How to make bank with yard sales

April 2 |
By: Paul StockerCC BY 2.0

My husband and I are getting ready to move into a smaller space with our son — right now we're renting a house, but are going back to an apartment soon. This is all part of a bigger plan to downsize our living space and therefore our possessions, and it's one that we're really excited about.

Prior to this house we'd never lived in a house together (mostly apartments, and for a few months a janky-ass trailer in the country on his mom's property), and neither of us had experienced the singular anxiety and crazy that comes with hosting a yard sale.

Here's what we learned:

Publicize the sale!

We really put a lot of time and energy into publicity… or not. We lucked out: our state has a handy-dandy website that lets you list yard and estate sales for $5. The listings are live for four days, which is a perfect amount of time if you're only having a sale for a weekend. We also got all old-fashioned and made posters to put on the side of the road, complete with arrows directing people to our house.

Price everything ahead of time or don't worry about it at all

We decided to wing the whole pricing things issue — how do you really put a price on stuff you're trying to sell? We knew we couldn't expect to get a lot for ANYTHING ($50 tricycle? Went for $5. $75 bookshelf? Sold for $10.), so we didn't want to set ourselves up for disappointment.

Having said that: even if you don't put price tags ON stuff, it's good to have a general guideline in mind in case your yard sale gets super busy. Unless you just like making stuff up off the top of your head.

People will show up super early, super late, or both.

Our sale started at 8am… and no one showed up until 9. We spent the first hour alternating between staring out the window and then at all of our crap that we were doomed to walk the earth with forever… and then people showed up! In huge herds! And we could barely catch our breath. A friend of mine told me that whenever she has yard sales people come two hours early, so basically: there's no way to predict it. Just know that you're temporarily opening your garage or driveway up to a bunch of strangers that want to buy your stuff.

Be prepared to sell awesome things for really, really cheap

I've worked at booths in flea markets off and on in my time, so I'm no stranger to people who like to haggle. The most noticeable difference between people at flea markets and people at a yard sale is that at yard sale people know they have power: these aren't goods or services being sold — it's old shit that the host doesn't want anymore. THEREFORE, people can, and will, work you down to the lowest possible price. We were selling stuffed animals for 50 cents (and some of these were $10-20 stuffed animals, you guys), and nearly every person who inquired asked if we'd consider 25… just because. We even had a FREE pile and people asked if they could get other stuff for free.

But it's also good to know when something is worth more

Having said that, it's also important to point out that sometimes something you're selling really IS worth more than what someone wants to pay. I've spent a lot of my time (probably too much) collecting vintage clothing for my son and I. While I typically don't spend more than $20 on a piece, I totally balked when someone wanted to give me a quarter for a dress from the '70s that's in perfect condition. I decided to pull out our vintage clothes and sell them on Etsy instead.

PS: Yard sales and Estate sales are VERY DIFFERENT

I don't want to spend a ton of time on this, but don't tell someone you're having an estate sale unless you really are. We didn't make this mistake, but I've heard of it happening from avid estate sale attendees and they get pissed.

What are YOUR tips for throwing a great yard sale?

  1. My first recommendation is ALWAYS to have a "FREE" pile. This is a marketing technique. You give someone something for free, they feel a little obligated to look a little harder for something to buy. And if they're bound and determined to only take free stuff? So what, at least it's out of your house now.

    I really hate yard sales where I have to ask how much stuff costs. I suggest doing a "table" pricing system–"Everything on this table-$1" If you're going to have a hard time telling where items came from, do color-coded dots. The $1 table gets pink dots. The $5 table gets green dots. Items by price are listed on the yellow dot. Fast and effective.

    14 agree
    • Yes, I also think not labeling things is just asking people to low-ball you. When the stuffed animals are on a $5 table people are more likely to ask if you'll sell 2 for $5 than if you'll take a quarter for it. I mean, it can still happen, but it helps to set expectations.

      5 agree
      • Agreed. It happens to me more in MMO's than real life but any time someone lets me, as a buyer, suggest a price I'm always going to go lower than I think is really reasonable. Even if it's just an opening to haggling I think it usually makes the final price lower than it would otherwise have been.

        (And even so I don't like it because I don't want to go so low that it's insulting, but especially in real life it's virtually impossible to know what they think it's worth.)

        2 agree
    • I agree, I'm always super uncomfortable asking how much something costs, so often I don't buy anything at sales where the prices aren't marked, I just sort of slink off awkwardly.

      13 agree
  2. A great tactic is to use colored dot stickers for pricing. Everything with a yellow sticker is $5, things with a blue sticker are $1, etc. It makes it much less stressful. Also, be prepared to start early. Like pre-dawn. In my community the serious yard sale buyers buy the bulk of things by 6am, and can be found putting dibs on things at 4:30am. By 8 or 9 things are winding down, and the less serious buyers trickle in for small purchases after that.Your mileage may vary though.

    2 agree
  3. My step-grandmother had a great technique for getting rid of unwanted random junk. She would get a bunch of boxes and divy up all her random crap (coffee tins full of nuts and bots, random hardware, old tools, things like that) into the boxes. Then she would add one or two REALLY NEAT items to each box. The boxes would be priced at $5 each, and the buyer HAD to take the entire contents of the box. No mixing and matching contents either. Kind of like an Easter basket or Christmas stocking, but with claptrap from granny's garage instead.

