Tips for Garage Sale Buyers and Sellers
I just love garage sales. True, it is a recent thing, but it can grow to be quite addictive. Who knows what treasures your neighbors are getting rid of? Maybe that funky old CD you remember from college, or that interesting old military leather jacket, or even a fabulous vintage purse like the one I found this weekend, ca. 1955, that cost me a whole dollar. Could also be piles of books and toys for your kids, saving you piles of money versus spending piles of money buying them new. I have purchased dozens of books, puzzles and toys for my son this way, for the price of one or two new books or toys. Works for me.
But there are some simple rules/guidelines of procedure and etiquette for buyers and sellers at these small “temporary shopping emporiums”. Everyone involved wants to either find a treasure, or clean out a house. A few tips can make it a great experience for everyone. There are numerous books and websites on this subject, but here are a few basics, from a buyer’s point of view:
(Note: Many of these tips also apply to flea markets and thrift stores.)
Update: I am having my very first garage sale, so I will see what other ideas came in handy during my own experience. Update: So I had the two day sale, and some more thoughts came to mind.
- Advertise early. This can make or break a good sale. If using the paper, great, your listing will probably show up online as well. That’s where I start to look. Signs around town work too, but will work a zillion percent better if put up a few days early! I love love love seeing signs on Thursday or Friday, because then I can see if I can make it and schedule it into my route.
- Post outside high traffic areas (post office, supermarket) and don’t forget to take them down afterwards!
- Post on busy streets, cross streets, where the drivers and pedestrians are.
- Post near a stop sign or traffic light; if not, drivers will just blow right past them.
- Include address, date, and times. Keep it simple, written in large clear letters.
- Try to avoid listing directions or special items, it only clutters up the sign.
- Craigslist is also a great listing site; again post early, on Thursday or Friday. It’s free!
- Have enough stuff for a sale. Try to plan a sale a few months or at least some weeks in advance. This way you can have enough items for a decent sale, the more stuff the better. No offense, but I have seen “garage sales” where it’s one small table with a few things on it, not even worth stopping for. Ask neighbors or friends if they want in on a sale, even just a table’s worth. Multi-family sales are always a better draw for buyers. If having a 2 day sale, make sure you have enough for that. Go around your house with a box and take anything you don't want anymore. If it's clean and usable, put a price tag on it and see what happens.
- Junk vs. Trash/Unused vs. Unusable. Junk is the unused stuff that accumulates in your house, trash is the unusable garbage no one needs. Sell the junk; toss or recycle the trash, don't put it in your garage sale. Avoid broken unusable items: just toss out the coffee cups with no handles, recycle the waterlogged books, the torn and stained blankets can go to the dog. Broken/nonworking electronics/appliances, however, may provide parts for someone. Those you can try to sell, just tell the seller it's broken.
- One day vs. two day. If you don't have much, do a one day, but set up early enough to attract the early birds. Price to move. If you have a ton of stuff, or a multi-family, go for two day. Then you can price a bit better, and still have a day to mark down. Day 1 is for money, day 2 is to move volume. Second days will get fewer people so give massive discounts to move more stuff. Put more in your "free" box as the day goes on. I kept doing this, and the kids from the block kept coming around to see what was new. Plus they all got free books. They loaded up on so much of my stuff their parents were less than thrilled, as they were trying to get rid of stuff, not bring more in! hahaha ;-)
- Prepare early. Start getting your stuff together a few days or even weeks ahead of your sale. It's not easy to collect and price tons of stuff, then put it all out on tables for others to see. You don't want to just dump it on the driveway, do you? Start cleaning, prepping and pricing things in advance, because even just putting everything out on the tables can take a lot of time. Start early, at least an hour before you're scheduled to open, cause you WILL get early birds, no matter what your ad says. If you're not ready yet, ask them to wait on the sidewalk, especially if any of your sale is indoors. I've heard of people showing up hours before the sale starts and knocking on the front door, waking everyone up. Can you imagine?
