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Hosting a garage sale can be an effective way to turn rarely used items around the house into extra cash for a big splurge, paying off bills, or donating to a good cause. But a successful sale takes lots of planning, prep, and execution. Before you post any signs, use these garage sale tips to make the most cash possible from all your hard work. We turned to Tanisha Porter, a professional organizer and owner of Natural Born Organizers in Los Angeles, and Shannon Quimby, a Portland, Oregon-based garage sale expert and designer, to learn the best strategies for a successful garage sale.
garage sale sign with items for sale on grass in front yard
Credit: Daniel Grill/Getty Images
1. Have a goal for your garage sale.
"The first thing people want to think about is the why," Porter says. "You need to know if you are holding it to recoup money, to generate income, or to pay it forward and make sure the items you are selling are going to a new family to live on again." Knowing why you are doing a garage sale can help you stay focused and motivated.
For Quimby, the original purpose for her annual garage sale was to give her DIY makeovers and extra materials a new home. But the simple sale eventually turned into a 17-years-running epic event that she holds each summer with several friends. "We all make money, which ultimately makes a bigger and better sale. It's a win-win," Quimby says. "We also get to let go of stuff, make some moolah, and have less clutter at home. I use the money I make to go toward our vacation."
2. Check out the competition.
Take the time to walk through other local sales before you hold your own to gather intel on what works, what doesn't, and how to price to sell. Go online and click through your community's message boards or newsletter, as well as online apps such as Nextdoor, to note the words and descriptions that grabbed your attention and made you want to check out a sale.
3. Pick a garage sale date.
Fridays and Saturdays are generally the best days for a garage sale. Consider holding one the first weekend of the month when many people get paid and have more discretionary cash. Set the date at least a month out to allow time to gather and price sale items.
Bags with Garage Sale and To Donate items
4. Start collecting items.
Sort garage sale items into categories, such as kids' gear, kitchen wares, linens, and workout gear. This will help simplify your setup. If your sale is so successful it becomes an annual event like Quimby's, you can collect goods all year to sell. "I make it a goal to put one thing toward the sale every day—even if it's just a pair of earrings," she says.
5. Price as you gather items.
Don't plan on pricing the night before the sale. You'll be too stressed and tired to make good choices. Instead, price items as you gather them. "Pricing takes forever. And you want to price ahead of your sale; otherwise, you'll lose money if people come and you don't know what you want for an item," Quimby says.
Porter also recommends thinking like your customers. "People who are coming to a garage sale want to bargain hunt," Porter says. "They're expecting everything to be at a deep discount. It may be brand new and still have the original tag on it, but since you're selling it out of your garage or on your lawn, people expect a bargain."
6. Use inexpensive tags.
Minimize expenses by choosing low-cost tags. Pick up stickers from a discount store or use masking tape and a permanent marker. To make your own tie-on versions, tear up brown paper bags into tag-size pieces and punch holes in them for stringing.
7. Write up a pricing sheet for clothes.
Put together a clothing price sheet so you don't have to price each piece separately. Quimby's typical prices range from 25 cents for socks to $7 for coats, "because clothing has got to be priced cheap," she says. Place price sheets in clear sheet protectors, and post several around the clothing. You can also tape a price sheet next to the cash-out area for easy reference.
8. Advertise your garage sale strategically.
Start posting online ads, hanging flyers, and telling everyone you know in person and on your social media pages a few days before your sale. Call it something catchy but simple, such as "Shannon's Huge Sale!" or "Friends' Ultimate Group Sale!" so your sale stands out. If you have sought-after items such as kids' toys or clothes, specialty tools, craft supplies, or collectibles, make sure to note that in the ad. Always include your full address, days of the sale, and times. For online sites, request that your sale notice posts a day or two ahead of the sale and stays up through the last day. Promote your forms of payment in ads (and on the day of the sale), especially if you'll accept credit cards and online payments like Venmo.
Quimby never pays to advertise her sale since there are so many free online options. Here are some of her favorites:
10. Post physical garage sale signs.
Hang easy-to-read, weather-proof signs within a mile of your house with heavy-duty tape, or use the existing nails on wood poles (where allowed). Quimby writes the days, times, and address with chunky markers for easy-to-read signs that can be reused for the next sale. "All your signs must look the same so people know it's for the same garage sale, and they must be readable from afar, even if you handwrite it," she says.
Hang the signs high at both ends of your street and at nearby busy intersections where a driver can easily read them. Drive past them to verify their readability. Some communities have regulations about how and where you can post signs, so research this before you start. On the day before your sale, you can also use sidewalk chalk to draw arrows pointing to your house with words like "Sale!" and "This Way!" Quimby says this entices neighbors to check out your sale because they'll feel like they're part of a scavenger hunt.
