Tips for Yard Sale Success

Tuesday June 16, 2009
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After basking in the euphoria of our successful yardsale, I thought it might be nice to outline what I felt were the keys to our success.

PRE-SALE

Make it a neighborly affair

Prior to my sale, I emailed my neighbors to see if anyone else wanted to join in.  I didn’t get any takers, but it’s always a worthwhile idea.   It’s nice when you can say “Multi-family” or “Neighborhood Sale”.  I’d suggest giving them more lead time than I gave mine (I only planned my sale about a week out).  If you do do a neighborhood sale, I’d suggest printing a map of the neighborhood and marking each house participating.  Then have the maps available at each house so buyers can find everyone.

Organize your stuff.

All week long, we trolled through our house, adding to a growing pile in our basement of stuff to get rid of.  I looked in closets, cleared out toy bins, etc.  Basically, anything that was occupying space but no longer being used got moved to the yard sale pile.  Look at all your storage spaces with a new eye for what’s in there.  We get used to seeing past stuff we never take out — this is your time to purge!  Don’t forget to go through your videos and CDs, kitchen cabinets, basement, etc.  Then it’s time to price.

Pricing

It’s important to price things reasonably, keeping in mind, the goal is to GET RID OF STUFF, not make a fortune.  You can’t price stuff based on what you remember it costing when it came into your house new, you have to price it for what you think it will sell for.  Remember, people don’t go to yardsales looking to pay retail prices, they want deals. When I walk up to sale and see somebody has everything overpriced (i.e. $25 boombox from the 90s, $3 VHS videos, $2 for cheap baskets that clearly came for free in a flower arrangement), I think, “this person doesn’t know the value of junk, I won’t bother wasting my time. And I move on.

It’s okay to have a few items that are higher priced. I even priced a few items “way high”, secretly hoping they wouldn’t sell because I wasn’t sure I was really ready to part with them. Low & behold, several of those did go.   As you price items, also remember that people are bound to neogiate, so don’t necessarily put your “rock bottom” price if it will pain you when someone asks for less.

You should try and put prices on everything, but it doesn’t have to be fancy.  We just used painters tape and a sharpie. I also found lots of knick knacks and small items that I didn’t want to mess with pricing.  I just threw them in a box people could paw through and put a sign on the box “Everything 50c”.  I did the same thing with books.  There were a few I marked higher, but I stuck them all in a bin and said “25c unless marked”.  Ditto for cds & movies.  Pricing stuff will eliminate the communication errors that occur when one spouse has one price in mind and the other lets it go for a fraction of that :)

Advertising

Signage in the neighborhood is the main thrust of advertising (I’ve got a lot to say on that below), but there are a few other easy options you shouldn’t overlook.

* Listservs – I created an email detailing my sale, the type of stuff being sold as well mentioning some specific items and posted this message on a couple of local listservs I’m part of – my mom’s club, a church group, etc.   You can email friends too – just be careful not to be spammy and obey the rules of your email group (not all allow solitcitations).

* Craigslist – Put a message on CraigsList with the same 411.  I didn’t want to post my actual address on CL, so I mentioned the neighborhood and nearest cross streets. I also gave a link to a Google Map with a marker for the nearby intersection so people could find driving directions.  You could also tell people to email you if they want a specific address for a GPS coordinate.

These two avenues proved worthwhile.  I had several people contact me in advance and I managed to make nearly $50 prior to the sale.

Signs

The signs you post around your ‘hood are really going to bring 90% of your customers.  It is worth the time and effort to get them right.

What Should They Say?

Remember the old KISS adage?  Keep It Simple Stu.. Sweetie.  Most people prowling for sales are only looking at signs with two questions in mind:

* is this sign for a yard sale?  and if so…

* where do I go?

With that in mind, I created the simplest of signs, using Word:

Yard-Sale-Sign-sm YardSale-Arrow-sm

The idea is – if you place your signs prominently and use your arrows to clearly mark where to go – potential buyers will find their way to your house.  Sometimes less is more.  I included a little bit of info on the bottom, for people who might be out for a walk or something, but a driver is not going to be able to read that.  By creating a separate sheet for the arrow – I had the flexibility to mark each intersection correctly, without worrying about creating signs that had arrows pointing the right way.

Signage: Materials Matter

After printing my signs at home, I took them to a local copy center (hint: Staples is waay cheaper than Kinkos).  I had them printed on fluorescent cardstock.   You need something stiffer than regular paper. Another option would be to back your paper with remnant cardboard.  But if you are stapling your sign to a telephone pole, cardstock should suffice.  I spent around $9 for my copies, but it was well worth it.  Another hint:  if the forecast calls for rain when you’re signs will be posted, consider using pocket page protectors to save them from the rain.