- Let them find you. My sale started in the actual garage as it was drizzly, but I eventually moved out to the driveway. My husband also hadn't moved his car yet, heck he wasn't even awake yet. People were driving by, unable to see me down the long driveway. So I was hanging out on the sidewalk, waving them down with a sign, really! Finally I put a bike for sale out by the street with a Garage Sale sign on it. Not only did more people find my sale, but someone bought the bike five minutes later, and for my asking price! Cha-ching! It was replaced by an old but working perfectly stroller (with signs on it) which also sold. If your sale is far back on the driveway, either move up, or put out a sign or some merchandise. Many buyers will just drive by the cross street and look down; if they don't see anything, they'll keep going.
- Courtesy and a Smile. This is for sellers and buyers (see below). A Good Morning is always nice. Don’t act like everything you’re selling is the Hope Diamond. You want people to buy it and take it away, not admire it. Invite them to come on over and have a look. Place interesting items near the front to draw traffic. Mark off any private areas. Ask people politely to watch their kids, or to be careful. Feel free to talk up your stuff (that’s new, antique, has all parts, very useful, works perfectly) but don’t push your stuff at them; if they like it, they’ll buy it. If someone gives you lip, you don’t have to sell them anything. It’s still yours, and it’s your property too. Ask them to leave.
- Put everything out, or bring out as room allows. If it ain't out, it can't sell. I went to a garage sale recently where I purchased a whole collection of similar items. I asked if there were any more, and he said, sure, but they’re coming out tomorrow. Why wouldn’t he put them out today? I would have waited around for a while, even helped him move it and I would have purchased the rest of the collection right then. I don’t understand …?
- Use tables, racks, present well. It can be very backbreaking to search through stuff on the ground. Items easy to see and inspect will probably sell better. Try to use as many tables as you can, borrow some if you can. Make sure your stuff is presentable as well, not dusty or dirty. You don't have to break out the Pledge or Windex (though it helps), but at least try to get the spiderwebs off. A quick swipe with a baby wipe or damp cloth will do wonders.
- Hang clothes on a rack if you can, and even provide a mirror if you have one.
- Optional: Put dividers by size/gender for clothes. A piece of cardboard with a hole in it will slip over the rack, like in a dept. store. Write the size on each corner.
- Provide an extension cord to test electrical items.
- Even if something is broken, put it out but say it's broken. It may still sell; there are plenty of tinkerers out there, or people who need parts.
- Put small toys or other small items in a box and mark "25 cents" or whatever price you want. Watch them disappear!
- Handbags can be put on shower curtain rings and hooked over a clothing rack. Easier to browse than in a box! (They use this method at my local thrift store, very clever!)
- Organize. Please don't just toss things on a table, the ground or in a big box. If it looks trashy, no one will stop. Presentation counts. It doesn't have to be like a formal display at the museum, but not just a big pile of whatnot. Set things out so you can see them, like things together helps. If using boxes or baskets, use smaller shallow ones and don't overflow them. Deep boxes will turn off most people (not me!), and they won't even bother looking. Go for more at-a-glance shopping displays.
- Straighten. I've seen browsers go through sales like Hurricane Andrew, which is rude, but then the sellers don't bother straightening up a bit afterwards. Like I said, presentation counts. Redo the book box if you can, with spines up. Put the toys back in the low baskets. Rehang/refold the clothes. Straighten up items, put them back, make it look a bit neater and it will attract people. Nobody wants to look through a junkpile.
- Group like items together. Keep kitchen stuff together, books/CDs/movies on one table, toys on another. If buyers see lots of things that go together, they may just buy more.
- The power of the ziploc bag. Lot up many small similar things you can't reasonably sell separately and price tag as one. (A bunch of buttons, pens, markers, beads, plastic earrings, odd silverware, blocks, etc.) They are also good for jewelry, to keep from tangling and to tag easier. Also for small things you'd like to keep clean. I put two satin baby pillows in a one gallon bag, sold together, and they were kept clean from handling.
- Make your own "lots". Try grouping small items that go together in a ziploc bag. I put baby dishes, utensils, plastic bibs and placemats in one big ziploc, and priced as one item. Use your imagination!
- Mark your items. You don’t have to tag everything, though it helps, but if you have a lot of similar items (books, CDs, toys, clothes, tools, etc.) group them together and use a sign: Books, $X each; Shirts, $X each. It would really help to streamline the buying. This way buyers don’t have to hunt you down and bug you for prices on each item. Price stickers, blank or pre-printed, are available at office supply stores, or even the dollar store.
