Top Tips for Hosting a Profitable Yard Sale

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Summer is coming, and the weather is warming around much of the U.S. You know what that means: Yard sale season is upon us. Hosting a yard sale — or garage sale or tag sale or whatever you want to call it — can be a great way to clear out clutter and generate a bit of quick cash.

As a veteran of many past profitable sales, here are some of my top tips:

  • Be clear on the purpose of your sale. Are you selling things to make money or to get rid of them? This question affects everything you do, from how you price things to how willing you are to negotiate. (If your goal is to get top dollar, you should really be selling on eBay or Craigslist.)
  • A group sale is better than selling alone. If you can coordinate a weekend sale with your neighbors, you’ll draw more traffic. Here in Portland, the Eastmoreland Garage Sale — which includes nearly 150 households — brings in thousands of people every June.
  • Advertise effectively. Stick an ad in the newspaper. Put up a notice on Craigslist. Post clear, simple signs around the neighborhood. Make sure your signs are readable. It’s best to use big bold text like “HUGE SALE” with an arrow pointing the right direction. (The Yard Sale Queen has a great page highlighting the difference between good and bad yard sale signs.)
  • Be prepared. Wear comfortable clothing. Have water and snacks at hand. Get plenty of one-dollar bills and a roll of quarters the day before. Move things out early. Good preparation will help things run smoothly.
  • Display items to their advantage. People will be more inclined to stop if you set up shop in your yard or driveway. Some folks are reluctant to enter a dark and dreary garage. Make your sale inviting and easy to browse. You can lure customers by placing highly desirable items near the road.
  • Think like a customer. As soon as you’ve opened and fielded the initial flood of shoppers, walk through your sale as if you were there to buy something. How does it feel? Are things clearly marked? Is it easy to move around? Are your books on the ground in boxes? Or are they placed neatly on shelves or tables? Would you pay $10 for that porcelain cat?
  • Do not bad-mouth your stuff. At one group garage sale, a friend consistently told customers what was wrong with the items they were buying. “Oh, that book is awful. That’s a terrible movie. That skillet doesn’t heat very well. That game is boring.” We sent this friend inside to drink beer ASAP.
  • Be willing to bargain, but be less flexible at the start. On the first day, you want to get as much as you can for each item. Most people will still buy Aunt Lucy’s soup tureen at $5 even after asking you to sell it for $3. If they’re bargaining, it’s because they want the item. Don’t be completely rigid, but don’t give your stuff away at the start.
  • Do not use a cash box. Carry your money with you at all times. Casual thieves and professional swindlers can both make off with cash boxes in an instant. I use a cheap cloth apron/utility belt from the local hardware store to carry my money. Some people use a fanny pack or a zippered bank deposit pouch. (Here are more tips for avoiding garage sale scams.)
  • Have a plan for what you’ll do with your unsold merchandise. Some non-profits will pick up unsold stuff, so research this ahead of time.

Running a yard sale isn’t rocket science. But if you put a little effort into creating an environment where it’s pleasant to browse and easy to find junk treasures, you’ll make a lot more money.