Would you be surprised to learn that garage sales have been around since the early 1800s? A longstanding American tradition, these types of sales originated in the shipping yards as a way to sell unclaimed cargo at discounted prices, then became wildly popular in the 50s and 60s when people started to move to the suburbs and accumulate goods in excess.
How to Have a Successful Garage Sale
Although the overall estimated price of a garage sale item is only $.85, a successful garage sale can generate a healthy chunk of change—especially during the summer months when garage sale season is in full swing.
To learn how to make your next one profitable, check out these 21 garage sale tips, featuring advice from a variety of experts on planning, organizing, advertising, pricing, and much more.
Before the Sale
- Plan ahead
Your garage sale has a much better chance of being successful if you do a lot of the legwork early. That means the bulk of your efforts should take place well before the big day—at least a week or two in advance. “Go through your entire house a few weeks before your sale and start putting aside items you will be selling,” says celebrity home stager and best-selling author Tori Toth.
- Choose the day of your sale wisely
When choosing a day (or days) for your yard sale, make sure to consider the timing and the weather. “Check the weather forecast ahead of time and make sure the day is pleasant,” counsels Chhavi, a blogger for Mrs Daaku Studio. “A pleasant day would mean more people on the street!”
“If you can start on Thursday evening, go for it — but at least try to get the party started Friday. That way you can catch people on their way to drop kids off at school or on their way to and from work,” suggests, well-known couponer and budgeter The Krazy Coupon Lady
- ...And the location
“If you live off grid or live far away from a busy street, it can be difficult to sell off the items quickly,” says Chhavi. “So, if you are planning a summer garage sale, choose your location carefully. You can look at alternatives like your friend’s or relative’s house for a few hours. Remember, the busier the better for the business.”
- Partner up for a bigger sale
According to Chris Michals of the Frugal Reality website, “It’s always much more successful if you can band together several neighbors to sell as a group. A larger sale will offer a wider variety and draw a more diverse group of buyers who may stumble on additional items you have for sale.”
- Don’t forget to advertise (a lot)
“As soon as you know the date and times for your garage sale, start advertising!” say budgeting gurus Brittany and Kelan Kline of The Savvy Couple. “There are so many free ways to advertise for your garage sale. Craigslist is the first place I would start. Start your ad with just the dates and times. This way you feel committed to the sale and people can plan their routes. Then as you finish up decluttering and you have your sale set-up you can upload pictures.”
There are also a number of websites now devoted entirely to buying and selling local items online. “Today, free apps like 5miles and Yard Sale Treasure Map allow local sellers to advertise their upcoming sales—and shoppers to find them,” according to Eric Kuhns of 5miles.
Fine arts appraiser Helaine Fendelman also suggests advertising in your local paper, on local radio stations, on community bulletin boards, and even in antiques publications.
- Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
“Signage can make or break a yard sale,” advises Pam Holland, member of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals and owner of the Clutter Free Now website. “It doesn't have to be expensive: you just want to be smart. Signage works best if it is in a consistent bright color (poster board can be purchased at many dollar stores.) Your signs should be readable from a car at a distance.”
Your signs should include your address, an arrow pointing to your location, and ideally something extra to entice drivers to stop by. However, don’t cram your sign with so much information that passersby can’t read it.
“[C]onvey your information with thick, black, block letters,” says professional interior decorator Leah French, writing for The Spruce. “Yard sale signs with a white background aren't as noticeable, and letters of a single marker width aren't thick enough to read from a moving car.”
- Check on permits and local laws
“While posting colorful signs on telephone poles is great advertisement, there are laws prohibiting this in many areas, so check in to see what local laws are in your area about holding and advertising yard sales,” says Tori Toth.
Though permits are pretty cheap, fines for bypassing them may not be, so it’s worthwhile to check.
- Put a price on everything
“It's important that every item is marked with a price tag, and that the price is visible to anyone visiting the garage sale,” says Nathan Ripley, who runs the San Diego-based house cleaning service Maid Just Right. “It's also good to bundle items and sell them with a 3-for-1 marking. For example, old VHS or DVDs can be bundled like that, and they'll more likely sell that way.”
“It helps to price items by category to keep it simple,” adds the Krazy Coupon Lady. “For example, make all clothes $3 and all books $1. For anything more expensive, mark it with an obvious price tag.”
- ...And price to sell
According to The Savvy Couple, “Pricing your items to sell is important as you are trying to get rid of them. As you are pricing, think as if you were the buyer at another garage sale, how much would you pay for the item you are pricing?”
Chris Michaels of 5miles adds, “After curating the items you wish to sell, research the sale price of comparable items (new or used) listed online. This way, you can ensure that your items will be priced fairly, competitively.”
- Consider an alternate plan for your valuable items
If you have expensive items such as jewelry or antiques you want to sell, your garage sale may not be the best—or safest—venue.
