure is out there, and this could be your lucky day.

Here’s the thing, though: Buying is easy.

But selling—which means not only purging your house of unwanted clutter but also making money doing it—takes a bit of expertise.

Following are some tips for a successful sale, gleaned from garage sale veterans’ personal experiences, websites, and advice columns. So take heed, and best wishes to you on your forthcoming venture.

Get it together

The first steps are common sense. Before you get rolling, you have to make sure you’ve got enough to sell. Pull everything together in one place and make a written inventory. Does the pile look a little meager? Many people advise a “buddy sale” with friends or relatives, because more merchandise means more shoppers.

Next: pricing, which isn’t easy. Visit a few nearby sales first, as a reality check. Remember that what you originally paid for something is going to be very different than its resale value. That beloved $500 chair that is now showing its age? Don’t be sad—or mad—if you only get $50 for it. It’s out the door, which is what you want, and you end up with money in your pocket.

A bit of quirky advice? Once you’ve decided to sell something, stick to it. (Some call it a “mental divorce.”) No going back into the bag or box. Forget about it. It’s no longer yours. Now it’s called inventory!

Scheduling comes next. Saturdays are the most popular days, usually followed by a second sale day. Don’t pick a holiday weekend, when many folks are gone. Do pick a time when others in the neighborhood are having sales, so you’ll get in on the buying frenzy and also be included on shoppers’ routes.

Advertise! Nobody will come if they don’t know about it. Put an ad in the local paper, post the sale on the Internet, put a notice on the community bulletin board, tell your friends, and make your own outdoor signs. Use lots of details in your ads, such as “Two family sale” or “many baby clothes.” Tools, books, jewelry, small tables and household items, such as dishes and glasses, are always strong draws.

Prepare the merchandise, cleaning it up to make it look good. Also, pay attention to your premises. Here’s advice from www.organizedhome.com : “Prepare your home as if it were Halloween night. Remove anything that can be tripped over, including the dog, who should live elsewhere for the duration of the sale. Check the garage floor and driveway for slippery spots or hidden hazards. Tape down extension cords or cables.” (Note: we think that’s kind of tough on the dog. That part is optional.)

Have enough tables, change, and petty cash. Get help: at least two helpers, in addition to you, is the minimum.

It’s sale time!

Have everything ready to go half an hour before you open. Most sales are made early in the day, so be on your toes from the start. Greet everybody, and be an active, friendly seller.

Put the biggest and best items toward the street, so that when people drive by, they have to stop. Don’t ignore the kids (who will grow up to become future garage sale shoppers): some people offer a box of freebies, usually toys, to entertain youngsters while their parents shop.

Although it might not be in your taciturn Minnesota nature, don’t be afraid to haggle. People will often offer less for an item, something you might want to consider in your original pricing. Feel free to throw out a counter offer. Some seasoned shoppers actually enjoy this back-and-forth bargaining, so don’t get caught by surprise. You’re the seller, though, so know the minimum amount you will accept. Also, go case-by-case, depending on the item. If it’s good quality merchandise, another customer might be happy to pay what you’re asking.

As things wind down, you might want to offer last minute deals. Wait until after closing time to start putting things away: you might pick up some stragglers. Some sellers say that 25-cent sales can be successful, especially if you have many things to sell. Others advise pricing things in 25-cent increments.

When it’s over, it helps to have a plan for the left-over stuff. If you donate it to a charity, remember to remove the price tags before you box it up.

There are many websites offering advice on garage sales. Two that we liked are www.pennysaverusa.com/garage-sale-tips (which offers a free garage sale kit) and www.wikihow.com. Remember, garage sales can be fun if you’re organized, do your homework, and have enough help. It’s a great way to launch your spring cleaning… and gleefully counting your money afterwards doesn’t hurt, either.

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Gail Olson's picture
Gail Olson