Garage sale checklist: How to have a successful yard sale

Have you ever hosted a yard sale with dismal sales? You made a dollar per hour for your efforts. No fun.

Last weekend, I hosted a garage sale with my brother, my ex-wife, and my girlfriend. It was a raging success. We cleared out tons of stuff, and we netted over $2500 in the process.

I’ve hosted many yard sales over the years (and shopped at dozens more) and have developed some strong opinions about what works best. I’ve heard people complain that garage sales aren’t worth the time. But they can be quite profitable if you do a few simple things.

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Happy customers browsing our sale…

  • With so many tips, we divided them into ten main sections that cover all the aspects of hosting a yard sale.
  • If the subject was too large, we broke the main section down into sub-sections to highlight specific topics. Click on any of the hyperlinks to go immediately to that section or sub-section.
  • Yard Sale tips we consider essential are marked with a happy star ⭐. But don’t ignore the other tips! They’re all important to know.

Define Your Goal

The kind of event you hold depends on what you’re trying to accomplish, and it’s usually one of two things:

  • Get rid of stuff (fast) or …
  • Make as much money as possible.

What To Sell at a Garage Sale, by Season

Whether you’re trying to get the most money for your things or to sell them as quickly as possible, consider how timing can affect your choice of location, what you sell, how you advertise, and even how often you schedule yard sales.

For example, if you’re moving and you can’t take it with you, a yard sale is the perfect solution. But you may also be up against some tight deadlines that complicate things. How do you make it work in February, or if you only have a weekend, or you won’t have anyone to help you?

On the other hand, if you have a lot of time, you can maximize your result by scheduling a few events that target special or seasonal items. What should you know about merchandising to get the best price?

Depending on your area, you may find that one-day sales are more beneficial. Experiment with which day is best. Maybe a Thursday afternoon/Friday combination is great, or just Fridays.

⭐ You may think it’s best to schedule a yard sale in the summer months, but it’s possible to have a successful yard sale any time of year. In fact, you might even be able to capitalize on the fact that it’s February or November and there aren’t as many yard sales. Think about the pros and cons of each season.

Springtime

Advantages:

In northern climates, a yard sale in spring is an invitation to spend money after being cooped up all winter. There’s an air of optimism that could boost how much you’re able to sell.

Disadvantages:

Weather patterns are often unpredictable, and that could affect turnout. Pay particular attention to location and logistics. Shelter is critical to protect your merchandise and keep customers happy despite conditions.

Advertising:

Be clear about how rainy weather will affect the hours of your sale.

Good Items to Sell:

  • Sports equipment
  • Camping gear
  • Gardening tools
  • High-quality children’s clothing
  • Patio furniture

Summertime

Advantages:

The hot, sunny, lazy days of summer make it easier to attract a throng and hopefully increase sales. And since the days are longer, you may only need a single day to sell all your items.

Disadvantages:

Heat and humidity are concerns in summer, so it’s important to provide shade and a place for customers to sit.

Advertising:

It’s even more important to differentiate yourself in advertising. Find your hook free ice water, a kiddie pool, a neighborhood back-to-school sale.

Good Items to Sell:

  • Back-to-school clothes
  • Furniture and household goods for dorms/apartments
  • Outdoor toys bikes, camping gear
  • Books (especially children’s books)
  • Electronics

Autumn

Advantages:

Fall still offers pleasant weather, but the most hard-core (read: negotiate-like-crazy) customers are burned out.

Disadvantages:

Depending on your area, wind and weather patterns can be unstable. That doesn’t usually affect turnout, but it’s another reason to protect your merchandise.

Advertising:

Your customers may be looking for, or college students may need, your furniture and household goods to furnish dorms or apartments. Highlight these items in your advertising, as well. Maybe even title your sale as a Back-to-school yard sale!

Good Items to Sell:

  • Winter items
  • Exercise gear
  • Picture frames
  • Holiday decorations
  • Collectibles

Wintertime

Advantages:

In the lower latitudes, winter yard sales may continue on just as they do in the fall. Not so in the cold climate of the higher latitudes. Still, motivated buyers find motivated sellers in the winter months too. The winter months may be the best time to find bargain-hunters.