In addition to using telephone poles, you might want to stick your sign in the ground.  I snagged some old election yard signs, wrapped them in posterboard and stuck my signs to them.

Signage:  When, Where & How

Before posting my signs, I sat down and thought about all the major intersections near my house.  Then I took a look at my neighborhood on Google Maps to make sure I was forgetting anything.  I even printed the map and made a list of intersections so that I would remember whereall I posted signs for clean-up later.

For my Saturday sale, I ran around Thursday putting my signs up. Any farther out and you have to worry about weather.  Plus, yardsalers don’t start thinking about upcoming sales until around then.

When I put up my signs, I drove around with the following:  my printed map, signage, staple gun, packing tape, scissors, cardboard scraps and a step ladder.  Telephone poles are the ideal spot to post signs, but you may find they are covered in old staples, making it hard to get your sign up.  I used my step-ladder to post my signage a little higher (this helps with visibility too).  Another option is to bring pliers or a screwdriver to pull off old staples.   When I couldn’t find a good wooden pole, I would use metal poles.  For this, I used the packing tape and cut the cardboard to back the signs, giving it the necessary stiffness.

After posting the signs, drive along the routes to check signage visibility.  In a couple of cases, I had to move my signs because didn’t realize how much a tree or other obstacle obscured it.   By Friday, other signs were appearing for other sales, so I drove around again.  This time I made sure that if someone was following signage to a different sale, they would come across my sign and find their way to my sale too.  If you only post on major intersections, sometimes people will miss your sale when they start zig-zagging through the hood following other people’s signs.

The Sale

Finally, all the prep work is done and it’s yard sale day.  Get up early!  I was putting stuff out around 7am for my sale and already had people stopping by.    In this vein – start your sale at 8am!!  Serious shoppers are out early, so even if it kills you, pour the coffee and get out of bed.  The profit potential is worth it!

Displaying Your Stuff

As much as possible, try and display your items on a elevated surface.  Borrow tables, create them with saw horses & plywood, etc.   It’s much easier to browse.   Also, organize like with like – housewares together, kid stuff together, etc.

I had so much crapola, I had several tables set-up and still had stuff on the ground beneath and around it.  When the tables thinned out, I moved stuff up and rearranged.   Also, items that are set-up will sell better displayed than in the box.  Set-up that pack’n play.  Put up the tent.  Example: I had a toddler chair that clips on to a table.  It was sitting  underneath the table for over an hour.  When I took it out and clipped it one of my display tables, it sold in literally 60 seconds.  A lady said, “Oh that reminds me, I need something like that for my granddaughter..”

For clothing, try and find a way to hang your clothes.  They sell much better when they are easy to see and go through.  Rig a clothes line between trees, on your porch, etc.  I couldn’t think of any way to get my stuff hung up, and so it stayed in bins and on a tarp and was probably my least successful part of my sale.  I later drove by another sale and saw that a guy used the frame of his canopy tent for a hanging area – genius!    Also, make sure your clothes are grouped by age/gender.  Yardsalers are looking for specific items, i.e. 2T boys, and it’s a pain to dig through a bin with 8 different sizes in it.

Negotiate

Be willing to do deals.  If someone has 6 things in their hands and asks if you’ll take $5 for it and it’s only shaving a couple bucks off your price, say YES.  This is how yard sales work.  I would even round down for people or tell them to grab another book or whatever to get a better deal.  Now, some savvy shoppers will bring you one item at a time and try and bargain you down.   They’ll bring a $3 item and ask if you’ll take $2.  Then they’ll bring a $5 item and ask if you’ll take $3.  When that happens, I tell them to do ALL their shopping and *then* I’ll make them a deal.

It’s okay if you’re not ready to go low right away.  I had people trying to bargain me down on my DVDs at 7:30am while I was still setting up.  I told the guy, “I’m not even open yet.  Come back at 11 and then I’ll be willing to deal.”    As time goes on, be willing to let stuff go for less… the goal is to get it gone!

Other Details

Be friendly. Make eye contact, say hello as people walk up.  “Good morning!”  “Are you looking for anything in particular?”

Have extra bags handy for them to carry off their purchases.

Keep the money on your body. Don’t leave it in a box where anyone can wander over and walk off with it. A nail apron or a fanny pack make a great money belt. I couldn’t find any of mine and ended up using my pockets, but I would periodically run inside and dump some of my excess cash in a box inside my house so my pockets weren’t overflowing.

