It’s easier than ever to turn unwanted clutter into cold cash. Reliable standbys like Craigslist sales and Ebay auctions are now joined by local marketplaces like Nextdoor and platforms like Facebook Marketplace, and category-specific marketplaces like Sellcell (electronics) and Kidizen (for baby clothes and kid’s accessories).
Yet, some things never change. When you need to sell lots of individual items quickly, your best move is a decidedly non-digital one: throw an old school garage sale. Call it a “yard sale” if you prefer, but the meaning is clear: it’s an “everything must go” liquidation of the stuff you’ve accumulated over the years, advertised locally, and held on your property.
Throwing a garage sale is no easy feat. If you don’t plan and execute the event properly, there’s a very real chance it will pass more or less unnoticed, leaving you with a bit less cash, a lot less self-respect, and a mountain of unsold inventory to unload.
On the bright side, planning and pulling off a profitable garage sale doesn’t require an MBA. You’ll earn more and stress less when you follow this straight-forward, four-step process for garage sale success.
Step 1: Plan Your Sale
Begin planning your garage sale weeks, if not months, before you greet your first customer.
Pick a Date
First you need to choose a time and date for your garage sale. Consider these facts:
- Day of the Week. Saturday, Friday, and Sunday (in that order) are the best garage sale hosting days. Why Friday over Sunday? Because not everyone works on Friday, especially in the summer, and Sunday can be at-home “family time” for many would-be buyers.
- Time of Day. Morning is ideal. Many seasoned garage sale pickers are early birds who get out early to beat the crowds and find the best deals. Morning sales beat the heat of the day in summer anyway. Don’t be shy about starting your sale at 7am on Saturday morning, assuming it’s light by then.
- Time of the Month. The first week of the month is best. Many small-business owners, contractors, and solopreneurs receive a disproportionate amount of income around the first of the month, so your buyers could be comparatively flush at the time.
- Seasonality. In many parts of the country garage sale season runs from early spring through early summer. Fall is a good second choice for sellers targeting early holiday shoppers. Whenever you plan it, avoid scheduling your sale when it’s likely to be sweltering.
- Competing or Complementary Events. Finally, consider what else is happening when you plan to host your garage sale. You don’t want to go against major competing events, such as your town’s high school graduation. You also might want to time your sale to coincide with complementary events such as arts festivals that bring lots of foot traffic to your neighborhood or seasonal “garage sale days” sanctioned by your local government.
With these considerations in mind, pick a sales date and a back up date (usually the next day) in case of bad weather.
Gather Your Goods
With your date set, it’s time to identify everything you plan to sell at your sale. Do the following:
Box Up Your Home’s Storage Spaces
Grab boxes and go through your attic, basement, garage, closets….anywhere you’re likely to find long-forgotten stuff. This is a great chance to declutter and downsize your house.
Don’t underestimate the value of what you find, as garage sale pickers are apt to buy anything from apparently worthless old CDs to disused bottles of perfume to electronic accessories (like chargers and power strips) that have no further use to you. The worst case scenario is that something doesn’t sell.
Set your boxes of smaller sale items, grouped by similar items that go together, in an indoor storage area for now.
Mark Larger Items for Sale
Identify and mark furniture, non-sentimental (and low-value) artwork, yard equipment and other bulky items you plan to sell. Don’t bother moving these until sale day, just don’t forget that you plan to sell them.
Put Out a Call for Consignments
Send out an email or text to friends and family members inviting them to sell items at your sale on consignment. Keep the arrangement invite only and limit consignments to relatively small items, as a free-for-all can quickly spiral out of control and take over your driveway.
Work out an equitable split with each consignment partner. Ideally you’d take a small cut of the sale and they’d keep the rest and set a date to deliver their wares.
Check on Permits
Many places require permits for publicly advertised sales or private property. Before you get too deep into the planning process, check your city or county government website to determine if you need one. If you do, you can almost certainly apply online.