- Price items to move. Be realistic. This is a garage sale, not an antique store or the mall. Most garage sellers are great; they charge very reasonable prices for their stuff. It moves out well, and they clean out the house. But some people expect to make big profits from old used items, and they don’t sell much. Please, old ratty paperbacks are not worth $2 each, they will not sell that way. Do you want to pull all this stuff back into the house? Price it to move, and sell in bulk. Of course, something truly valuable should be priced as such, or sold elsewhere. If you have some little things not really worth much, put them in a "Free" box and watch them disappear. If you're having a second day, consider marking it all half price. I'm putting all the .25 stuff in a FREE box tomorrow ... I just want it gone!
- If you're not selling it, keep it out of sight. If you have a box of supplies you're using, or stuff you don't want to sell, keep it hidden. People will go through anything within sight. Someone tried to buy the half-used roll of tape I was using to put up my signs. Close the garage door, they'll peek in there too. Several people even asked me how much for the Harley in the garage! Over my dead body, cause my husband would kill me. (Actually, if they happened to have $15,000 in their pockets, they could have it!)
- Offer bulk discounts. If you have, say, children's books at .25 each, put ".25 each, 6 for $1.00" on your sign. If someone comes up with a pile of stuff, calculate the actual price, and tell them. If they look doubtful, then knock off a buck or two. You will definitely move more that way.
- Expect haggling. Most people will always try to bargain for stuff at a garage sale. But if they’re asking far too little, state your lowest price and stick with it. Don't accept a $1 offer for a $20 item. That's nuts. But if you’re more interested in getting rid of the item than the money, take what they offer. It’s up to you.
- Watch your stuff. I tend to be a trusting soul, but I do realize that people out there do steal. It just is. Watch your small stuff, costume jewelry, etc. I know a few things of mine walked, as they were gone and I don't remember selling them. A customer told me to move my costume jewelry to the front of the sale, near me, so it didn't walk off. Even my father-in-law, near blind as a mole, said he saw someone put something in her purse. Well, most of my stuff was $1 or less, so it was no great loss, but still ... Also, keep very close watch on possibly dangerous stuff: I was selling an 8 piece knife set, and on day two, there were only 6 knives there. Hopefully just a klepto chef, but I shudder to think ... gives me the heebity-jeebities. yikes.
- Yes, some buyers are resellers. If having someone else try to resell your stuff for a possible profit upsets you, feel free to ebay it yourself. No one is stopping you. But please realize that it is hard, time-consuming work going around to sales, deciding what is worth buying, lugging it all home and researching, cleaning, prepping, listing, storing, packing and shipping these items. Have a heart, give them a break.
- Get some help. We know you’re busy, that you’ll need breaks now and then. Ask a relative, neighbor or friend to help out, if just to be an extra pair of hands and eyes. Pay them with pizza and beer afterwards. ;-)
- Have lots of bags/boxes. Though I usually bring my own bags when buying, try to have plenty of plastic bags when you're selling, and some boxes for bigger items or bulk purchases. Grab some extra bags from the market whenever you go food shopping. I used an old box sealed up with a hole cut in the top as a bag dispenser, like a giant box of tissues. Worked very well, as it held tons of bags and kept them from blowing around. Recommended! (The bags were in an old pullups box, and someone asked me how much! Uh, lady, that's an empty box with bags in it. I guess she didn't notice the big hole in the top, or the bags coming out of it. hahaha.)
- Money in small bills. Have plenty available, go to the bank if you have to. People will pay for .50 items with $10 and $20 bills, so have lots of singles and change. Futzing around with not enough change may cost you a sale. Keep it locked up or in a fanny pack.
- Sell refreshments. I have seen this at many garage sales lately, and it’s a great idea! A cooler full of icy water bottles on a blazing hot day is sure to bring some more money in, and make your customers hang around longer to browse and buy. True, I bring my own, but it’s still a nice touch! You can also get the kids involved, selling lemonade or cupcakes or whatever. They make some money and learn the art of business.
- Getting rid of the leftovers. Got stuff left after your sale, and don't want to drag it back in the house? Post on your local Freecycle site that everything after a set time will be free for the taking. It will probably all vanish before your very eyes! Or pack it up in the family truckster and tote it out to Goodwill. Some charities will also pick up items, check the Lupus website, or Big Brothers, AmVets, or other charities. You'll even get a tax deduction out of it.