    People would often try to get her to bend, but she had an iron will. If they wanted that giant vintage skeleton key they had to take the 80s style doorknob assembly and package of plastic drop-cloths that came with it. She unloaded lots of random stuff without having to worry about getting people to buy it or throwing it away.

    19 agree
    • I'm such a grab-bag obsessed nut, I'd buy all the things! This is an awesome idea she had.

      Grab bags, giveaways of random crap….yep, that'll all get me to give away my money.

      5 agree
  4. Why do people get pissed if they show up to an estate sale and it's not technically an estate sale? Is it the quality/value of items available for sale? I don't go to garage sales because the ones I've driven by all seem really awkward. The owners are sitting on lawn chairs in the garage smoking or chatting amongst themselves while they watch people paw through their stuff. Maybe it's just my area and garage sales can be totally awesome elsewhere.

    1 agrees
    • I would imagine it's because estate sales are selling everything from a person's estate–that means the good stuff they hung onto throughout life. As opposed to garage/yard sales where people are generally trying to get rid of stuff they're no longer interested in using. While there can definitely be some gems at garage sales, junk is more common than not.

      4 agree
    • Estate sales are generally when someone passes away and the next-of-kin puts almost the entire contents of the house up for sale, using the proceeds to add to the estate's value. People expect a greater variety of items worth a better value at these sales.

      3 agree
    • True estate sales will have better quality furniture and household items than general garage sales. Because they need to get rid of most everything, you can find things you can't find in stores/flea markets/thrift shops. Some of my best finds have been at estate sales.

      1 agrees
  5. When my husband and I moved we tried to throw a garage sale to get rid of some things and to make some extra scratch. Maybe it was just the area we lived in, but we found the whole process incredibly time-consuming and totally not worth the effort.

    When people are haggling with you for 25 cents, you are not "making bank". I think we made $7 the whole day, and it took us hours to get everything dragged out and set up, then a couple hours to drag everything back in and relegate to a Throw Away Pile.

    Not an experience we'll do again. :(

    3 agree
    • ^ This is what I am totally afraid of. I think I'm better off selling the "good stuff" on Ebay and donating/pitching the rest.

      2 agree
    • Exactly. DH and I had a garage sale that was part of a neighborhood garage sale. Never again. I think we made a total of $60 for both days. That was about 14 hours of sitting around plus more for prepping and pricing items. When we consider what each of us makes per hour, we got shafted. Now we donate our old stuff to our local charity and take the deduction on our taxes, which is worth much more.

      2 agree
  6. Depending on your neighborhood, you also want to think about safety. We went to a neighborhood watch informational meeting and a lady was talking about how she was robbed by gunpoint at her yard sale.

    Then there are our neighbors across the street who have a yard sale practically every weekend. We live on a busy street so we get a lot of traffic.

  7. When advertising on Craigslist or whatever, list what you are selling! Seriously, you're more likely to pull in customers if they know you have kids or baby stuff when they need it.

    Also, check your local laws/HOA by laws for any restrictions on sales or sign placements. Nothing like a $50 ticket to eat up your sales.

    Another suggestion is to get together with a few neighbors and have a neighborhood sale. Much more likely to earn traffic.

    4 agree
  8. We prepare way ahead of time. The good stuff? We attempt to sell on Craigslist a month prior to the yard sale. The really crappy stuff? We go ahead and give that away. That way, the stuff that's left over really is yard sale fodder.

    We are also big on over labeling stuff. That way, people will be less willing to lowball you, and you will at least have a starting point for haggling. We also like to advertise "half price after 11" or whenever, to get rid of the rest of the junk that no one has been wowed by. It saves us having to take time to go to Goodwill, and gives us more time to drink that beer we bought with our yard sale proceeds!

    • I've been known to print out an selection from Amazon that has the product description and price so people can see that what I'm asking is a good deal. It definitely cuts down on the haggling. I do the same thing when I sell on Craigslist, I link to the product for sale somewhere.

      1 agrees
  9. My husband and I used to live in a prime location in Minneapolis for garage sales. We were in a rental home on West River Parkway overlooking the Mississippi River. We had runners and bikers and Sunday drivers stopping by all weekend. We had 2 sales while living there and each grossed over $1000.

    We had a few big ticket items, but I think a lot was the location. We also put the coolest and biggest stuff closest to the street to draw folks in. We only advertised on craigslist and made sure to put all big ticket items, like antique phones, bikes and cloth diapers in the ad.

    We prepared ahead of time, priced everything on masking tape in .25 increments.

    We hung all the clothing from bars or ropes ties to branches for easy access, and accepted almost all offers.

    That being said, it was a TON of work and the only way I'll have another yard sale is during a neighborhood wide sale that the city hosts when there'll be lots of foot traffic.

