Having a Successful Yard Sale
Hi, my name is Chris and I am addicted to yard sales. I am a firm believer in one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. I am so addicted that I even have DREAMS about going to yard sales. Is that sick or what?? (Please don't tell my husband, his ego would be CRUSHED!)
Some people have the misconception that only poor people go to yard sales or have them. Besides saving money, yard sale shopping helps the environment, since you don't get all that excess packaging. You also find unique items you can't just pick up at the mall. Even when you do buy something brand new, the next day it will be considered "used".
First let me say that having a successful yardsale is HARD work! I'm not going to sugar-coat it and say that it's a piece of cake. Let's say you have a busy yardsale that started at 8am, by 11am, you'll swear that it feels like 4pm and you'll be ready for a nap. After my last yardsale, I ended up with a 2" wide black and blue mark on my leg and I have no idea how I got it.
Find out if there are any restrictions your neighborhood or local government may have regarding yard sales / garage sales. Some areas may require a permit and have a limit on how many yardsales (or garage sales) a person is allowed to have per year or whatever.
Advertise your yardsale on the web for free!! There are several places online that have free yardsale ads. Check out my Related Links for details. Your local community may even have it's own website with free online classifieds.
Advertise in your local newspaper, especially if where you live doesn't get a lot of traffic. If you are unsure of what to say in your ad, read some other ads and copy bits and pieces from them. Ask your neighbors if they want to split the cost of a newspaper ad and hold a multi-family yardsale. The day of your sale, it's nice if you happen to know what other sales are going on in your area so you can direct customers to other nearby sales.
Be aware that there are laws regarding the placement of signage (like yardsale signs). Some areas are lax in enforcement of the laws and others are strict. Most places have laws on the books that read something to the effect of: It is illegal to post, without a city or county permit, private signs on a Public Right of Way. "Public Right of Way" is commonly defined as both sidewalks on either side of a street and everything in between (including the grassy medians between the sidewalks and gutters, medians, traffic signs and light pole, trees and foliage, fences, etc."). Ok, so don't say that I didn't warn you!!!
Put up advertisements on bulletin boards in your community (grocery stores, community center, etc). Spread the news of your yardsale via word of mouth too to co-workers, friends etc. When I have a yardsale, I put up signs in my neighborhood the evening before my sale (or very early in the morning the day of the sale) directing customers to my house. Drawing arrows on the signs helps. Use sturdy cardboard and make the sign legible. I saw one yardsale where their signs were cut in shape of of arrows - made it easy to find the sale considering there were many turns involved. Using regular construction paper for signs is too flimsy, and trying to read magic marker from the road is difficult.
It takes time to make good looking, sturdy, readable homemade yardsale signs (then you have to deal with how to put them up). I have a some yardsale signs from Sassy Signs, their signs are colorful, easy to put up and take down and reusable (I like them since they really are sassy, funky and freestanding). A million times nicer than my old pizza box yardsale signs! If you order them, use the coupon code "queen" and get a $1 off!
Check with your county government or homeowner's association to see if there are restrictions on yard sale signs. Where I live, a nearby neighborhood only allows freestanding yardsale signs. Those attached to street signs get torn down every morning by their Security Patrol - I've seen it happen.
Another idea for signs is to use paper grocery bags to draw your signs on then fill the bottom with heavy rocks, stuff with newspaper and staple shut. Ta da! - easy, portable signs that you can just place on the ground. If you use crayon to make your signs, the lettering won't run if it gets wet. I use a permanent marker and make the lettering extra extra wide. The yardsale signs that look like they were written with a ballpoint pen drive me nuts!
Avoid putting your signs on utility poles. The staples and nails used to affix signs to the poles can pose a safety hazard to the linemen who have to climb the poles. Nails and staples can tear safety equipment such as gloves, harnesses and clothing (and hands, arms and legs too). Depending on where you live, you could even be breaking the law by attaching signs to utility poles. If your area allows it, affix signs to street signs or buy some inexpensive stakes and put your signs on those. Some communities have rules about affixing yard sale signs to street signs so make sure you follow the rules. I guess I should tell you that I think nailing signs to trees are a big no-no too! Another sign suggestion: buy the cheap wire landscaping fencing (I often see it for sale at yardsales!), cut sections apart, draw your sign on a paper bag. Put the paper bag over the fence and staple the bag closed at bottom.