- Find those sales. Check your local paper (also online version), those pennysaver freebie papers and craigslist for garage sales. I also find signs people put up around town in advance, which rocks! I can find out a few days ahead if I can make it there.
- Courtesy and a Smile. This goes for you too! Courtesy never hurt anyone, so be nice. I always try to say Good Morning/Afternoon and Thank You/Good Luck to the sale holder. Nice touch. Also, try not to make a mess, pick up after yourself, compliment something, help them move things, ask before going somewhere that may be private, watch your kids. Don't ever call their stuff crap, even if it is and even if you’re not buying anything. It is just beyond rude. Just look around, say thank you/good luck and leave. If you're in a small town, someone there may remember you at their garage sale and charge you an arm and a leg for being nasty. If you're nice and smiley, they'll probably give you a deal. If not, at least you were a good person.
- If you're early, wait. If you show up before the sale opens, wait. It's very rude to just go up and start browsing before someone is ready for you. You can ask them if they're ready yet, but if not, then let them finish. I know you want the best pick, but it's your fault you're early. Be patient.
- A big sturdy tote bag, pref. canvas with short handles. VERY important. I use this as a shopping basket type thing, so I can grab what I want then check again before I buy. Hook it over your arm and you still have both hands free to rummage. A godsend! A folding granny cart is good to use at a flea market to hold your stuff, so you’re not running back to the car all the time. (also mentioned below)
- Know what you're looking for. Are you just browsing, or are you looking for something in particular? Need a lamp, a blender, particular books, furniture, toys? Specific collectibles or other ebayables? Keep a little notebook with you, and write down just what you're looking for, with specifics (colors, sizes, dimensions). This way you won't forget when you see it. Some people even bring price guides with them, but this can be a bit cumbersome and makes it obvious that you're a collector or reseller.
- What Do I Look For? Well, what are you looking for? Stuff for you, stuff for your collection, stuff to sell? People look at a garage sale differently. I see all three: necessities, wants and inventory. I look at everything, and grab whatever looks good or I can use. If you're looking for ebayables, check out my guide on What Do I Look For at Garage Sales?
- Grab it! If you see something interesting, even if you're not sure about it, GRAB it. Put it in your canvas shopping bag. You can always put it back if you don't want it. If you don't pick it up, then decide you do want it, it'll be gone. Mother always said: If you see it, grab it or someone else will.
- Wait your turn. If the seller is dealing with someone, please wait until they are finished before asking for prices or to pay. I had many buyers come up to me and interrupt while I was dealing with someone else. Please give me a second here ...
- Don’t expect freebies. If someone is selling at a reasonable price, feel free to haggle, but let them make some money. Not everyone sells books for .10. If it’s .50, fine, that’s still a bargain! True, I usually won’t pay more than $1 for a DVD or .50 for a book, but not everyone sells them for less. Have a top price, try to haggle for lower but remember that not every purchase will be a killer bargain.
- Be Nice. If you don't like their prices, don't pay them. If you don't like their stuff, you don't have to buy it. The worst is to be rude. I've seen people drop things on the ground when sellers won't give them their price, can you imagine? Just put it down and leave. I've also heard people come by, announce everything was garbage, saunter about talking about everything, and leave. How rude!! Even I was insulted, and it wasn't my sale. Don't be like that. Mother also said: Got nothing nice to say, say nothing.
- Go easy on the newbies. Not everyone is a garage sale maven, they may not know how to price their stuff. If they ask you the buyer how much, be reasonable. If you pay about $1.00 for something, tell them .50 to 1.00, not .10. That may be good for you, but I totally believe in karma. You cheat someone here, and you'll get cheated somewhere else. They'll probably undercharge you anyway, and at least your conscience will be clear.
- Always ask for a bulk discount if buying lots of stuff!! I cannot stress that enough. Say: What will you take for ALL this stuff (even if it's not that much)? They'll usually knock a few bucks off, just to move it all out. Always worth a try. I'll even buy a whole box of similar things (books, buttons, CDs), even if there's a few I don't want, cause I can get a better price for the whole lot then for a few cherry-picked items. The duds can be traded, donated or saved for my next garage sale.