  10. Another thing to think about is how you arrange the items you're selling. Just like in a department store, you can position items to subtly influence the flow of traffic so potential buys see the majority of what's on offer. If people have to walk past three tables worth of random things to get to the furniture pieces that are the real show-stoppers, they're more likely to pick up small impulse purchases along the way.

    2 agree
  11. My friends and I tend to have a garage sale once a year together. Our goal is to clear out unused items and hopefully make some cash. We almost never pretag anything unless there is a nicer item that would be sold on Craigslist if it doesnt go on the day of the sale. In fact I am a big advocate of giving people a deal if they take more times away!

    I think the real secret to a successful garage sale is not expecting too much great weather and booze. Our sales often feel like very early hanging out with Mimosas or B.Mary's! But usually most things go away and what's left gets left in a free pile or/then donated..

    2 agree
    • Yes to booze! I think you are my friend :)

      This is very timely. My close friends/neighbors had a garage sale last week and it rained. We decided to get in on it this week so we are slowly emptying our house and culling our stuff and pricing it.
      We divided the labor and it's worked out well so far.
      MR does the heavy lifting
      I do the advertising, pricing and merchandising
      K gets things from other locales (all of our various parent's houses and weird shit)
      L makes amazing deserts!
      J keeps the booze coming.

      I forsee a happy event.

      2 agree
  12. i think pricing things is really important. some people don't like to ask for a price and for those that want to haggle have a starting point. i've hosted several yard sales and made $500-1000 every time. some of it is about having high value stuff, but most of it is marketing. make sure things are clean, arrange them nicely, put things on tables so customers don't have to bend over, keep reorganizing your tables throughout the day so they look good… a little effort goes a long way.

    4 agree
  13. my sister and i did a yard sale a couple years ago to raise money for our weddings- we got married three months apart. we made a bundle! it was a lot of work, but in the end we made well over $1000 in two days. here are my tips:

    1. price things- lots of people don't like to ask.
    2. make sure everything is clean!- super important.
    3. advertise- we used craigslist and the newspaper (and mention big ticket items to draw people in)
    4. have really good signs- we posted big, professional looking signs indicating directions from all the main roads surrounding our street.
    5. organize your stuff, and display it when possible- we had tons of books so we dragged out a bookcase to make it easier for people to look through, hung clothes up, had separate tables for kitchen things, decorating things, etc. put some furniture near the road to draw people in.

    all in all, have fun. we sat outside and chatted, listened to music and enjoyed our day. also, we found it was a super way to meet some neighbors we had never met before!

    1 agrees
  14. Definitely agree with pricing things–it gives you the opportunity to make more money–some people don't haggle and will just pay $2 for that shirt you totally would let go for a quarter. And people who haggle down from $2 to $.25 are going to feel like they got a great deal and so will buy more of your stuff.

    Also like PPs have said, a lot of people don't like asking for prices and will just skulk off. Those skulkers have money that they wanted to spend on your shit!

    Advertise ON THE SIGNS the types of stuff you have. Write down if it's mostly baby stuff or furniture or a huge record collection. I hate wandering around trying to find a sale and it's all old people knicknacks or baby stuff, which I don't want. Alternatively, saying BABY STUFF and/or IKEA FURNITURE on your sign will possibly pull in people who may not have turned in if it just said YARD SALE. Think about who is mostly going to want most of your stuff and make signs geared towards them.

    Finally, be cool! Sit outside, have a cooler and a lawn chair and an umbrella and a radio and chat with your neighbors and play with their dogs and give them good deals.

  15. I've had more garage sales in my life than most people and I've learned a lot from experience. I have used the colored dot system many times and if you just keep pointing to the "legends" posted all over the place, people get it. Also, you can buy pre-printed stickers at Dollar Tree for a dollar a package (more than enough for one sale). We have always organized like with like and hang up all the clothing on steel pipe held up by ladders on each end. I used to put an ad in the local newspaper. What a waste! Craigslist is the way to go here. I live in Southern AZ and many shoppers are from Mexico who just buy everything to take back and sell. I speak Spanish and that makes a huge difference when dealing with these customers. I always have free stuff to give away to children even though I don't have kids at home now, I find something they'll like. As others have noted, you cannot predict with any accuracy how many will show, but I live across from WalMart and people show up in droves. My signs say something like 10 households, 3 houses. We usually make from $100.00 at the lowest to $800.00 a day. One year we sat in the carport for 14 days throughout the year and got rid of a lot of stuff, did a lot of people watching and made lots of money to boot.

    1 agrees
  16. I highly recommend unique signage, too. It's fun to make and very eye catching and people always make comments on my signs. I've even had people say they don't go to yard sales but came to mine because the signs were so crazy.

    Some tips:

    I cut out things from magazines and make up phrases to go along with them. Once I had a whole bunch of Star Trek clippings and made a poster that said: "Boldly Go To Our Yard Sale" and another that said "Assimilation Sale, Resistance is Futile". Another time I had some leftover paper party decorations from Oktoberfest and made one that said, "Guten Tag Sale". I've even used posters from video games, movies, and stuff that I just happened to have lying around. I used Batman for a "Yard Sale at Wayne Manor". I live near a college, so the video game ones always go over really well.

    Seriously, the signs work, I promise!

    3 agree

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