Disadvantages:

In winter, location and logistics are critical. A community or church hall may offer the best environment for a yard sale if they will work with you. Even a storage facility may permit a yard sale on their grounds if you’re a customer.

Advertising:

Give clear directions for parking and how to access any buildings.

Good Items to Sell:

  • Space heaters
  • Firewood
  • Tools
  • Furniture
  • Clean linens and blankets

Merchandise

Couple discussing what to sell at yard sale

With yard sales, word gets around. So stock your sale with lots of stuff to pull the biggest crowds and generate buzz.

  • Locate and sell anything you no longer want or need. Aaron LaPedis, author of The Garage Sale Millionaire, suggests taking an inventory of all of your possessions in order to determine what you should sell and what you should keep. “Make sure you go through your house top to bottom — every closet, drawer, nook, and cranny,” says LaPedis. “Nothing is too small or too big to sell.” And make sure you have enough stuff.
  • ⭐ Don’t base what you sell on what you would buy. You never know if someone likes to fix broken things or is looking for materials for an art project. If it’s something you don’t want and it’s safe, put it in your garage sale.
  • Offer to sell stuff for family and friends. Ask around to see if anyone has big-ticket items to sell. Not only does this help them, it also could potentially draw more customers to your sale.
  • Look beyond household stuff as your merchandise. Do you have plant starts you could pot and sell? How about leftover building or landscape materials?
  • Take the time to wipe off the dust and dirt. Clean stuff sells better. Period.

Differentiate!

Children at lemonade stand

All garage sales are basically the same. Find a way to set yours apart, whether it’s by theme, price, scale, or amenities. Last weekend, for instance, I billed ours as a “geek garage sale”, and emphasized that I had graphic novels, board games, and computer gear. My Craigslist ad brought folks from far and wide because of this. They bought the geeky stuff, but they also bought kitchen gadgets and yard art and clothing.

  • Label your sale. Lots of graphic novels, board games, and computer gear? Bill it as a “geek yard sale.” We did this last weekend and my Craigslist ad brought folks from far and wide because of this. They bought the geeky stuff, but they also bought kitchen gadgets and yard art and clothing.
  • Free delivery! If you have several large items to sell, another way to differentiate yourself is to find a couple of volunteers with trucks who wouldn’t mind delivering items — for free — after the sale.
  • Partner with your neighbors! Neighborhood garage sales attract tons more customers, so talk to your neighbors and spread the word ahead of time to arrange multiple sales. Find out what your neighbors are selling and offer to refer your customers to them. Or, better yet, hold your garage sale during an established entire-neighborhood garage sale day.
  • Offer free lemonade, cookies, or even just ice water. Most garage sales are held on hot days so a jug of watery lemonade or refreshing ice water is a nice gift for your customers. Don’t forget that visiting pets get thirsty too.
  • Engage the customers. Be friendly. Chat up the people who stop by. Be engaging. When parents with young children visit, I always find something to give the kids for free (often it’s whatever they’ve gravitated toward). I also throw in freebies for folks who buy lots of Stuff. This builds goodwill, especially among the other customers who are watching things transpire. I believe we sold more because Kim and Kris and I were friendly and fun.

How To Advertise for a Garage Sale

Bright orange yard sale sign

Getting the word out about your sale is critical to your success. In the old days, advertising meant sticking an ad in the newspaper, which would normally cost around $20. Newspapers may still be useful today, but other (free!) methods exist.

Here’s how to advertise to get more customers today.

Neighborhood Publications:

If you’re hosting a yard sale along with others in your neighborhood, check if they publish the yard sales. This may be free or cost a nominal fee.

Craigslist and Kijiji:

To get the most value from Kijiji and Craigslist ads:

  • Advertise the date and location of your sale.
  • Add pictures and descriptions of the nicer items.
  • ⭐ Put up ads for the most valuable things in their respective categories on Craigslist. Some people might not be browsing in the garage sale section but might see your ad for the table set in the furniture section and come to the sale for it and more stuff.
  • Once it sells, delete that listing immediately as a courtesy.

Make your Sale Shareable. Social Media is your Friend:

⭐ Facebook, Twitter, Instagram use them! The entire week before the sale, post on social media about your merchandise. Include pictures. During the day of the sale, update your status or tweet on what you still have available.

