Monday, April 1, 2013

Clean Out and Clean Up

Garage and yard sale season officially starts today, April 1. No, it’s no April Fool’s joke. As the weather gets warmer, people start thinking about doing some Spring cleaning and getting rid of a lot of junk that’s piled up. I thought I’d take a break from the usual question-and-answer format to offer some tips on setting up and selling at a garage or yard sale.

It’s time to get rid of that old waffle iron, those old copies of National Geographic, your teenager's baby clothes, grandma’s costume jewelry. But before you do, you should do a bit of planning.

From now until the end of October, depending on the weather in your region, Americans will hold more than 10 million yard and garage sales. These sales are the bottom rung of the antiques and collectibles market. It’s the entry-level position where items, long hidden in attics and basements, see the light of day and join the thousands of others in the giant stream to flea markets and antique shops and coops.

Since garage and yard sales began in the mid-1960s, they have become an estimated $1.5 to $2-billion -a-year business. For some buyers its entertainment on a Saturday morning, for others it’s serious business finding inventory for their booths and shops.

Sellers get rid of a lot of junk they don't need and in the process make a few bucks. The average garage sale takes in about $150 to $200. And it's all free. These sales are one of the great unregulated sectors of the U.S. economy. No one cares about child labor laws, sales tax, or product guarantees. And generally, everyone has a good time.

Of all the items sold, dressers, beds, tables, especially smaller ones, are always in demand. More buyers are looking for antiques and collectibles, many of which end up on eBay. Antique mirrors, furniture, art, rugs, pottery, and glassware often sell at garage sales for a fraction of the price they’d sell for in a dealer's shop.

Fabrics—curtains, blankets, quilts, and tablecovers, all expensive in stores, sell well, especially if they’re  custom-made.

Household items are another favorite. Everything from a salad spinner to a potato peeler, new or old, sells, especially if priced under a dollar.

While the majority of buyers at these outdoor sales are women, men like to poke around, too. Tools of all sorts are popular with them. Antique tool collectors scour the sales far and wide looking for that piece to fill out their collection.

There’s even a market for old sports equipment—ice skates, tennis rackets, old baseball gloves— anything from the early days of a sport, especially if they’re in good shape.

To make sure a garage or yard sale is profitable, the seller must plan carefully. It’s a good idea to go to a few sales in the neighborhood to see what others are selling. And it’s just as important to watch the crowd since many of them are regulars who will end up at future sales.

It’s important to check local ordinances. Some municipalities don't care. Others have restrictions on sales. Many require a permit which is often free. Some restrict the number of sales per year.

Good weather is important. While the seven-day forecast can’t always be trusted, it’s a start. But plan for any contingency. Setting up a backyard canopy is good in any case as it will draw visual attention to the sale.

Ads for the sale need to be specific. While a seller doesn’t have to list every item, listing groups of items is a good idea. But don’t say ‘Antiques” if there’s only one or two pieces. And unless the ad states "No early binds," eager shoppers will show up way ahead of time. And don’t fall for some sad story on a Thursday evening about how the person has to work on Saturday and can’t come to the sale. Could they just have a peek? The answer is no. Being fair to all buyers is the mark of a good seller. A telephone number in the ad is helpful for directions and for people to see if you have what they want.

Attract buyers with  easy-to-read street signs, balloons, or streamers. Make all signs legible and the lettering dark enough to read while driving by.

Prepare everything ahead of time. Most of the action occurs in the first hour or two. Price all items. No buyer should have to guess how much an item is. Ask friends to help out and make sure to have plenty of dollar bills and coins on hand for change. Many buyers stop at an ATM machine before setting out and come armed with $20 bills.

Offer several boxes of smaller items that buyers can rummage through. Perhaps group these items by price from low to high in separate boxes. This stimulates buying. Also, a table of giveaways keeps people lingering. Some sellers serve coffee, always good at the beginning and end of the garage and yard sale season..

For those selling antiques, it’s important to know how much they’re worth before selling at some ridiculous price. But remember, this is the lowest place in the antiques market, so even valuable items can only go for a fraction of their value. A good rule of thumb is to send valuable pieces to auction. 

Be flexible on pricing; especially at day's end. Sometimes, it's better to get rid of an item than make money on it. One seller smashed an old crock against a tree rather than sell it for $1.

Next week: Tips on buying at garage and yard sales.

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