If you want your 5 year old to help with your yardsale, fine. But don't give them the sign making duties. I can't count the number of bad yardsale signs I have seen (unreadable, lettering too small, etc). Also signs made by pre-teens are bad too - totally unreadable with their big bubble lettering adorned with flowers and butterflies. It's helpful to have all your signs look similar (same colored lettering or same colored cardboard used - that way when people are following your signs, they'll know they are following YOUR signs!
After your signs are up, drive past them and see if you can read them easily, because if you can’t, nobody else can either. Don't try to cram too many words on the signs. All that's really needed on signs are words: yard sale (or garage sale), the date of sale, street name and a bold arrow pointing the way. And most importantly, after your sale is over, TAKE YOUR SIGNS DOWN or else the Yardsale Gods will be mad and cause a thunderstorm for your next yardsale.
I think it's impossible to have the "perfect" yardsale. Some things are just unpredictable so you just have to quickly adjust and go with the flow. At my last yardsale I ran out of $5's. Although I started with lots of small bills and change at the beginning of the sale, it seemed that everyone that day wanted to pay with a $20 bill. At another sale, I underestimated the amount of grocery bags I would need to bag items.
Avoid having a perpetual never-ending yardsale. You know what I'm talking about, the people who seem to have a yard sale every weekend. I think it's just tacky. I'm sure they don't make raving fans out of their neighbors who have to deal with the increased noise and traffic every weekend.
Before deciding to have a yardsale at your house, consider if you have adequate parking to handle an additional 4 or 5 cars parked near your house at one time. If not, consider suggesting to a good friend (who has plenty of parking at their house and has a prime yardsale location) if they'd like to have a yardsale with you at THEIR house. But the trouble with that is, you'll end up using all your yardsale profits to buy your friend's stuff and vice versa. Another option is to rent a table or space at a fundraising yardsale put on by a local church, school or civic group.
Don't pick a holiday weekend (Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day) to have your sale. You'll generally have a better turnout if its a non-holiday weekend. Exception would be if you live on a road that a lot of tourists will drive by in order to get to the beach. It's really just the holidays where people are known to do a lot of traveling. Holidays like Mother's Day, Father's Day are ok.
Expect early birds. Some sellers love them, others hate them. If you really don't want them, consider putting "NO EARLY BIRDS" in your ad. Then if people show up before your start time just say "Prices before 8am are doubled (or tripled)". Someone told me that once at their yardsale, they had a sign that read "Early Birds will be Shot!" Voila! Problem solved. I've also heard that some particularly pesky yardsale early birds have been known to "drop in" the day before the sale and say they aren't able to come the next day and ask to shop early. Mainly these are experienced dealers who want to find diamonds in the rough that they'll turn around and sell for a tidy profit in their antique store. If you've had problems in the past, in your newspaper ad, you may just want to put the street name (block #) on the ad. Example: yardsale in 200 block of Elm Street. Generally I don't mind some early birds, but those who are only a little bit early, say 15 minutes or so. I don't want people camped out at 5am in front of my house or anything.
Know when the major employers in your area get paid. If you know the biggest employer in the area only pays on the 1st of the month (or whatever) then schedule your yardsale for the following Saturday. Other people have told me the same thing about waiting until after the monthly Social Security checks come out.
Months before your yard sale, start accumulating the items you want to sell. Put all the items in a box in some out-of-the-way place. If you don’t have to retrieve an item out of the box before the sale, it's probably safe to assume you don’t need it. If you still have the original boxes and instruction manuals for an item, you can probably charge a little bit more for it. Remember, one person's trash is another person's treasure. Even if you think Aunt Edna's crocheted orange toilet seat cover deserves to go in the trash, it may be the first thing that sells! Even if you don't have months to accumulate the stuff, I've had yardsales with just a week or so notice and just went starting rummaging thru the house looking for junk errrr...treasures to sell.
