Tips For How To Have A Successful Garage Sale

This past weekend we had a long awaited garage sale that we had been planning for several months. Our neighborhood homeowner’s association only allows us to have a garage sale one day out of the year, and this past Saturday was it. Whether or not the weather cooperates, our association doesn’t care, so it had to go off without a hitch. Because of that we decided to plan ahead and make sure we did the bests we could with the sale.

In planning for the garage sale we did a lot of things that I think helped our success in our little one day sale, and hopefully some of these tips can help you as well.

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Garage Sale Planning Tips

Garage Sale Tips

  • Have a group sale:  In the past we’ve done garage sales where we just did the sale on our own, without doing it on a day where it was a big group/neighborhood sale.  We’ve found that having the sales on a day where there was a big group sale meant much better traffic and better returns on our time.
  • Get help on the day of the sale: It can be important to have help when you’re running a garage sale for a variety of reasons.  First, garage sales are notorious for having people come by to scam you – either by stealing items, stealing your cash or switching price tags.  There are a variety of scams that are run. Be ready for these things and have at least 2 people running your sale so someone can keep an eye out at all times – or in case someone needs to run in the house. It’s also just more fun having company there to chat with!
  • Advertise:  Plan ahead of time to advertise your garage sale so that people actually know you’re having one. Make sure to place an ad on Craigslist, as well as on any local newspapers where you can place an ad for cheap or free.  There are also garage sale websites online where you can place a free ad like http://www.weekendtreasure.com/ or http://www.yardsaleportal.com/.  Also post ads at your local supermarket or credit union. If you’re doing a neighborhood sale, have each house place an ad to help increase your exposure!
  • Put up signs:   One thing I think a lot of folks don’t take seriously enough is putting up signs on the day of the sale.    Make sure to put up easy to read, clear signs with only the essential information on them so they can be seen and read by people driving by.  Put the day and time of the sale, an arrow and the address. Keep it minimal – and readable.  I think our sale lacked in this area to a degree as the association was a bit restrictive as to what signs we could put up for the group sale. We put up our own signs, however, using an old realtor sign with our paper sign taped to it, written in black bold letters.  Make sure your sign is sturdy and will stand up to the wind or elements if they come, i’ve seen far too many signs that blow away or bend so that you can’t read them. Check out these examples of bad yard sale signs.
  • Get cash for giving change: One thing we’ve forgotten in the past was to get enough change for when people buy items at the sale.  This year we planned ahead and went to the bank ahead of time. We got a roll of quarters as well as $25 in singles and $25 in fives. We also used my big change jar for giving smaller change.  That seemed to be enough to get us by.
  • Make sure you know the goal of your sale, and agree on ground rules:  One thing we’ve butted heads on in the past was the goal of our sale. Is it to get rid of things and make a little money, or is it to make as much money as possible?  I tend to lean towards the “get rid of stuff” side of the spectrum, and as such tend to get in trouble when i sell my wife’s old porcelain doll for $2 instead of $10.  Talk about it beforehand and agree on a goals, and how much you’re willing to bargain with buyers.
  • Price items carefully:  When you’re pricing items make sure to price them realistically, keeping your emotions at bay. Some of the items you may be emotionally attached to, and that may cause you to price things unreasonably high.  Having higher priced items can scare people off.  Work with someone while you price and when in doubt ask them if they think it’s priced too high.  I’ve heard that you should be pricing things at no more than 25% of retail cost, but the goal of your sale will also factor into pricing.
  • Be on the lookout for con artists and scammers: On the day of the sale be ready for the con artists to come out of the woodwork. Always take payment, put it on the table  and then count out change next to it so you don’t run into problems with people running change cons.   Also keep an eye out for people stealing things, or switching price tags when you’re distracted.  For some high price items you may want to keep your own printed price list to make sure tags aren’t switched.  Always have two people there for the sale, and don’t leave money lying out in a lockbox or on the table. Always keep your money on you if you can.

So those are a few things you can do to prepare ahead of time for your sale, next let’s look at setting up your garage sale space.

Preparing Your Garage Sale Space

Garage Sale Tips

One thing a lot of people don’t take into account when setting up their sale, is how they set up their garage sale space and area, and how their items for sale are presented. I’ll admit that our sale lacked in this area, but in part because it was raining on the day of our sale and we had to fit everything in our garage.  Because of that our setup was less than optimal.   Here are some pointers for preparing your own space.

