July 28, 2014 at 4:25 PM ET
Garage sales are a ton of work, from picking through every room in your house to find things to sell to hauling an endless amount of stuff outside. The reality is that most sellers are lucky to end up with a few hundred bucks. So are those stories of garage sales that net four figures just suburban legend? Not necessarily.
Follow these tips and tricks from our garage sale experts, and you’ll be on your way to making a nice chunk of change.
1. Partner with others.
“Have a neighborhood sale,” suggests Lynda Hammond of GarageSalGal.com and author of "The Garage Sale Gal's Guide to Making Money Off Your Stuff." When multiple homes near each other have their own sales, it attracts more buyers to the neighborhood, she says.
Or you can get a few friends together to host a joint sale. “If you’re in a cul-de-sac in a remote part of town, you might look into going in on a sale with someone nearer a busy street,” suggests J.D. Roth, the founder of GetRichSlowly.org who has hosted and shopped hundreds of garage sales. The amount of traffic that sees your signs or drives past your sale will have a big impact on your profits, he says.
2. Sell a few big-ticket items, within reason.
Do you have an old collection you don't want to hold onto? Have old furniture or electronics you can part with? Experts say having a few items that command higher price tags will help amp up your cash take, as well as lure potential buyers to your sale where they will likely pick up other items.
But, remember it’s a garage sale, not Tiffany & Co. “If you do think it’s worth a lot of money, it’s not something to sell at a garage sale,” says Bruce Littlefield, lifestyle expert and author of "Garage Sale America." “People who walk into a garage sale aren’t going to buy a ruby ring for $1,000.”
3. Pick a theme.
“So many garage sales are the same, lots of children’s clothes, old glassware, stuff people can find anywhere,” Roth says. “Branding helps differentiate your sale from the others.”
If you have a lot of sports equipment, gardening tools or canning supplies, make that your marketing message to lure people interested in those items. Last year, Roth held a “Geek Garage Sale” and emphasized that he had graphic novels, board games and computer gear. He netted over $2,000 in two days.
Then, because he still had shelves filled with classics, graphic novels, and photography manuals, Roth re-branded the leftovers as a “Book Sale” for a third sale day. Traffic was lighter, but still he made an extra $400.
4. Get the word out in more than the usual ways.
On top of placing the traditional newspaper ad, post details of your sale on Craigslist and on garage sale websites. “You want to make note of the special things you have to lure people in,” Littlefield says. “List furniture, antiques, garden tools, toys, a dining set, a bedroom set, so everybody who is looking for those things knows to come to your sale.”
“Also think about social media for advertising your sale,” Hammond says. “Use Twitter and Facebook and the word will be spread.” (Find out more about how social media is affecting garage sales.)
5. Keep your signs simple.
“Here’s what a good sign is: Neon poster board with one word ‘SALE’ and an arrow,” Hammond says. “A lot of people will put the address and lots of words, but when you’re driving you can’t read all that.” Wait until you’ve hung the signs to draw the arrows so you know which direction it should point, she says, and keep the poster board small so it doesn’t flap in the wind. Hammond also suggests having someone drive around at certain points throughout the day with supplies so he or she can make a sign on the spot if one has disappeared.
6.Set your stuff up like a store.
“You’re the manager of a store for the day,” Hammond says, and a store is what your sale should look like. Organize items by type (kitchen, clothing, sports, etc.), make it easy to walk the aisles, and display things where people can see them, experts say. “Don’t put clothing in a box,” Littlefield says. “No one wants to go through that. It needs to be seen and displayed. Fold it on a table, or hang items up.”
Also, create browsable sections. “Anything that’s browsable—collections of things like books, records, or CDs—will get people to spend time at your sale,” Roth says. “When people drive by and see people at your sale, more people will stop.”
7.Have a pricing strategy.
“Pricing should be 10 to 25 percent of what the initial price was on everyday items,” Littlefield says. “For family heirlooms or things that are worth a lot of money, look on eBay—not for what it was listed as, but what it sold for to see what somebody has actually paid for it.” Except for big-ticket items like a bedroom set, most things should be priced for $1 to $100, he says. Towards the end of the sale, expect to sell things for half off. “Go back and mark your signs “everything half off’ and you’ll get tons more traffic,” Littlefield suggests.
Another option? Don’t price anything. “One of the most time-consuming, tedious parts is pricing your items, and you’re likely to procrastinate doing it and not have your sale,” Hammond says. “Plus, a lot of times you will get more money if you don’t price stuff. Maybe you have an old chef’s cookie jar you’ve always hated and would take a buck for it. But, maybe the buyer has been looking for that and would name a higher price. I’ve had so many friends who have tried it and they will never go back to pricing stuff,” she says.
Or, combine the two strategies and put price tags on most items while also having a dollar table.” You don’t have to tag everything, so it makes it easier,” Littlefield says. “Have more items in boxes under the table so you can replenish it.”
Bundling items together is also an effective upsell strategy, Littlefield says. “If you have quantities of certain items like CDs, books, or DVDs, price them three for X dollars,” Littlefield says. “If they see one they like, they’ll then look for two more to go with it. It moves merchandise.”
If you're approaching the last hour of the sale and really want to get rid of your stuff, give shoppers bags to fill for $5 a pop. Your stuff will go a lot faster and people will feel like they got a great deal.
8. Open at nontraditional times.
“You can do three times the money on a weekday than on a weekend because of supply and demand,” Hammond says. “There are so many garage sales on a Saturday the shoppers are spread thin, and people will hesitate more because they think, ‘I might see something I like better down the street.’”
Also, open early. “The serious buyers are out early,” Hammond says. “And open on a Friday from 6 to 8 a.m. to get buyers who are on their way to work or dropping off their kids at school.”
9.Build a frenzy.
“When I’m setting up my own sale, I think of the velvet rope at clubs,” Littlefield says. “I set up a rope across my driveway and a sign that says when the rope will be dropped. You get a crowd of people gathered there at your rope and create a frenzy over your stuff by making them drool over it for a few minutes and they have competition to the right and left of them. When you drop the rope, people literally run to get the things they want,” he says.
10.Create a fun shopping experience.
“Make it a party with music, lemonade, and cookies,” Littlefield says. “If you get people talking to you and talking about your stuff, they are much more likely to want to give you their money. It makes it a happy memory for people.”
11.Safeguard your stuff.
Keep your doors locked, don’t let people go into your house or use your bathroom, and guard your cash box. Better yet, don’t use a cash box and keep your money in a cloth tool apron from the local hardware store, Roth suggests. “I’ve heard a number of stories from people who have been scammed by groups who run distraction schemes where one person distracts the person running the sale, while someone else cleans out the cash box,” he says. “Carry your cash with you at all times. Put big bills in your pants pockets and small bills in the pockets of the apron.”