11. Have all the essentials ready.
The week before your sale, gather necessities and stash them together. Arrange to borrow lots of tables, including one for the cash-out area. "Call your friends, your neighbors, your parents, your cousins—anyone you can think of who will let you borrow one," Porter says. Stock a cash box (this can be an old toolbox or crafting box as long as it's sturdy and has shelves or dividers to separate bills) with a variety of bills for change. Have an extension cord, lightbulbs, and batteries on hand so people can test if items work. Here are some other items Quimby suggests:
- Clear, zip sandwich bags
- Cooler for drinks
- Hand sanitizer placed in multiple spots and at checkout
- Paper clips
- Plastic grocery bags
- Receipt book
- Safety pins
- Sold tags and "I Live Here" tags to mark items that are not for sale
- Tape measure
- Tarps and umbrellas
- Treats and drinks
12. Prepare digital tools if needed.
Buy an inexpensive credit card reader, such as Square, and download online apps like Venmo so you can accept credit card or online transfer payments. Quimby says you might have to pay a processing fee if you accept cards, but usually the increase in sales more than makes up for it. Be sure to have a working hot spot, especially if your Wi-Fi can get iffy. Download an app like Tally Sheet to record sales, which can be especially helpful for group sales.
13. Set up the day before.
Give yourself a day ahead of the sale to set up. If items will be kept outside overnight, cover them with large tarps or old sheets to keep them protected. Porter recommends setting up your sale like it's a fun shopping experience. Put your borrowed tables to work so everything is easy to see and no one has to bend over to look at something. Use books or sturdy shallow boxes as risers on tables to create a change in height and add more focal points.
Quimby sets up different "rooms," placing all the kitchen or living room items together, for example. Within the zones, arrange coordinated vignettes like you would see in a shop's display window. Helping people see the items inspires them to buy more. You can also designate a kids' section. This is the one place you want to put things down low so they're at kid height. "You want the kids to play with the toys because if the kids are active and playing, the parents get to shop longer," Quimby says.
14. Make sure everything is in good condition.
All sale items should be clean, unwrinkled, and in good condition. Pump tires and balls up with air, and install working batteries in anything that needs them. Throughout the day, have a helper go through and fluff or fold clothing, put together new outfits, and rearrange pieces on tables. Quimby says people might even come back the second day to see what's new or what they missed and buy more.
15. Arrange clothing thoughtfully.
Hang clothes so they're easy to see. You can string a clothing line between trees or poles, hang clothes on a fence, or, if you have one, bring out a clothing rack. Take the time to display clothes in complete outfits—they're more likely to sell. You can also group items like T-shirts or shorts into sets of three to five and label with their size. If you have items like handbags, dress coats, suits, or sports gear that can fetch higher prices, separate them into their own area and clearly identify them as specialty items.
16. Showcase jewelry and eyewear.
Set up an area for small items like jewelry, sunglasses, and readers next to the cash-out table. Pin jewelry on a cork bulletin board or use hooks to hang pieces on a window screen. Organize by style so more formal or kid-friendly pieces are grouped together. Always keep earrings together.
17. Group linens in sets.
Bundle sheets with pillowcases in sets and label with their size (twin, queen, etc.). Group napkins together and lay them beside tablecloths so people can easily pair things up. Combine towels into sets that include a washcloth, hand towel, and bath towel. Wrap all bundles neatly together using twine or string.
18. Sell drinks and individually packaged treats at checkout.
Stock coolers or buckets full of ice to sell drinks at the checkout. Small baked goods can also be an easy way to boost profits. "Our friend had a baking business, so she brought individually wrapped cookies and sold them for $1 apiece. Each day she sold out in an hour and a half," Quimby says.
19. Be prepared for negotiations.
Use your intel from the competition to help you price items fairly, but be prepared for shoppers to negotiate. Before the sale, determine the lowest price you're willing to accept, Porter says. Quimby starts with a fair price and doesn't barter on the first day of her sale (or with any early-birds), but she will negotiate on subsequent days to keep things moving.
20. Think twice about allowing holds.
Holds just create hassle, Quimby says. "I learned from experience that most people don't come back, and if they really want it, they'll usually buy it once they know they can't put it on hold." For people who buy something but need to fetch a vehicle to pick it up, you can pleasantly remind them what time the sale ends and that everything leftover will be part of a donation pickup. That way, they are incentivized to return by the end of the sale.
21. Plan for an after-sale pickup.
Set up a donation pickup at the end of your sale to get rid of anything that remains. "Nothing that went into the sale should go back into your house," Porter says. Some charities require a month's notice to schedule one, so plan ahead. At closing time, let people keep shopping but start moving items to the designated pickup area so you can wrap things up. Also, set up times for you to return borrowed tables.
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