Most locales don’t charge application fees, but don’t let that lull you into thinking the authorities look the other way at illegal garage sales. You could be looking at fines well into three-figure territory if you’re caught running an unpermitted sale. If you live in an HOA community, check with the board about garage sale rules and regulations.
Step 2: Promote Your Sale
Advertise your garage sale at least a week in advance and longer if it’s part of an organized neighborhood event.
Use Newspaper Classifieds
Newspapers classified aren’t what they used to be, but don’t count them out. If your hometown still has a well-read local newspaper or thriving community publication (especially if it’s free and delivered automatically to every residential address in the area) you can bet deal-hunters use the classified sections to sniff out local garage sales.
Classified ad pricing usually involves a flat fee for a maximum word count (say, 25 words) and a per-word surcharge for additional verbiage, calculated on a weekly basis.
You shouldn’t need to advertise your sale more than two weeks out, and the Sunday paper on the weekend before your sale might be all that’s necessary.
In your ad mention particularly enticing or valuable items such as furniture, collectibles, and small engine equipment like lawn mowers and leaf blowers. Include your address, phone number, and sale date and time (as well as backup date and time).
Advertise on the Internet
You can advertise for free on dozens of reputable websites that trade in local sale advertisements. The most useful and widely visited are:
- Garage Sale Finder
- Yard Sale Search
Because they’re much less stingy with their word counts, these sites give you more freedom to describe your sale and list important individual items for sale.
However, because they tend to list sales as they’re posted, online listings are actually better left to the last minute. You can wait until two or three days before your sale date (or the first day of a multi-day sale) to put up your first ad.
To save yourself time and avoid errors, write your ad in a word processing program and copy and paste it to each listing website.
Make Garage Sale Signs
Check the laws in your area before putting out signs advertising your garage sale as they’re banned in some jurisdictions. Again, your city or county government website should have detailed information about outdoor advertising restrictions.
If signs are permitted in your area, use a bright, solid poster board and dark Sharpie for effect. Write “garage sale” and your address in big letters with an arrow pointing in the general direction of your house. Use wooden paint mixing sticks to secure ground signs or a wood stapler to affix to power poles.
Take advantage of community boards as well, keeping in mind that your signage can be more detailed and less gaudy here.
Step 3: Prep for Sale Day
Spend the week before your sale prepping for the big event.
Make sure you have everything you need at least a day before the garage sale starts. You’ll need:
- Chairs for you and any helpers
- A main table for making change and bagging up small items
- A cash register or money box
- Enough flat surface area to display everything you intend to sell
- Enough rack space and hangers for clothing
- Stickers or tags to display pricing information
Reserve proper tables, including outdoor furniture and folding tables, for delicate items that can’t be placed on blankets or tarps. Set these away from the main flow of traffic to avoid preventable catastrophes.
Make creative use of fixed yard fixtures, such as retaining walls and terraces, to create additional surface space. Don’t be afraid to ask friends to borrow tables and the like as needed.
Get Set to Accept Payments
Mobile payment technology is ubiquitous these days, but some garage sale buyers still prefer cash. That means you’ll need plenty of change in your cash box to break $20s and $50s early in the day.
Visit the bank a few days before your sale and pick up at least $100 in change. A suggested breakdown:
- 10 $5 bills
- 30 $1 bills
- 80 quarters
While at the bank, pick up a reusable cash envelope from your house (or repurpose a large envelope from your house) to ferry cash to a secure location inside. You don’t want random people ogling the hundreds in cash you’re likely to have on hand at the end of a busy sale.
After visiting the bank, download at least one secure P2P payment app to accept electronic payments as well. Checkout Venmo, PayPal, and the Cash App.
Also consider investing in a portable credit card reader so that you can accept credit cards onsite, but this is only usually necessary if you have big ticket items for sale.
Sort Your Items
Sort your items before you price them. This ensures your garage sale remains organized and attractive to potential buyers. Use a low traffic room in your house, preferably on the ground level, as a staging area.