As you accumulate stuff for your sale, make sure you do not sell something that you'll regret later. Do not sell anything without the owner's approval. (Example: your grown children's old toys, baseball card collections, etc.) I hate reading the ads in the yard sale section of the newspaper that say "will the person who bought the purple widget this past Saturday on Maple Street, please call ...., it was sold by mistake, has sentimental value." I saw an newspaper ad like that last summer - it said "Will the person who bought the buyable on the Elm Street yardsale please call ____ it was sold by mistake". And I'm thinking, what the heck is a "buyable"?? Then I saw a different newspaper with same ad but it was spelled corrrectly: Bible.
Don't insult your customers. Here are a few examples of what not to do. If a heavy person is looking thru your size 2 petite clothes - let them. Don't pipe up and say something like "I don't think I have any clothing your size". The person may be looking for items for a friend or daughter etc. I had a yardsale seller burst my bubble last summer - she had boxes of some sort of soy menopause chocolate bars she was trying to sell. I wasn't even looking at them and she said "Are you going thru menopause? These bars are GREAT. They really helped me". Sheesh!!! I was under the false impression I could be mistaken for a woman in her early 30's. Or even late 20's (haha) Now if she wanted to get on my good side, she could have said "I know you are too young to be going thru menopause but if you know anyone who is...these bars are great..yadda yadda".
If you are setting up your yardsale in your yard (rather than driveway or garage), make sure grass has been cut recently (but not too recently - you don't want big wet clumps of grass sticking to people's shoes). Fill in any ruts in the ground. You don't want people to trip. Also if you are having a yardsale - as opposed to a garage sale - and have a dog that routinely poops in your yard where you expect people to be walking around, do some pooperscooping before the sale.
Although you may have the friendliest dog in the world, it's best to keep them away from your yard sale. Some people are afraid of dogs or are allergic. The day of your yard sale may be the day that your friendly dog, unaccustomed to the excitment of all the people, may decide to take a chunk out of the toddler that pulls on his tail. (Or jump up on customer and get mud on a customer's pants - but hey, I swear it wasn't my fault - that customer shouldn't have come to my yardsale until I was officially opened!) It's also for the dog's safety as well, since cars will be coming and going from your driveway.
I like yard sales where people have put prices on everything. The price should be on top of an item, not on the bottom. I know it’s a lot of work, but worth it because you won’t have people asking every two minutes, "how much do you want for this?" As a general rule of thumb, price items about a quarter or third of what they would cost new. There are exceptions (see next item). Clothes are generally very poor sellers, unless it’s baby/kids clothes. But if you price adult-sized clothes cheap enough, it will sell regardless. People are reluctant to pay a lot of money for clothes they can't try on, but will gamble if it's only $1 or so. I recommend taking some of your "nicer" clothes to consignment stores, rather than trying to sell them at a yard sale. A rule on price: you can always go down on a price, but you can never go back up. If you don’t have time to price everything individually, signs are helpful, such as "all books .25 each" or "any piece of clothes $1.00", or "anything on this table .50". You also can offer the customers a deal, example: paperbacks .25 each or 5 for $1.
When pricing items, keep in mind that "a third of what it costs new" is only a guideline. No one cares that you paid $75 for your advanced quantum physics book 10 years ago. You'll be lucky to sell it at all. Try to look at your stuff objectively. Do you really think people will be knocking down your door to get at your old t-shirts with stains on them? That's why they make good rags. If you have a bunch of items that are missing pieces or broken, put it in your FREE box with a note "broken - good for parts" or something similar.
Another thing about pricing - I think the bigger the item, the bigger the price tag should be. Make it obvious. If you're selling a sofa - you can't expect the buyer to be looking all over for some tiny dot sticker. Take a full sheet of paper and put the price and list any good selling points or flaws: "Sofa - $200 Firm - only 3 years old - comes with 2 coordinating pillows". When I wanted to sell a junky lawnmower at my last yardsale , I took a 3" x 5" card and wrote: "Lawnmower $5 - As is. Has fuel leak but starts." It sold.
Before your sale, look thru the boxes of everything you sell. As a yardsale shopper, I've often found old credit card receipts (complete with full numbers) in old shoes boxes or in books as bookmarks.
Use commonsense and don't prop up a nice framed picture against a rocking chair on a very windy day. No, I didn't do it but I was at a yardsale where the seller had a lot of glass shards to clean up.
