Although planning and running a garage sale takes a lot of time, you get to pocket all the proceeds. And that can add up to some serious cash. According to Statistics Brain, a research group, garage sales generate $4.2 million in weekly revenue. As long as you sell items for less than you paid for them and don't hold sales so often that they are considered a regular business, you won't need to report what you make to the IRS.
To make the most money, start by gathering all the goods you no longer want from every room in your home—old indoor and outdoor furniture, electronics, housewares, garden tools, appliances, clothing, and the like. Store them in an out-of-the-way area, say, in your basement or garage. Pick the day you'll hold the sale, and check with your municipal government to see whether you need a permit. Also ask whether there are restrictions on where you can post signs to advertise your sale. When the day comes, make sure you have lots of change and small bills on hand, and follow these additional tips.
1. Sell Like the Pros
Too many garage sales are a haphazard collection of stuff, says Katie O’Connor, an editor at Get Rich Slowly, a personal finance blog. "Don't be afraid to use time-tested supermarket and department store promotion tricks," she says. Organize similar items together so they catch the shopper’s attention. If you have a lot of a particular item, “Buy 3, Get 1 Free” is a great option.
What should you sell? Just about anything that’s not precious enough to sell in an auction or consignment shop—including broken items—is fair game for garage sales. “People often buy things for parts at garage sales, especially broken electronics,” says Lynda Hammond, author of "Garage Sale Gal’s Guide to Making Money Off Your Stuff."
2. Don't Price Anything
Figuring out what to charge is the most time-consuming and stressful part of garage sales, says Hammond. Ask buyers for their best offers; they will often name a price that’s higher than the one you would have suggested. “I had a friend who wanted to get rid of a dining room table and chairs and was going to put a $150 price tag on it before I convinced her not to,” says Hammond. “A man at her sale told her he only had $400 on him for the set; she was so flustered she talked him down to $300.”
If people seem too shy to negotiate, then you can name a price. To get an idea of an appropriate valuation, visit Statricks.com. It aggregates pricing data from online auction sites such as eBay and classified sites such as Craigslist. You'll find hundreds of thousands of used products, from small appliances, bicycles and cell phones to computers, photo and video equipment and sporting goods.
3. Get the Word Out
You can place free classified ads on websites such as Craigslist, eBay Classifieds, Gslar.com, and YardSales.net. You'll likely be able to specify the categories of items you’ll be selling, and in most cases post some photos. Also post information about your sale on social-media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
"All garage sales are basically the same. Find a way to set yours apart," says O’Connor. For example, Get Rich Slowly's founder J.D. Roth called one of his sales a “geek garage sale,” and emphasized that he had graphic novels, board games, and computer gear in a Craigslist ad. The crowds that turned out to his sale bought the geeky stuff, but they also bought kitchen gadgets, artwork and clothing. His total earnings: over $2,400.
Make directional signs to attract people to your house from major routes. Hammond suggests using signs no bigger than 15x15 inches that simply say “Sale” and have an arrow pointing the way. Have someone check the signs during your sale, if possible, to make sure they haven't fallen down or aren't covered by signs for competing sales.
4. Go Through Your Stuff
There’s a good chance you’ve forgotten about a $20 bill you slipped into a jacket pocket or keepsakes you stashed in drawers. So check carefully. A woman Hammond knew ran a garage sale that included several old pocketbooks. One of them had several credit cards tucked into a pocket. Luckily, her husband checked the bag and found the cards before they opened for business.
5. Start on Thursday or Friday
Begin early—say, 6 a.m. or 7 a.m.—to ensure that you’ll get the going-to-work and driving-the-kids-to-school crowd. “You’ll have few other sales to compete with, and you’ll attract serious shoppers,” Hammond says. You can always continue the sale during the weekend if you have items left.
6. Be Friendly
People are less likely to buy from someone who is reading a book or talking on the phone, and more likely to buy if you greet them and are available to answer questions and negotiate, says Hammond.
When parents with young children visit, O'Connor suggests finding something to give the kids for free. You can also throw in freebies for folks who buy lots of stuff, which builds goodwill, especially among the other customers who are watching.
7. Think About Security
Keep your house locked during your sale, and keep your money and a phone with you at all times. People toting counterfeit bills sometimes turn up at garage sales, so turn down payments in big bills.
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