9 Tips for the Best Yard Sale Signs

Your goal is to get as much traffic as possible. If your signs are unclear or difficult to read, people won’t waste their time, especially if there are dozens of yard sales to choose from. Simple is best!

I’m shocked at how ineffective most garage sale signs are. It’s like people don’t care, or as if they don’t spend twenty seconds putting themselves in the shoes of their customers. Keep signs clean and neat. Make sure everything’s legible. Make sure nothing’s ambiguous. Clear signage is worth its weight in gold. Our signs included the address, the date and time of the sale, and an arrow pointing the way. I hung a dozen of them along the major traffic roads in the area, funneling people onto our street.

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Our signs also had the address and an arrow pointing the way…

Design to inform and intrigue

  1. Use bright colors to attract attention.
  2. Use a thick marker of a contrasting color to make big, bold text.
  3. Adding a border around your text may increase readability. Remember that your customers are cruising by at 35 miles per hour!
  4. Have large arrows pointing in the correct direction. It’s so much easier to follow arrows than to slow down to read an address.
  5. Remember that superlatives rule Awesome! Blowout! Epic!

Where’s your sign?

  1. Post multiple signs around your neighborhood.
  2. Place signs at nearby major intersections and at each turn along the way.
  3. Also, take a practice drive past one of your signs. Do people have time to read it, make a decision, and make the turn, before they’ve driven past it?
  4. After the sale is over, remove all the signs!

Garage Sale Supplies

Folding table with clothes for sale

The right supplies can make your sale run more smoothly. So as you get closer to the big day, gather everything you need.

  1. Borrow tables and shelves to display your merchandise. Having a check-out table can be helpful. It helps people know exactly where to go to ask a question, and placing the table near the exit allows you to welcome people in while watching that they don’t walk off with anything.
  2. ⭐ Apron or fanny pack for the money. I use a cheap cloth apron/utility belt from the local hardware store. It works beautifully. Some people use fanny pack or a zippered bank deposit pouch.
  3. Markers, scissors, masking tape, price stickers, and poster board. As you change prices throughout the day, you’ll use these items. Also, use these supplies to mark items that are NOT for sale.
  4. Paper/pencil. Use this as a ledger to jot down a description of each item and how much you sold it for or to place stickers on a page for each seller. (This can help make it easier to settle up after the sale if you have a neighborhood event.)
  5. Calculator. Having a calculator will expedite your checkout line and make it easier if you’re not especially gifted at math!
  6. Batteries. Keep an assortment of batteries on hand so that a prospective buyer can test that old Nintendo Gameboy for himself.
  7. Extension cords. If you are selling electrical items, make sure you have an extension cord handy or display these items near a plug so people can test them.
  8. Bags/boxes for customer purchases. Collect free bags/boxes before your sale so your customers can haul away their purchases.
  9. Hangers and a method to hang clothes. Searching through hanging clothes is much easier than pawing through a table covered with clothes.
  10. Plenty of cash. Get two rolls of quarters, a stack of 50 $1 bills, 10 $5 bills, and 5 $10 bills. Do it two days before the sale so that, if you forget, you can still get the change on the day before.

Pricing for a Garage Sale

$1 price tag

Know your purpose. “There are two types of garage sales,” an old man told me last weekend. “One is to make money. The other is to get rid of Stuff.” Know which type of sale you’re holding and why. Your purpose will affect how much you negotiate and how much you give away for free.

As mentioned above, be clear on the purpose of your sale. Are you selling things to make money or to get rid of them? This question affects everything you do, from how you price things to how willing you are to negotiate. Surprisingly, you can often make more money (and get rid of more junk) by pricing things low. (If your goal is to get top dollar, you should really be selling on eBay or Craigslist.)

Oh, and lose your sentimental attachment. Unfortunately, no one cares how much you paid for an item or how many memories are attached to it. It’s a sunk-cost. They just want a bargain!

How to Price Yard Sale Items

Know the value of your items. By doing some research on eBay or Craigslist, you might discover that some of your items are worth way more than you thought. However, this does not mean you should actually charge those prices. By attending yard sales yourself, you’ll have a general idea of what an acceptable price is. Also, you’re probably safe by pricing things somewhat below what the area thrift stores charge.