Bring all your non-bulky items there and divide them into general categories: clothes (possibly divided into men’s, women’s, and children’s), books, home goods, toys, and so on.
Price Your Items
Price items likely to sell individually accordingly. Don’t attempt to save time by creating high-priced lots out of multiple clothing items or pieces of cookware. Also, don’t dump like-priced items into a single bin that buyers need to fish through.
However, you can (and should) create lots for lower value items buyers are likely to want in bulk, such as paperback books and CDs. These items can also be priced in a “5 for $5” type manner to account for differing tastes. (Who knew someone would want Beethoven and Bruce Springsteen??)
Use manila tape and Sharpie to price items rather than specialized price tags. Price tags don’t really do anything special, and they cost way more than simple tape.
Also resist the temptation to over price items on the expectation that every buyer will haggle. Some will, but many others won’t bother. They’ll simply walk away from high-priced items.
Organize & Arrange Your Sale
Now it’s time to set up your items for display.
Arrange your table and hangers the night before your garage sale. You simply won’t have time to do a good job the morning of the sale, particularly if you hope to get an early start.
If you don’t have enough table space for every item, store the remainder in boxes or laundry baskets containing like items.
Secure everything in your garage overnight (with overflow in your laundry room area) and prepare to get up early to put everything out on the day of your sale.
Make a drawing on sale day if you’re worried about where to locate each element during the presale rush.
Step 4: Host Your Sale
The big day (or weekend) is here. Time to put these time tested garage sale tips into action.
Give yourself at least an hour before the garage sale starts to get everything out and put up signs.
You’ll need at least one helper to move everything safely. You’ll also need to set up your change station, preferably in a shaded area with a sturdy table and comfortable chair.
Before your sale opens, put one last garage sale sign out on the street to ensure no would-be buyers pass by your place, and position your chairs so it’s clearly visible as buyers walk toward your house.
Work the Crowd
Greet everyone who shows up at your sale, no matter how interested (or well-off they appear).
Don’t follow would-be buyers around or offer unprompted commentary about your wares. Instead, make it clear that you are available to answer questions, assume a friendly demeanor, and stay seated. When someone has a question or wants to buy something, they’ll come to you.
Be Prepare to Haggle
You’ll almost certainly haggle with would-be buyers at some point during your sale. Don’t be over eager and always have a firm “bottom dollar” in mind.
If your prep work has paid off and the weather has cooperated, you can count on a steady flow of buyers to take the place of stingy hagglers. Reserve your negotiation strategies for the afternoon or the last day of a multi-day sale.
Deal with Leftovers
You’re going to have leftovers at the end of the day or weekend. Rather than put it out on the curb with a big “free” sign, figure out how to make the most of it. If things go well, you might make a decent amount of money off it.
Do the following:
- Sell Valuable Leftovers Individually – Use Craigslist, Nextdoor, Facebook Marketplace, and other reputable, secure marketplaces to get rid of pricier items like furniture and electronics.
- Donate Less Valuable Leftovers to a Non-profit or Thrift Store – Goodwill takes just about any safe non-perishable item you could think of to donate. So do many locally-owned thrift stores. If you itemize your tax deductions rather than claim the standard deduction, you could significantly reduce your federal income tax burden using the applicable tax deduction for charitable donations on your income tax.
If you’ve never hosted a garage sale before, set your expectations now. It’s going to be a lot of work.
These garage sales tips will help, but they won’t change the fact that between now and your sale day, you’ll spend hours organizing your items, setting prices, writing ad copy, and picking up supplies.
On the big day itself you’ll spend the entire day (from early morning until well into the afternoon) pulling the sale off. If you have lots left over, expect to spend hours more disposing of unsold inventory.
But don’t despair! A successful garage sale will leave you with a less cluttered, better organized home, and a wad of extra cash to spend or save as you wish.
At Innovative Concrete Coatings we are all about garages. Call us today at (843) 416-6759 and let’s discuss how we can transform your garage!