Garage Sale Planning and Tips

Set a date and time when you will be able to devote your full time to this sale, for gathering up various articles as well as being able to attend the sale full time.

Your ability to sell certain items depends a lot on the timing. It might be better to have five smaller sales within a 10 year period, rather than one big blowout sale once every 10 years. It is difficult to sell things that are "old/outdated" but not "vintage/collectible" or things that are no longer trendy or current "hot" items. Those things sell better while they are still newer or the trend is still lukewarm.

The best days for garage sales are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Sundays are usually a waste of time unless you are staying at home all day doing nothing anyway.

Plan what you are going to put in this sale, if you are going to have the sale alone, or with two to five more families. A group sale is better then selling alone.

Give boxes to everyone in your family a few weeks before the sale. Have each person fill a box or two with things he or she wants to sell (beyond what's already piled in the garage).

Place your ad on

Create your signs. It is best to use big bold text like "HUGE SALE" with an arrow pointing the right direction. Include your address on signs that will be placed a few blocks from your sale location. Make sure your sign is legible. Remember that people will need to see and read your signs from vehicles driving by.

Add balloons to your sign to attract attention.

Prepare your change box. If you have a lot of small, low priced items, begin with around $80 or $100 (two $10 bill, four $5 bills, 25 $1 bills, 1 roll of quarters ($10), and $5 in nickels and dimes (assuming you have stuff priced at less than a quarter). If you have a lot of furniture or higher priced items, you may want to start with more money.

Be prepared. Be ready to go the night before so that you don't have to rush around in the morning.

What You Need:
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Gloves
  • Comfortable clothing
  • Price guides
  • Price tags and markers
  • Tables and chairs
  • Calculator
  • Pencil and pen
  • Ledger book (to inventory commissions)
  • Bags, boxes and newspapers to wrap purchases
  • Tape measure

Plan your sale layout with customers in mind.

If you have any fragile, rare or expensive items such as crystal, cut glass or jewelry, be sure they are displayed on a sturdy table and up high out of reach of children. They are curious and you might be too busy to watch them.

Arrange your items on tables (or plywood and sawhorses). Ask friends/neighbors to loan you portable tables if necessary. Customers will not be as willing to dig through boxes of dirty, unorganized cobwebbed junk sitting on the ground.

Organize your goods: Do not make buyers root through piles of junk to find the gems.

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.

Scrub, wash, polish and launder anything you plan to sell. If an item needs a simple repair to greatly increase its selling price, do it.

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.

Do not go overboard in cleaning and spend three hours working on an item that you only plan to price at $1.

Display clothes on a clothes rack or makeshift racks. People are not as willing to dig through a mountain of clothes heaped on top of a tarp.

Sort clothing by size, without cramming too many garments onto the rods. Provide a changing area and mirror.

Use the cheap metal hangers to display your clothes. That way the buyer can keep the hanger if they want.

Arrange books, CDs, or movies in a box so that the titles can be easily read by the customers.

When selling kitchen utensils, rubber-band the knives together so people do not get cut.

When 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).

Put some real crowd-pleasers up front to entice passing cars. Good looking furniture and large children's play structures make great bait near the curb. 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?"

Spread a rug or blanket on the lawn with a few toys that you're selling. Kids will bond with the toys and demand that their parents buy them.

Protect yourself against theft by displaying small valuables within eyesight and close to the cash box.

Do not leave jewelry or other small items unattended. If possible set up those displays near your check out table so you will be near them at all times.

Make sure anything that's not for sale is safely behind closed doors.

You will save yourself a lot of time answering questions if you show a price on all merchandise.

Mark things clearly. Use a heavy black felt marking pen for lettering. If more families go in with you, identify your price tags with a code such as G 75 cents or M 25 cents. The letters designate, perhaps, the first letter of the last name of the family who contributed items to sell.

Price things evenly: .25, .50 and $1, Not: .40, .75, $1.20.

Drinking glasses, dishes, cups will sell faster if you price them in sets of 6 for $1.00 instead of 15 cents each.

Be realistic when you price things: You may have spent a fortune on that beta VCR, but you'll be lucky to get a quarter for it now. Stay flexible and leave yourself room to bargain down and remember, the goal is to get rid of stuff.

Grab bags are a good idea if you have a ton of kid's clothes or small toys. If you do something like this, make sure you have enough bags available.

Antiques go over big regardless of state of repair or condition. Give good descriptive details to save disappointments.

Post simple, effective signs around the neighborhood.

Make sure there's plenty of parking. Move your cars if necessary.

Set up your cash table near the entrance.

Keep your cell phone or cordless phone close by to call in relief when you need a break.

Play background music. Do not play offensive music, play something appropriate for your audience.

Be cheerful, get people talking and encourage haggling. Many people are reluctant to negotiate but find it's fun once they start.

Be willing to bargin. 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. Flexibility is key to getting things sold. Ask $50 for that hot item early on in the day, but if you keep having people walk away, bring the price down.

It's a good idea to keep your eyes on your customers, but don't stare at them or hover inches away.

Do not allow strangers in your house, either to try out appliances or try on clothes. If they need to use a restroom, give them directions to the nearest fast-food restaurant.

Do not bad-mouth your items.

Share your family memories if there's a funny story behind an item. People find it harder to resist buying something with a history.

During your sale, keep your sale tables attractive by filling in the empty spots on your tables as things get sold.

Guard your money. Do not leave your money lying around in a box. Wearing a fanny pack or carpenter's apron helps you have your money with you wherever you go.

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.

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. Put the bill partly under something like a paperweight until after you have handed 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.

Keep all the tags in a notebook; create a separate page for each participating member of the sale. At the end of the sale, divide the tags according to code and total the sales. You may not come out right to the penny on sales and change you had on hand as anyone can make errors in making change for a customer.

Donate your items that did not sell at the sale to charity and take a tax write-off.

Take down all your signs after your sale.
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