‘Tis the season for garage and yard sales, so why not pick up a few extra bucks? After all, your trash may be someone else’s treasure.
Flowers aren’t the only things blooming in the spring. Profusions of yard sale signs sprout every Saturday morning throughout local neighborhoods, attracting shoppers looking for bargains, collectors searching for rare finds and curious neighbors being nosy. Weekendtreasure.com, a website devoted to tracking yard sales across the nation, recorded more than 11,000 sales on a single day last May.
Making sure your sale stands out from the competition requires a little elbow grease and some simple organizational skills. Packing away tons of items that didn’t sell can be quite depressing, especially if you got up early and waited all day for customers.
“Start organizing the things you want to sell at least three weeks in advance,” says Laura McCormack, who held her first garage sale in 1977 and has hosted many more since. “You can’t wait until the night before to get ready.”
A Villages resident since 2004, Laura believes displaying items properly is crucial for a successful sale. “Make sure everything is clean and tagged before the sale,” she says. “Organize items by their use and have similar items in the same area. For example, place all your glassware together.”
Indeed walking into a garage sale where everything is dumped into piles is a turn-off and not just because it’s harder for buyers to sift through the goods before finding what they want.
“If the sellers don’t display with care, they probably didn’t take care of the items very well, or at least that’s the perception a buyer will have,” says Laura, who has made as much as $800 on one garage sale.
Once you decide on a date to have a sale, you must advertise. Don’t think setting out balloons and signs will draw in enough crowds to make the trouble worth your while. Local newspapers’ classified ads have a garage sale section, but those cost money to purchase. Take advantage of the free postings on sites such as Craigslist, Ocala4sale and yardsalequeen.com. Regular garage sale hunters turn to electronic lists because they contain more information about the sales and specific directions with some sites, even plotting sale routes using Google Maps technology.
More and more people are also taking advantage of social media to broadcast their upcoming sales, including Facebook and Twitter. Try sending an email to your friends and ask them to send it to their friends. Word of mouth is very powerful!
Be sure to describe some of the highlights of your sale, especially for items that are unusual and hard to find or may have a limited target market. A few years ago, a friend wanted to sell scrapbooking and rubber stamp supplies. Getting an email into the hands of the local club president devoted to the hobby turned out to be quite fortuitous. Scrapbook aficionados lined the driveway as soon as the clock struck 8am and most of the merchandise was gone by 10.
Begin advertising your sale a few days before the actual event because many enthusiasts plan their routes ahead of time so they can hit as many sales as possible in one day. Craigslist has garage sales sorted by dates, and many are listed a week or two in advance. Some sellers offer to send photos of items in advance, while others are adamant that they will not let folks in early. Pick your poison, and stick to your decision—you may sell more to the early birds, but they can also be quite annoying if you are still tagging and setting up items as they are browsing and asking questions.
Tips for Getting Rid of the Trash
Clean items and display them neatly.
Advertise! Take advantage of free listing services on garage sale websites.
Make sure signs are readable and visible.
Wear a carpenter’s apron and keep money on you, not in a box.
Have plenty of bills in small denominations for making change.
Tips for Finding the Treasure
Check electronic listings for the most up-to-date information on sales.
Bring cash in small denominations.
Be an early bird. The really good stuff goes first.
Bring a recyclable bag in case the garage sale host doesn’t provide bags.
Learn the lingo. Words such as “moving,” “cleaning out” and “liquidation” indicate a deal is more likely than sales where “antiques” or “collectibles” are advertised.
When the sale day arrives, the first thing you’ll need to do is set out legible and durable signs—thebrighter the color, the better. Plain white poster board isn’t always visible on busy roads and will fall apart in a sudden rain shower. Balloons at the end of the driveway prevent people from wandering into a neighbor’s open garage by mistake.
“Make sure you have an address on the sign and an arrow pointing in the right direction,” advises Judy Biebeshiemer, a garage sale enthusiast who has shopped at sales around the country. “If your garage sale is in an out-of-the way area or cul-de-sac, have several signs leading the way to reassure drivers they are headed in the right direction.”
Two schools of thought abound concerning pricing and tagging items. Some say that price tags deter buyers who want to negotiate; others believe the price tags are a starting point for bartering. If an item is tagged too high, some buyers may walk away; if items aren’t tagged at all, it can be hard to remember what you wanted for an item when the busy moments come.
If you are not sure how to price an item, enlist a friend’s help. He or she can be more objective about items that may have sentimental attachments for you. Shoppers are looking for bargains, and they don’t care what you paid for an item originally. You must decide if your sale’s priority is to make money or to get rid of things. Visiting other yard sales can help you determine what the market will bear in your own neighborhood. Remember, not every location is the same. An item you sold for $5 in a previous location may only fetch $2 here or vice versa.
“I prefer Ocala garage sales,” says Judy, who lives in The Villages. “The people have been in their homes longer and are more willing to sell at reasonable prices because they need to get rid of years of accumulation. Villagers have already emptied one, maybe even two houses elsewhere.”