Post Sale

By 11:30, traffic was tapering off and I was running out of steam.  I told anyone that walked up I was ready to do deals and they should make offers on whatever looked good.

.

Decide what you’re willing to keep – think long and hard about what to bring back into the house.  If you were willing to sell it in the first place and NO ONE WANTED IT, why would you hold onto it?  75% of what I had left went on the curb with a FREE sign.   The few items I brought back in were largely items I knew I could sell individually on Craigslist or at a children’s consignment sale I participate in.   Then I made a post on Freecycle detailing all the leftover stuff that might be appealing to someone else  (Freecycle stipulates you can’t just do curb alerts.  So if someone indicated they wanted an item, I moved it to my porch with their name on it).

By Saturday evening, I took a few things out of the free pile and loaded them into the back of the minivan.  Our church has a donations ministry and collects household goods – so those items went with us on Sunday.   You might consider another worthy charity for the stuff that “has value” but no place in your house.

Everything left on the curb by Sunday evening went out in Monday’s trash.  You should see how empty our basement looks now!

The last step in the sale is to remove your old signs from the neighborhood.  PLEASE take time to pull them down.  It’s rude to leave your signs out, especially if you don’t have a date marked on them.  I took mine down and then stopped at 7-11 to treat myself to a Slurpee while I counted out my earnings at home.

That’s it!  If you are still reading at this point, I’m impressed!

Keep in mind that a large part of your success is determined by the weather, so if necessary, you may want to plan for a rain date.

I hope some of this helped some of you.  Now tell me, what are your keys to success for a good sale?

This post inspired by the “Works for Me Wednesday” series at We Are THAT Family.

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10 Responses to Tips for Yard Sale Success

  1. 1
    Jackie says:

    Thanks so much for the tips! Will use next month at our sale. :)

  2. 2
    elizabethk says:

    What a fantastic and helpful post! I am not certain I am up for doing any more yard sales…but IF I do, I am bookmarking this! :D
    Also – adding your blog to my feed reader (that sounds odd) – love your blog!
    Thank you
    eko

  3. 3

    Some excellent ideas; thanks for sharing. I’m gearing up for a sale, so this will be really helpful.

  4. 4

    Those are great tips! Thanks for sharing!
    ~Liz

  5. 5

    Great tips! We are doing a yard sale soon and this really helps!

  6. 6

    Great Tips. Except am I the only one who cringed at the thought of you e-mailing all your neighbors and calling it neighborly? They’re your neighbors right? How far away can they live? I would think a walk around the block and a personal conversation and invitation would be worth the time spent on it. Perhaps this is because at least 3 of my closest neighbors are more likely to receive a personal call from President Obama than they are likely to check or even have e-mail.

  7. 7
    Kendra says:

    @Home School Dad – thanks for the feedback! We have a neighborhood email list with 30+ families represented. So email is a medium many folks in my ‘hood are familiar with. But certainly, word of mouth face-to-face is ideal.

  8. 8

    I just went to a sale where I found some cute tops, they were a bit pricey, so I made an offer. The lady said no because she “remebered what she paid for them”! I could not believe it. I don’t care how much you paid for it, I only care how much I have to pay for it. So I put my stuff back and left.

  9. 9
    Kara says:

    Our block is has a sale every summer, and I’m finally going to make the effort to participate – thanks for the tips!!

  10. 10
    AJ says:

    Great article. I’m a fanatic garage sale attendee and occasional seller. A few thoughts…

    1) Only price expensive items you won’t budge on. Add “firm” to the tag if you mean it. For everything else, as you said, the point is to get rid of your stuff. The price people offer you is probably the price you should be asking. Like you, I skip overpriced sales because people who have delusions of grandeur don’t barter well.

    2) I like your simple signs, but be sure the street name and date are visible from a car.

    3) Use a staple gun to slam your sign onto a pole no matter how many staples are already there. Cardboard signs help in that respect. I gorge on frozen pizza in the month before my sale so my signs are distinctive circles.

    4) If you’ve posted a sign, I assume you are open for business, as do my competitors. If you don’t want me there, consider setting your sale up the night before in your garage and having a helper post signs right when you open. People spotting signs in drive-bys often don’t note the time, only the location.

    5) For selling baby clothes, if it has even the slightest stain, throw it in a ‘small stains free box.’ You kill sales if people are browsing clothes and realize they have to carefully inspect every item.

    Again, great article with lots of good tips. I’ve only written about sales from the buyer’s perspective. Oh, you would hate me.

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About TMM

The Meanest Momma
A mom of three, living in Northern Virginia, who loves her kids and enjoys chronicling their semi-frugal adventures.

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