How to Plan a Perfect Yard Sale

After three years of semi-annual yard sales, my friend Dawn and I have reached the point where we turn a handsome profit at the sale. But, it’s not a one-day affair or easy money. Still, if you’re like us and have junk to get rid of, a few key tricks can make your yard sale much more profitable.

Here’s what we’ve learned:

1) Start early. We now have a section of basement set aside for leftovers from the last sale and we try to add to it through the course of the season as we decide we no longer love an item. But that’s not enough. About a month before the sale, we actually go through everything already set aside for the yard sale and repackage it, making certain that the hazards of the basement, mildew, insects and moisture have not ruined the merchandise. This also gives us the chance to look through things one last time and determine if we may have changed our minds and really do still love it. This is also the best time to begin pricing items. W avoid the hurried rush of doing it the week before the sale and can take a better look at the item and its condition before slapping a tag on it.

2) Price everything. This is a huge pain, but worth it. Lots of people, like me, hate to have to ask what something costs. And no matter how many signs you have stating the cost of items, like “All T-Shirts 25 cents”, you will inevitably have people who ask you, “So, how much is this t-shirt?” Individually pricing items helps avoid this problem. It also gets around the problem of having one t-shirt that you never wore that you don’t want to include in the “All T-shirts 25 cents” category. Blanket signs mean blanket prices and even if you say, “unless otherwise marked” someone will argue that the brand-new tour t-shirt should be a quarter as well.

3) Expect to haggle. Even if prices are marked, some people look at yard sales as the perfect opportunity to bargain and you should too. Sure, it means you may have to let that Christmas ornament Aunt Martha sent you go for a dollar instead of two, but it also usually means people will pick up more stuff. More stuff sold equals more money in your pocket. And, remember, that is the plan. After all, this is junk that would otherwise be sitting in the basement or headed to Goodwill, right?

4) Only put stuff into the yard sale that you don’t love anymore. This is in some ways the hardest part of the yard sale. If you still love it enough you want half it’s original price or more, then you are still too attached and need to hold on to that item for a little longer. Dawn and I usually try to keep items under $5 unless it is furniture or electronics or video games. Those can and do sell for more, if you price them right. Last year, we sold my husband’s old Playstation 2 games for $4 each. We checked beforehand and realized this was as much, or in some cases more than we would have gotten if we took them to a game store and traded them in for new games and the buyer got them for about half of what the store would have charged him for used games.

5) Be aware of the quality of your goods and charge accordingly. My husband is meticulous with his video games and cds, so we were able to charge a higher price for them used than if they had been scratched, missing guidebooks, etc. We charged more because the condition was excellent. Also, don’t be insulted if people want to inspect things. Some people opened every single cd case and checked the cd before buying it. I would too. Going hand in hand with this is knowing the rarity of the items you are selling. My husband collects bad horror movies, so we have quite a treasure trove of them on vhs tapes that we are selling as we convert to dvds. Last year, I was surprised to find that some of them were selling much better and for higher prices than more current tapes. The key: rarity. No one else at the sale had anything like these tapes.

6) If your community has one, opt in to a community yard sale. In our city, the semi-annual sales are held in the parking lot of the university’s basketball arena. The cost is about $20 and is infinitely preferable to having people traipsing across my lawn or front porch. Plus, the advertising is covered by the group that puts on the sale (the local chamber of commerce) and the huge number of vendors there, usually about 100, means that it attracts crowds. Also, these events have set beginnings and endings, so there is no chance of someone showing up at your door at 6 a.m. wanting to get a jump on the sale that you advertised starting at 8 a.m.

7) Never overestimate/underestimate the value of your junk. Collectibles, for instance, do not do particularly well at our yard sales, we have found. Household goods often do. For example, we collect action figures. When we have gotten bored with one set and moved on to another, I have often sold the old ones at yard sales. To me, these are collectible action figures. To other people, they are used toys. Used toys sell for cheap. On the other hand, the box of silverware that was in my basement when I moved in, sold for 50 cents per item. That shoebox of discards forks and spoons made me $35! Unmatched dishes, lone coffee mugs and leftover shot glasses sold like hotcakes last year as did our left over video tapes, overplayed video games and outdated compact discs. Save the collectibles for E-bay. Sell the everyday stuff!

8) Take a cooler full of drinks and be willing to share, for a small price. The university provides a refreshment stand at the site of our yard sale, but they charge concession stand prices, like $3 for a bottle of water. Since Southern Illinois in late September can still mean 90-degree days, we take a cooler full of bottled water. At $1 a bottle, we still make a hefty profit and save ourselves from the over-priced concessions.

9) Use flashy items or signs to draw people in. Bigger items, like furniture will draw people to your booth and signs advertising your prices, as long as they are reasonable, will encourage people to dig through boxes of books, video, etc.

10) If you plan to sell clothing, mark it with a size and take into consideration the time of the year of your sale. At our fall sale, we find we are more likely to sell winter clothes. By the spring sale, people want to think summer, even if it is still 40-degrees out and are more interested in shorts and tank tops. The except to this rule is if your sale occurs on an unseasonable day. One spring, we sold all our long-sleeved clothing because the day ended up being very cold and people wanted more clothing on right then. Last fall, it was 90 degrees on our sale day and no one wanted to look at winter anything!

11) Let your pricing determine the type of change you get and how much you will need. We always assume we’ll need lots of ones, fives and tens, but several years ago we decided we didn’t want to get change for anything smaller than a quarter. So, our own personal rule is that if it isn’t worth a quarter it goes in a free box or into the trash. These are just our personal rules for a successful yard sale, but they have been learned through trial and error and worked so far. Wish us luck. The next sale is in September.

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