- Don't let on you're a reseller. As mentioned above, some people may not be thrilled to know you may be profiting off their old stuff. Few will ever ask outright, but avoid letting on you're an ebayer. If asked, say you know someone who loves/collects this stuff. "My brother is a DJ, so he likes lots of CDs." "My sister knits, so she'd love these vintage patterns." If with someone else, have a code: Do you think "Zelda" will like this?? (translation, "think it will go on ebay?")
- Bring a buddy. Know someone who also loves to garage sale? Want to spend more time with your kids? Bring them along! You can do more in half the time. They can also scout more areas for you, advise you on purchases, and help you carry, while you do the same for them. A real bonding experience for friends or family. I bring my 5 year old son with me; he just loves going around town to other people's houses, and he loves the goodies he gets on our walks. He always asks if we're going to a garage sale, even in mid-winter ith a foot of snow on the ground, ha!
- Check your items before you leave. Does it have all the parts? Does it work? Is the DVD in the case, and is it the correct one? Forget about returning stuff if it's broken or not right, this is a garage sale, not Sears. Also check clothing for stains, tears, does it have the buttons, does the zipper work. I bought some "brand-new" sneakers for my son, but when I got home I saw they did have a bit of wear inside. Nothing major, I guess they were worn maybe a few times, but still. (I did get an exchange at my garage sale though; a lady returned with a purse and even-exchanged it for a kid's shirt. Go figure.)
- Don't turn your nose up at the clothes. I know that most people get the creeps when they think of used clothes (yarg!). That's fine, I can understand. But many times I see clothes with the tags on them, never worn! Also take a peek at jackets, vests, ties and other such "outer" items. They don't touch the skin. I do sometimes check out clothes for my son, only if they look new or almost new. I got two almost new heavy button down Gap shirts, a great almost new reversible Guess denim jacket and new Gap black jeans for him, all for $2.00 total. Perfect for school. Of course, everything went through the wash as soon as I got home. This works better for younger kids; older kids may be a bit more picky. Depends on your kid.
- Gear up. Some comfy shoes, some caffeine and a very biiiiig tote bag and cart that holds everything I need. Some things I always bring:
- A good map of your area. I walk everywhere, so I need to know if a GS sign I just saw is within my walking limits. My map is from my local village hall, and it's practically large print. Try there, and grab a few because they'll get tattered soon enough.
- A big sturdy tote bag, pref. canvas with short handles. VERY important. I use this as a shopping basket type thing, so I can grab what I want then check again before I buy. Hook it over your arm and you still have both hands free to rummage. A godsend! A folding granny cart is good to use at a flea market to hold your stuff, so you’re not running back to the car all the time.
- List of specifics you're looking for. Do you need a blender, a food chopper, certain clothes, a couch? Keep a list of what you need, with measurements, dimensions, sizes. That way you won't forget, and you'll know if it's the right thing.
- Money in small bills. I'd feel like a Class A dope if I just haggled for a $1 item then paid with a $50 bill.
- Some water and snacks. Self explanatory, esp. in summer.
- Baby wipes or moist towelettes. Easy to clean things or yourself after rummaging.
- Cell phone. Honey, can you come pick me up??? I just bought 500 books ... yeah right, like THAT'S gonna happen ... But you may need a hand getting that retro couch back to your house.
- Pen and paper/PDA, if person has more to sell or knows of another sale in the future, or the phone number of that cute guy also rummaging through the books.
- Boxes to hold your stuff steady in the trunk of your car.
- Wrapping stuff: newspaper for smalls and glassware, towels blankets for larger items and furniture.
- Tape measure, to make sure it will fit in your house.
- Magnifying glass/loupe, to check for cracks, damage and to read hallmarks/signatures.
- Your own plastic bags, they may run out.
- Gloves/mask: I have been to tag sales at homes that looked liked they hadn't been cleaned in decades. Dust and mold may be rampant in attics and basements. If you're a digger or have allergies, keep a ziploc in your bag with a few pair of latex gloves and a dust mask, just in case. You can even find them at the dollar store.
- Some people use GPS, and also use their phones with internet access to check on craigslist throughout the day. Sounds kinda hardcore to me, but whatever works for you.
To quote the Boy Scouts: It’s all about being prepared. Prepare your stuff for selling, prepare yourself for buying and the whole trip should go like silk. Good luck to you all!