Laura agrees that The Villages isn’t always the best place to look.
“A lot of us all have the same kinds of things to sell.”
Kathi Hall Vincent, a ninth-generation Floridian who grew up in Ocala, looks for antique and vintage pieces that will fit into her businesses. When she was a young mom, she shopped at yard sales out of necessity. Today, she is a successful business woman who says she still prefers the “hunt and chase” of a yard sale where one-of-a-kind items quickly catch her eye.
“One of my favorite pieces is an old oak barrel with the words “Ocala Creamery” painted on the front, says Kathi, who caters vintage weddings and has been featured in Southern Weddings magazine. “I have used it at several weddings with a bowl in the top filled with coffee creamers.”
Kathi also loves looking through old books at yard sales. A recent find had a deep-rooted connection to her own family.
“I recognized the name in the front cover,” she says. “I went into my genealogy file, and it indeed had belonged to a distant family member in Savannah, Georgia.”
While yard sales can be fun and you can meet a lot of interesting people, don’t forget the No. 1 rule of all: to keep yourself safe.Never host a yard sale alone. Make sure a friend or spouse is nearby—even if just inside the house. Wear an apron with pockets or a fanny pack and keep your money with you. Don’t be tempted to use cash boxes, which can disappear quickly if you are distracted even momentarily. Also, experienced garage sale enthusiasts say to avoid letting strangers into your home, whether to use a restroom or to try on clothing.
“I learned on my first sale not to let people in my home,” says Laura. “Two ladies asked if they could go inside the door to try on some clothing. I found them wandering throughout my house.”
If you are selling a large amount of clothing, make a private area in one corner of your garage and hang curtains or sheets around it so people can try on items. In most cases, shoppers will slip on an article of clothing over what they are wearing. An inexpensive full-length mirror may be all they need, and at the end of the day, you can sell the mirror. As for restrooms, direct buyers to the nearest shopping center or service station.
Yard sales seem to be busiest when they first open. If you have a large sale or a multiple family sale, chances are it’s going to be chaotic throughout the day. Be prepared. Have lots of small denominations on hand as well as coins.
Chris Heiska, who runs the website yardsalequeen.com, recommends starting the day with at least 25 $1 bills, two $10 bills, four $5 bills, a roll of quarters and $5 in nickels and dimes. When making change, it’s a good idea to lay the bill on a table in front of you while you count out the change. That way, there is no confusion as to whether the buyer handed you a $10 or a $20 bill. Also, don’t forget to have a calculator handy. Nobody wants to be doing subtraction with a line of customers.
You’ll also want to have plenty of plastic bags or boxes on hand for people who buy multiple items and need to carry them out. Also, old newspapers are useful to wrap the breakable items.
Finally, don’t forget good customer service skills. Smiling and greeting visitors goes a long way when they are trying to decide whether to buy an item. Some veteran garage sale hosts even offer coffee or water. Most importantly, have fun and get to know your neighbors from down the road who inevitably will drop by.
“In the end, it’s not all about the money,” says Laura, who still remembers selling her son’s outgrown clothing and discarded toys at her first sale to a new mom who had just moved into the neighborhood. “It’s just nice to know someone can really use your stuff and to see them walking away happy.”
The World’s Longest Yard Sale: 675 miles of Bargains
This past year, I couldn’t resist visiting America’s ultimate yard sale. Always up for a road trip, I wanted to see for myself whether the bargains really stretched for 675 miles along the Highway 127 Corridor from Alabama to Michigan.
On the first Thursday in August every year, cars begin snaking along the mostly two-lane highway and don’t stop until the following Sunday. Known both as the World’s Longest Yard Sale or the 127 Corridor Sale, the event began in 1987 in Jamestown, Tennessee, where the former Fentress County Chamber of Commerce director was simply looking for a way to get folks off the interstates. He thought a county-wide yard sale might do the trick.
Today, the route stretches from Gadsden, Alabama, to Hudson, Michigan, and the World’s Longest Yard Sale is the ultimate shopping expedition for yard sale enthusiasts. Families, entire neighborhoods, churches and antique dealers sell every imaginable item during the four-day extravaganza.
Current Fentress County Chamber of Commerce Director Walt Page, a former Floridian, says even serious shoppers can’t complete the entire 675-mile trek in one weekend, but they have fun trying.
“People just keep coming back,” he says. “We get thousands of visitors every year, which brings in thousands of dollars in revenue for hotels and restaurants.”
If you plan to drive this year’s event, which is scheduled for August 2-5, don’t delay making hotel reservations. By June of last year, I had to make reservations 40 miles off the 127 corridor. By July, most hotels were booked. Also, be sure to watch the 127 Sale Facebook page because other travelers will provide helpful hints throughout the journey—like where to find the best deals or, more importantly, where to find public restrooms.
For more information, visit 127sale.com.