When selling clothes (and coats) take a minute and go thru the pockets. I know a yardsailor who once found a $20 bill in a jacket that she paid $5 for.
If you are displaying clothes on a clothes rack, I always use the cheapy metal hangers. That way if the buyer wants to keep the hanger, they can. I don't use nicer hangers because everytime I've used nicer hangers, the buyer will say "Oh, can't I just have the hanger?" or "Oh, I thought the hanger was included".
When selling books and CDs - arrange in a box so the titles can be easily read by the customers. I go to many yardsales where books and cds are a big jumbled mess - that gives me the impression that the sellers don't care about their stuff and probably didn't take good care of it when they had it in the first place.
Put some effort into your sale and really try to sell stuff by making it the most attractive it can be. If the first thing that someone picks up is nasty and dirty, it may turn them off to looking at other things you have to sell. If you are selling an old basketball, make sure it is full of air. If you are selling a tv, have it turned on. If something needs batteries to run, put batteries in it so it works - it will help it sell. (But don't put in brand new batteries, use some half-used batteries. I have a collection of used batteries for this purpose - they aren't strong enough to power my digital camera anymore, but still have enough juice to run kid's electronic toys etc). However, don't go overboard in cleaning and spend 3 hours working on an item that you only plan to price at $1. If all people see from the road is a tarp with a mountain of clothes heaped on it, they'll likely drive by. Ask friends/neighbors to loan you portable tables if necessary. Nothing worse than going to a yardsale and just seeing boxes of dirty, unorganized cobwebbed junk on the ground expecting people to fish through it. Meanwhile the seller is just sitting there having their coffee chatting with neighbors and ignoring the potential customers. These people probably wonder why they never have successful yard sales.
Yard sales are more relaxing if there is some background music on. Have easy-listening middle-of-the-road type music on, not MegaDeath Slaughterhouse. That allows customers to discuss potential purchases privately with their shopping partners, without feeling like they have to whisper.
Display some of your more interesting items at the end of your driveway to act as a magnet to lure people in (see next tip). Some people will just drive by slowly and take a quick look to determine if it looks worthwhile to stop. Some sellers prefer to be stationed at the end of their merchandise, closest to the street. It prevents people from "forgetting" to pay for an item and they can also easily answer someone who drives by and asks "do you have any LP's?"
A tip from a reader: ever notice how hard a woman has to work to convince a man to stop at a yard sale? To solve this, set out an old lawn mower or power tools out front in plain view of the road, and you'll get more business. It's also smart to set up a small table with nothing but "man-things" (jars full of screws and nails, electronic parts, tools and parts of tools, etc.). This gives the men something to immerse themselves in while the women find all the real treasures.
If you are planning your yard sale on the hot day, consider selling sodas or having the kids run a lemonade stand. (Generally though, its just easier to ice-down a bunch of sodas - bought on sale of course - in a big cooler. And just sell the kind of soda you like, so you don't mind if you have leftovers.) Selling lemonade can be tricky for a 5 year old who doesn't understand a lot about hygiene - and will want to just grab ice cubes with their hands. Someone told me they once saw a child stirring a pitcher of lemonade with their ARM! On a hot day, having a pitcher of ice-water with paper cups (and trash can) available for free is a nice touch. The longer people stay at your yardsale the more likely they will buy something. And even if they just stay and browse, that's good too since it may lure others to the sale. Nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd. Some people like to set up a coffee pot and sell donuts - but I think it's too much work and could be a potential safety problem - especially with the hot coffee, electrical cord etc.
Some sellers color code their items with a little stickers and create a chart, example: all items will blue stickers are .50, items with red stickers $1 and so on. Personally, as a shopper, I hate that! I really do. Also, a buyer could easily "swap" stickers and you'd probably not even notice it.
I've been to so many yardsales where items are not marked. When I’ve asked the seller how much they want for a particular item, many times they respond, "I don’t know, how about .50 or .25?" No buyer in their right mind will say, "yeah, I want to pay the higher price." The better way would be for the seller to answer, "How about .50?" Then if the customer puts the item back, or hesitates then you could say "or how about .25?"