“Consider selling higher-value items individually, through a local classified website, rather than a yard sale,” advises Miranda Marquit of the budgeting blog Wisebread. “You're more likely to find people willing to buy the items and pay a better price than you would at a yard sale.”
- Make sure everything is spotless
“Make sure your wares are clean,” says Jennifer Snyder, certified professional organizer and owner of the organizing and cleaning company Neat as a Pin. “You can get more money for clean toys than dirty toys, clothes, housewares, etc.”
This also goes for the space you’ll be using. “Make sure you clean your garage, vacuum any dust, air it so it's easy to breathe and remove any unnecessary items stored there,” adds Maids Just Right’s Nathan Ripley.
Day of Sale
- Start on time
“It is common for professional garage sale hunters to arrive very early,” says Frugal Reality’s Chris Michaels. “It is also common for them to ring on your doorbell if you are a minute late.”
- Organize your wares
“Before opening the doors to your garage sale it's very important to have everything organized and sorted,” says Nathan Ripley. “A chaotic or messy garage sale will not attract as many people, or they will give up while searching for something particular in the mess.”
- Pay attention to your display
Angie’s List, a company that helps people connect with local service providers, recommends grouping items together as if you were running a retail store. “Some of your departments might include collectibles, tools, furniture, sporting goods, decor, linens, kitchen electronics, books, toys and framed photos.”
“Only display very large items on the ground,” adds Jennifer Snyder. “You want to have as much as possible at eye level.”
- Create an inviting space
“If you are holding a true ‘garage sale,’ the first step is to make sure your garage is ready,” says The Savvy Couple. “If you are holding it in your driveway or yard, mow the lawn and spend some time making sure the outside of your house is presentable.”
It also helps to” have good music playing,” says fine arts appraiser Helaine Fendelman.
The Krazy Coupon Lady agrees. “People who spend money on unplanned purchases tend to buy more when there is music in the background,” she says. “Set up a speaker and a Spotify or Pandora playlist and you’re all set.”
- Don’t forget to have change
“This one step is often forgotten in the hustle of getting the garage sale ready,” according to The Savvy Couple. They advise having the following change available:
- 2 $10 bills
- 6 $5 bills
- 33 $1 bills
- 1 roll of quarters
- 1 roll of dimes
- 1 roll of pennies
- Offer refreshments
“Serve coffee and have water available, advises Helaine Fendelman. “Cookies are a treat, too.”
“People are more likely to approach a garage sale when they see delicious goodies,” agrees The Krazy Coupon Lady. “It puts people in a friendlier mood and make them more willing to make a purchase.”
- Be helpful and friendly (but not too friendly)
“Have item specs, sizes, etc. readily available for shoppers, as well as a tape measure handy for measuring any furniture pieces,” advises 5miles’ Eric Kuhns. “Also, offer prospective buyers a chance to test out items—e.g. opening an umbrella to make sure it works, plugging in a curling iron to show that it heats up, or starting up that lawn mower you have for sale.”
One caveat: Don’t hover—no one likes to be followed around, whether it’s at a clothing boutique or a yard sale. Be friendly, say hello, and offer help when asked, but otherwise let your customers meander at leisure.
- Price items lower at end of day
“Most sellers want the stuff out of their house while making a few dollars,” says Chris Michaels. “It's worth advertising that everything will be half off or negotiable for the last two hours of the day. Every extra dollar you get at the end of the day is more than you started the day with.”
“Start cutting prices about an hour before your sale ends,” adds The Krazy Coupon Lady. “A great way to do this is to sell everything 50% off the marked price. Make sure you make a sign for this so it’s obvious to the shoppers.”
- Stay safe
Chances are that most folks who show up to your garage sale are just looking for a bargain, but it’s still a good idea to take a few precautions. “Recruit family or friends to help customers and keep an eye out for thieves,” counsels Tori Toth. “And remember to keep windows and doors of your home locked to avoid intruders.”
Adds Chris Micheals, “Keep one person stationary at a table who collects and keeps the money safe. If one person is running it alone, a thief can either distract the seller from the items or the money.”
After the Sale
- Donate unsold items
“At the end of the yard sale, using your inventory, check off what didn't sell and consider taking it to a thrift shop,” says Wisebread’s Miranda Marquit. “You can donate the items for a tax break if you itemize. You can use your inventory as part of your record-keeping for the IRS.”
“The only time it might be worth keeping an item that didn’t sell is if you know you can sell it on Craigslist or eBay for a quick profit,” adds The Savvy Couple. “You were selling everything for a reason, to organize and minimize. Pack up the car and bring the items to a local Goodwill. Keep your receipt for tax season.”
- Don’t blow your earnings!
When your garage sale is in the rear-view mirror, give yourself a pat on the back and take some time to relax. Garage sales are a lot of work, and you deserve to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Just try to avoid the temptation of going right out and spending all the money you just made. Instead, deposit the cash into your savings account and consider using at least a portion of it to pay down any outstanding debt. Your pocketbook—and your summer budget—will thank you later.
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