  • Think like a retailer: When setting up your space think like a retailer.  Make sure people have plenty of room to browse through your tables and sale area with wide aisles, and by making it easy to work their way around.  Try to avoid trapping people in certain areas of the space or by confining them with only one way in or out of your space.
  • Play background music:  play some nice soft background music to make looking through your things more pleasant.  The less awkward silence there is while people are shopping, the more time they’ll spend looking – and the more they’ll buy!  We just played some Bob Marley in the background, although in the past we’ve also used some nice Hawaiian melodies or the easy listening soft jazz my mother-in-law prefers.
  • Be friendly, but let people shop:  Be friendly when people attend your sale, but allow them to shop without feeling like they have to chat constantly.  Don’t scare people away once you have them there!
  • Move things out of your garage: Invite people into your sale by putting items in the driveway and on your lawn.  People are less likely to want to go into a dark and cramped garage than to browse in your driveway or on your lawn.  Pull them in by making it more inviting and accessible.
  • Organize things by theme: Put like things together.  Books in one area, electronics in another, clothes in another. Make it easy to shop for what they want, by making it easy to see what is where.
  • Display things in their best possible light:  Selling a table?  Set it up in the yard instead of having it folded up leaning on the wall.  Selling a TV? Plug it in and play a movie on it so people can see it works.  Selling a rug? Lay it out on the lawn so people can see it.  Put desirable items out front to pull people in.
  • sell refreshmentsLabel and price things clearly:  Make it easy for people to know what an item is, and how much it costs. It could save a sale. If the item is in great working condition, write that on a piece of painter’s tape along with the price!
  • Sell snacks and refreshments:  I’ve heard others suggest that you sell drinks along with cookies and other refreshments at your sale.  We haven’t been super successful with that, but others have reported making decent money doing that.

Our yard sale this past weekend went reasonably well.  It wasn’t wildly successful because it rained most of the day and as a result the foot traffic was lessened, as well as that meant we had to move everything into our garage. That meant that the presentation and flow of our sale wasn’t that great.

In the end, however, we still ended up making just over $300 on our sale, and we got rid of a ton of stuff. Getting rid of the excess clutter was our main goal for the sale, and that was a success!

After The Sale – What To Do With The Leftovers

After the sale is over and you’re left with a ton of stuff, what should you do with it?

  • Try to sell it on Craigslist: After our sale this weekend I placed ads for some of the nicer items that were left over on Craigslist including a couple of rugs, a nice backpacking backpack and some artwork.  So far we’ve made an additional $150!
  • Give it away:  Give leftover items away to friends, family, or via a site like FreeCycle.org.
  • Donate it: Donate leftover items to a worthy cause.  We normally donate a ton of things to our local Goodwill location.
  • Junk it:  Some items may not be able to be donated, or just aren’t in that great of condition. It may be time to junk them.  Many communities have large item trash pickup days.

Have your own tips for having a successful yard sale?  Garage sale horror stories or things to look out for?   Think garage sales are more trouble than they’re worth? Tell us in the comments!

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Last Edited: 10th February 2014

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  1. says

    For people with iPhones/iPods/iPads, consider downloading the free Square app. They send you a little dongle that allows you to swipe credit cards on your device. A friend of mine put up a sign at her garage sale reading “We accept Visa and Mastercard!” – it astounded me how many people went back for more stuff once they realized they didn’t need cash.

    • says

      As a seller i can see how it would be a good thing to take Visa or Mastercard, and how it would increase sales. Thing is – would you ever want to give someone your credit card information at a garage sale? Not sure I would? Good idea for sellers though!

  2. says

    @ Andrea, that is a great idea!

    These are great tips. I held one recently and my sister was most impressed with how I handled some of the customers. I don’t allow my husband to help with them anymore. His job is to look after our daughters and my sister helps.

    We haven’t done the food thing either, but that’s because in Australia it is a bit trickier with rules and regulations on food stuff.
    Will be doing another in a few months.

    • says

      Yeah, it’s probably a good idea to have someone who is better at negotiating and dealing firmly with customers to deal with the shoppers. Some of them practically do it for a living and can be pretty tough. We had one guy try to bargain us down from $1 for two nice new bathroom rugs – unused. We finally gave in at 50 cents just to get rid of him!

  3. says

    Someone once gave me the tip to put the sale signs out on the street corner the night before, that way you don’t have to scramble to get them out at 6 a.m.

    I keep saying I’m never going to have one again, but then the stuff keeps accumulating in my garage, so I can’t quit. The idea to take credit cards is a good one. I may have to try that.

    • says

      That’s a good idea, something we should have done as we were scrambling around a bit the morning of the sale.

      Like you I’m always saying “never again” when it comes to yard sales, but my wife keeps convincing me otherwise!

  4. Kristine says

    I think it’s important to make sure you get your moneys worth (even if you just want to get rid of stuff). If you need help pricing your items accurately, but don’t want to spend time doing research yourself, I would recommend signing up for this new startup called Statricks. I just became a beta user myself, and you get price reports and fair market values for almost all used goods, so you know you don’t overpay or undersell your stuff.
    http://www.statricks.com/craigslist-used-pricing-tool.html?lrRef=FYHr0

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