  1. Don’t price your stuff too low. People like to bargain, so allow some wiggle room. Also, you want to make money. You can always have a 50-percent-off sale over the last couple hours.
  2. Price items like a store. If you have a lot of something, “Buy 3, get 1 free” works really well.
  3. Other pricing strategies. Fill this box for $10 or fill this bag for $5. Anything not valuable can go on tables dedicated to that and you will get rid of all sorts of stuff that people might not buy individually but might stuff in a box.

To Price or not to Price

Pricing items is a pain, no question.

  • Some people find it more profitable not to price anything because customers are turned off if the price is too high.
  • However, most customers prefer priced items, if only as a starting point for haggling.
  • Opting for a hybrid approach may require pricing larger items, or grouping like items on a table and then placing a sign on the table for the prices.
  • You can also place anything worth less than $5 or $10 on a table with a note to make an offer.
  • Another innovative approach is to mark by colored stickers only and having a master price list or two. As the day goes on, you can easily change the master price lists without changing prices on the individual items.

Be Willing to Bargain, but be Less Flexible at the Start

If you just want to get rid of your stuff, you probably won’t mind haggling over anything.

But if you’re interested to make some money for your efforts, don’t haggle over a low-priced item or two. If your customers buy several things, cut them a deal.

Also don’t cut prices by much the morning of the sale, unless they are buying a ton of stuff. Tell them that you’ll cut prices a couple of hours before the end of the sale, and if they’re willing to take the chance, they can come back later. Or offer to take their phone number, and say “I’m sorry, but I’m not comfortable selling it at that price. Would you like me to call you if it’s still here at the end of the day?”

By the end of the sale, it’s best to practically give things away rather than face the prospect of having to deal with it later.

Staging

Clothes on rack at yard sale

Too many garage sales are a haphazard collection of Stuff piled every which way. Don’t be like that. Take lessons from supermarkets and department stores. “Organize things so they’ll catch the shopper’s eye,” Kris says. “And don’t have depressing music playing.” (At the start of the sale, I had some New Age music on the stereo. “It sounds like a funeral,” she told me. She had me put on Elton John’s greatest hits instead, and people loved it. Sales improved!)

If you really want more bang for your buck, borrow from the big retailers’ playbook for how to display your merchandise.

  1. Prepare your window display. How do regular stores get people to stop in? By creating intriguing/beautiful/interesting window displays. You won’t have window displays but use the concept. You can lure more customers by placing highly-desirable items near the road.
  2. Move your customers to the right. For whatever reason, shoppers prefer to move through stores counter-clockwise. To get your customers to do the same, you can set up a table with free lemonade to the right, or display good items (but probably not the most expensive), or colorful, items to the right. You may want to place your most expensive/desirable items in the back of the garage, on the wall. As long as your customers can see these items from the garage door, they will walk past all your other items first.
  3. Display items to their advantage. Too many garage sales are a haphazard collection of stuff piled every which way. Customers want bargains with the feel of a store. Put the highest value items at eye level or clearly marked on a high-value table. Organize things so they’ll catch the shopper’s eye. Hang up clothes, sorted by size, with the sizes clearly labeled.
  4. Slow your customers down. Instead of lining your garage with long tables, consider staggering them in such a way that your customers slow down — without creating bottlenecks, of course.
  5. Make it cohesive. Establish themes. While you can group like items together, also consider grouping items of the same color, or by theme. One theme could be music: Gather old instruments, CDs, and old speakers together.
  6. Shed a little light. Lighting is important in big box stores, and it’s just as important at your yard sale. Make sure all light bulbs are working in the garage. Consider setting up table lamps and white Christmas lights to brighten the atmosphere.
  7. Promote expensive items. Big-ticket items can be tough to sell, but you can do it with a little extra effort. For example, if you have a digital camera to sell, gather all the bits and pieces and place them together on a table along with a printout of the Amazon page for the camera.
  8. Think like a customer. As soon as you’ve opened and fielded the initial flood of shoppers, walk through your sale as if you were there to buy something. How does it feel? Are things clearly marked? Is it easy to move around? Visualize any potential bottleneck areas. Are your books on the ground in boxes or are they placed neatly on shelves and tables? As things sell, move items around to fill in the gaps.
  9. Make it easy for shoppers to test electronic items. If it is a sound or video electrical item, take a retailing idea from the pros and set it up to play. A TV that is playing will sell much better than one that is off. This is also true of sound electronics. Play videos on TV. People will start watching and ask to buy the video.
  10. Create visual interest. While you want all the customers to see into your garage clearly, don’t forget that staggering items at various heights along your garage walls creates visual interest and allows better visualization.
  11. Display impulse purchases. Wherever customers check out, conspicuously place inexpensive, fun items.
  12. Have a box of free stuff. Nothing is more fun than finding something for nothing, so place a large, well-marked “FREE” box close to the curb. Mention the free box on the main Craigslist ad and place an individual Craigslist listing in the Free category.
  13. Complementary items. Have a pile of complimentary items and let buyers pick one item to go with each purchase. It could be any old junk, but people will love getting a freebie.
  14. Set up a lemonade stand. Instead of giving away free lemonade, your child can sell lemonade — and make her own money!
  15. Be the Pinterest of yard sales. Your customers may think something looks cool, but they aren’t really sure how they’ll use it. Consider displaying some of your merchandise on furniture you have for sale. By displaying the item in an interesting way, or even printing out some craft projects you found on Pinterest, you may inspire your customer to take the treasure home.