One of my pet peeves...is when I'm looking at an item, and the seller will say "Oh that is new" and it's obviously something that was purchased in 1978, or has a big stain on it, or is half-empty.
You may get a customer who wants to "help" you by totalling up their purchases ahead of time and giving you the total. It may be a ploy to sneak some high-dollar items into the pile or not paying the true full amount. If this happens just say that you need to go through it because some of the things are your sister's (or just lie and make up someone) and you need to check what they are buying so you can divide the money fairly with them.
Here's a tip if you are trying to sell something that is fairly high dollar and its a popular item that appears in catalogs or sale ads. Cut out the ad with the item in it (with the price showing of course) and tape it to your item. I've seen this done mostly with gently used children's toys and such. It shows the buyer that spending $10 for an item that normally sells for $40 new is a good deal. Be selective if you use this this tactic, people will get turned off if you do it for every item you're trying to sell.
If you are trying to sell a bunch of old kitchen utensils, rubber-band the knives up so people don't get cut.
Another safety hazard, this is a little weird, but I saw it happen: it was a hot sunny day and the seller was trying to sell a make-up mirror - the reflection of the mirror caused a nearby cardboard box to catch on fire!
Make sure any items you don’t want to sell are put away. If you don’t, that will be the one item the buyer wants. Sometimes you just can’t win though! At one of my yard sales, a customer was adamant about wanting to buy a table which was not for sale (I was using the table to display the junk). I had even placed a tablecloth over it. Then someone else wanted to buy the tablecloth! So now I just have some plain sheets I use as table coverings. Of course at a subsequent yardsale I WANTED to sell the table but couldn't.
At my last garage sale, I had a lot of stuff to hide in my garage that wasn't for sale. So I stretched a cheap nylon rope around the walls (anchored it so it wouldn't droop) and then put up sheets to hide the stuff. I used clothespins to hold the sheets to the rope. But of course if you don't have clothespins you can improvise and use binder clips or whatever.
During your sale, keep your sale tables attractive by filling in the empty spots on your tables as things get sold. It's a good idea to keep your eyes on your customers, but don't stare at them or hover inches away. I get annoyed at yardsale sellers who are a little *too* overbearing and has to tell me a story about every item I touch and what a good deal it is. Oh but it's easier said than done - I've had to shut myself up when I start rambling on to customers why I am selling something - and they didn't even ask in the first place!
GUARD YOUR MONEY! Have lots of coins and small bills available to make change. If you don't, your first customer will be a little old lady trying to buy .50 worth of stuff with a $20 bill. Do not leave your money laying around in a box. I recommend wearing a fanny pack or carpenter's apron because you'll always have your money with you. However, when making change, keep the wad of bills in your fanny pack (rather than pulling a big wad of bills out). That wouldn't be smart. If your fanny pack has several zippered compartments, as the sale continues you may want to divert some of the larger bills to either a separate comparment or to a secret location in your home. If you are running out of change, and someone is trying to haggle a price down, be willing to negotiate if the buyer has the exact change. Also for safety reasons, I would have a cellphone or cordless phone also in my fanny pack.
Don't accept checks unless you are willing to take the risk of getting a bad check. A check that looks perfectly fine may be from a closed bank account.
One question that people ask me, is "how much money should I start off with?" Well that depends. If you have a lot of small, low priced items, I think around $80 or $100 is a good number. (two $10 bill, four $5 bills, 25 $1 bills, 1 roll of quarters ($10), and $5 in nickle and dimes (assuming you have stuff priced at less than a quarter). BUT, if you have a lot of furniture or higher priced stuff, I think I would definitely start with more money. For instance, if you have a lot of $10 items, most people will probably give you a $20 bill and expect change. Of course, as the yardsale continues, some people will give you the exact amount, so it's mostly in the beginning when you need to be concerned about how much change to have.
Here's a tip about making change: if someone hands you a large bill, leave the bill out in view until after you have given them their change. Sometimes I will put the bill partly under something like a paperweight until after I hand the person their change. Otherwise, a dishonest person could say afterwards "I gave you a $20, not a $10". And it would be your word against theirs. And make sure you really take a second and look at the bill. At my last yardsale, I glanced at the bill and thought it was a $20, and when I went to give the customer their change, I looked again and realized it was a $10 bill, not $20.
Have plastic grocery bags available to put sold items in. If selling breakables, have newspaper available to wrap fragile items. Having a calculator handy is helpful in totaling up purchases. Make it easy for yourself to total items - price things evenly : .25, .50 and $1, NOT .40, .75, $1.20. Heck, even doing that, it's easy to mess things up (but that's me, I hate math!). At my last sale, I had a 12 year old customer correct me - I had given him back too much change!
If I've rented a yardsale space at church (or other type yardsale) to sell my stuff where there are a lot of other vendors selling their stuff too, I always make sure I bring TONS of extra plastic grocery bags. This is the type of thing that other yardsale vendors will forget and I think I score brownie points with the shoppers who walk up to my table with their hands full of purchases and I offer them a free bag. And next time I rent a space like that, I'm going to package up some old hangers to sell. This has happened to me more than once - especially when I'm selling clothes - I've had other yardsale vendors ask me if I have extra hangers that I could sell since they forgot them.
If you have kids, involve them by having them set up their own table selling their old toys. Explain to them if they get rid of their old outgrown toys, they’ll make space to put the new toys that they buy themselves with the money they earn. If they agree to parting with their old toys, help them with the prices. At one yard sale, a little boy wanted $1 for a cheapo little plastic dinosaur that would have been overpriced if it had been priced at a nickle. Plan with them afterwards to donate their good, unsold toys to charity so that needy children will benefit.
Your ability to sell certain items depends a lot on the timing (I think it's better to have 5 smaller yardsales within a 10 year period, rather than 1 big blowout yardsale once every 10 years.) At a recent sale, a seller had an older style baby carrier that she was trying (unsuccessfully) to sell. Although she had the original box and paperwork, no one wanted a 10 year old baby seat. It's old enough just to be "old/outdated" but not "vintage/collectible". She would have done better selling it right after she was done with it. Same thing with trendy or current *hot* items. Remember back in the early 90's when kids were all into collecting and trading bottle caps and pogs? Every once in a while, I'll see them at a yardsale and now nobody wants them. They could have been easily sold while the trend was still lukewarm.
If you are selling electrical appliances, have an electrical outlet handy or a long extension cord. (Put the cord away when not in use - you don't want to create a tripping hazard). I don’t allow strangers in my house, either to try out appliances or try on clothes, etc. If they need to use a restroom, give them directions to the nearest fast-food restaurant.
To avoid any hassles later on, post a sign that says "All Sales Final". I've heard horror stories about customers returning the next day wanting to get their money back on items.
If you have a ton of kids's clothes or small toys you are dying to get rid of, consider having a "fill a bag for a set price" kind of deal. Yardsailors love getting a good deal. I went to one yard sale that had a "fill a bag of clothes for $2" and another one that had "fill a lunchbag of small toys" for a nickel (very cheap!) If you do something like this, just make sure you have enough bags available.
Another option is to sort the small toys and put them in sealed clear plastic baggies according to type of toy or whether it's for a boy or girl. Then STAPLE the bags closed so customers can't open them. Then have a set price for the entire bag. That way, hopefully you won't get stuck with leftover "less desirable" toys when the sale is over.
Expect that some buyers will expect you to bargain with them. If it's early in the morning and you don't want to bargain, just say "I think it's worth that price. I may lower the price later in the day if it doesn't sell."
Don't assume everyone going to yard sales are fun and happy people. Just like in the real world, shop-lifters and shady characters go to yardsales too. My friend recently had some small items stolen at a yard sale. Nothing too valuable, just a book tucked into a purse, so she wasn't going to confront the person. But it could have been worse if she had left other more expensive small items like jewelry unattended. I don’t want to scare you, I'm just trying to inform you. These people are few and far between so it shouldn’t deter you from having a fun day having your own yard sale.
If possible, invite a neighbor or friend to join you in your yardsale. It's also cheaper to split the cost of the newspaper ad with someone. The more stuff you have available to sell the better. And having a lot of customers at a sale entices other people to stop too. Happy Saling!
And don't forget, TAKE YOUR SIGNS DOWN! Thank you! Oh yeah and don't forget to wear anti-perspirant - having a yardsale is hard work!