Avoiding Problems

Young woman holding alarm clock

The Early Birds

Warn in your ads that “early birds pay double.” Otherwise, you’ll be stuck fumbling for change and entertaining these folks rather than getting your items ready. Or if you don’t want early birds to show up, don’t put your entire address in your ad. Then, just before you open, put out the signs and open the garage door. And don’t take money (meaning, no sales) until you are ready.

Future Burglars

Unless you personally know them, don’t allow anyone in your house. If they ask for a bathroom, direct them to the closest public restroom.

Do NOT Use a Cash Box

Carry your money on you at ALL times. You don’t want to present a target for casual thieves. More than that, you don’t want to be duped by professional swindlers who run distraction con games. It happens. It is devastating to see the profits from all your labor and the proceeds from your hard-to-part-with items vanish in an instant. This happened to a woman on our street on the last day of the sale last year. Do NOT use a cash box. I use a cheap cloth apron/utility belt from the local hardware store. It works beautifully. Some people use fanny pack or a zippered bank deposit pouch.

Don’t Bad-Mouth your Items

A decade ago, Kris and I held a garage sale with a group of friends. One guy constantly told customers what was wrong with the items they were purchasing. “Oh, that book is awful. That’s a terrible movie. That skillet doesn’t heat very well. That game is boring. Needless to say, we sent this friend inside to drink beer ASAP. Your goal is to sell the items. Don’t lie — just emphasize the positives. Oh, that book is very popular. That movie won three Oscars. That skillet is great for pancakes. That game is fun for kids.

The Hostess with the Mostest

If having a group yard sale, pick the best location in terms of traffic or accessibility or parking (and don’t forget to clear parking spots on the big day for customers). Offer the host a bonus such as a percent of the sale or a hosting fee. Also, go over ground rules such as the bargaining policy, etc.

(If you have an option to select the home where the sale is hosted, select a home with a shaded drive, if possible.)

Wrapping It Up

Free yard sale items

Have a plan for what you’ll do with your unsold merchandise.

  • Some non-profits will pick up unsold stuff, so research this ahead of time.
  • If you are going to drop anything off at a thrift store, know their drop-off times/days. Also, check to see if there are any limitations on what they accept.
  • Post on the local freecycle (www.freecycle.org) that, after a certain time, whatever is left is free for the taking — and remember to include your address. If you’re lucky, people will schlepp it away for you!

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Even after years of purging, I still have too many books…

We’d only intended for ours to be a two-day sale, but we did so well that we decided to open Sunday too. This time, we re-branded. Because we still had shelves filled with classics, graphic novels, and photography manuals, we billed ourselves as a “book sale”. Surprisingly, this still brought folks in. Traffic was much lighter than previous days, but we still cleared $400.

In the end, we sold $2,454.90 worth of Stuff. Kim and Kris and Jeff didn’t do as well as I did — none of them spent a lifetime making foolish financial choices and “collecting” books and records and comics and other toys — but everyone seemed happy with the money they earned. And as for me? After years of battles, I think I’ve finally won the war on Stuff!

A great yard sale begins with a great plan. What are your best yard sale tips?

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