7 Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Yard Sale

By Kentin Waits on 13 May 2010 (Updated 9 May 2011) 10 comments

Warm weather invariably means spring cleaning, and spring cleaning means yard sales. There's nothing like declaring open season on clutter and taming those closets, attics, and garages (if only to fill them again next season). If you find yourself hosting a yard sale this year, here are a few common mistakes to steer clear of in order to increase sales and pave the way for a smooth de-cluttering.

1. Under-advertised Sales

The three most important rules to hosting a successful sale are Advertise, Advertise, and Advertise. Use Craigslist, your local paper, or popular community bulletin boards to get the word out. In your ad, clearly state hours of the sale and give readers a flavor of the items you have to offer. Remember, some hardcore yardies will be knocking on your door at 6:00 a.m. if you don't explicitly state "no early sales."

2. Lack of Critical Mass

Avoid throwing a yard sale if you only have a few things to purge. Try eBay instead or piggy-back on a friend's larger sale. Serious yardies don't break for a single card table set up in the driveway with a smattering of items. If you can't avoid a smaller sale, work with your neighbors to coordinate a block-wide event that's more likely to attract customers en masse.

3. Sign Design

Some potential customers will be impulse shoppers, pulled in from the main roads while dropping the kids off at soccer practice or getting an oil change. Appeal to these folks by having clear, easy-to-spot signs that direct them (safely) from main routes. Opt for white signs with bold black print that direct drivers well in advance. No one appreciates a last-minute sign that demands a white-knuckle, Towanda driving moment on an otherwise peaceful Saturday morning. Opt for big arrows rather than a lot of text to direct your drivers. They can usually figure out where the sale is by following a series of well-placed arrows, rather than braking to read and remember the address. A bunch of balloons prominently displayed at the final destination is a cheap but effective way of letting drivers know they've arrived at the right spot. Check local ordinances before posting signs of any sort. Municipal laws vary on what types can be posted. Oh, and as courtesy to everyone, remove the signs promptly after your sale to avoid litter and frustrated late-comers.

4. Stratospheric Prices

Remember, this is a yard sale, not a Sotheby's auction. If it was truly a treasure you'd either be keeping it or bequeathing it to your kids. Price your items to move your items and realize you may not get rich off this enterprise. Being open to negotiation is another way to welcome interaction with your customers and make the day a bit more interesting. Where else in our daily lives can we haggle in a low-pressure environment and maybe teach our kids something in the process?

5. Free-Range Pets

I love dogs, cats, ferrets, and parrots as much as the next guy, but animals at sales only distract me. All the activity can stress your pet, and your pet, in turn, can stress your customers. Curb Spot for the day and realize that your customers are coming to a yard sale, not a petting zoo.

6. Disorder

Organization is the key to moving merchandise. Shoppers expect to dig a little, but not with a backhoe, so find the golden mean. Separate men's and women's clothing, mark sizes if they're not apparent, and price your items clearly. If you're hosting a large sale, keep the toys and kids' clothes in a distinct area. This can help families navigate larger sales and help parents keep track of the kids with less stress.

7. No Change

A buyer with exact change is a fantasy that ranks right up there with Santa Claus and The Tooth Fairy. Your customers will come from all walks of life. Many will have just gotten paid and be shopping for their kids' school wardrobe or for toys for the holidays. Have enough small bills and change ready to deal with the 20's and 50's that will inevitably come your way.

Yard sales are a uniquely American phenomenon — our way of processing and passing along all the goods we have at our disposal. Enjoy the process: the spring weather, the time with your kids and neighbors, the friendly haggling. Making a few bucks in the process is just icing on the cake.

This is a guest post by Kentin Waits. Kentin has written 4 guest blogs for Wise Bread and been published in Backwoods Home magazine. His writings have been featured in other top blogs such as Consumerist and Lifehacker. He's currently preparing to launch his own blog; look for it soon.

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Guest's picture
gt0163c

One other thing - Put prices on your items!!!
I greatly dislike going to a yard sale and not seeing price tags. Yes it does take a lot of extra work, but it makes things so much easier on customers. Especially if there are multiple people shopping at once, I'm more likely to leave than wait to ask you how much that glass plate or kids' game is.

Guest's picture
Guest

If your local radio station has a swap-shop type program, that's another great way of getting it out to the masses. Check with the station first to see if you can put your yard sale on for free, or if it's a paid advertisement (some stations charge a modest fee, since newspapers do the same).

Guest's picture

Great article! This is motivation for me to organize and plan a neighborhood Yard sale at my next HOA meeting.

Guest's picture

I find that an attention-getting ad in www.craigslist.com is the best way to attract buyers. I also keep an email sign-up sheet handy, so that I can send announcements to repeat buyers.

Guest's picture
steve

Great tips, I am a garage sale junky and some of the best deals I have found were from sales that were off the beaten path and poorly advertised. The best method for buying cheaply is to return later in the day and find that they have sold very little.

Guest's picture
BARBIE

If you are serious about an item be prepared to make a good down payment on it & have the seller give you a WRITTEN, SIGNED AGREEMENT OF SALE & MAKE SURE THE ITEM BELONGS TO THE HOMEOWNER & THEY INCLUDE THEIR ADDRESS & PHONE NUMBER ON THIS receipt , ALSO & VERY IMPORTANT make an AGREEMENT on the SALE SLIP as to how much time will be allotted for you to RETURN & MAKE THE PURCHASE, say it's 4hrs or 6hrs or 24hrs & if you dont come back or call the SELLER in that time then the SELLER has the right to keep your deposit & to SELL the Item!!!! You could also put in the sale that if the seller sells the item for say at least 85% of his asking price, as long as you keep her/him advised of your situation and that allows him to re-sell it, then & only then you'll get your deposit back, but ALL THIS HAS TO BE IN WRITING & SIGNED BY BOTH OF YOU IN ADVANCE !!! This way YOU'LL BE ABLE TO GO GET HELP to TAKE THE ITEM HOME (A TRUCK, PERHAPS) & you'll have time to get someone to help you carry it, load it & unload + to put it in your home !!! Also, the seller wont be able to sell it for a HIGHER PRICE after you've left !!! And agreement to sell/purchase, with a written agreement & a deposite is A LEGAL CONTRACT & if it is sold out from under you, you can bring Legal Charges !!!!! Make sure the SELLER knows that YOU KNOW the LAW by saying something like, "Well, now we're bound together by law, unless I dont come back in time !!!"

Guest's picture

Great post! I totally agree about the pet thing, though I have never had that problem when I have gone to them. And lol @ the correct change customer being like the Tooth Fairy!

Yard sales are not uniquely American, other countries do them, often called garage sales though.

There's more tips here http://www.squidoo.com/50yardsaletips if you are looking at hosting a yard sale.

Guest's picture

One tip on signs... I have, in the past, used large boxes from stores. You can add white signs with black lettering on the side, but the great thing about boxes are that you can easily weigh them down with a little earth or rocks and they can be big enough for all to see.

Guest's picture

Yard sale is fun and enjoyable. It allows you to get rid of items that you no longer have any use for. When you hold a garage sale, try to have someone to assist you whenever possible and designate a cashier so no prospective buyer can claim that they have already paid someone else.

Guest's picture

One thing that keeps me from feeling a productive spending environment at garage sales is overly eager sellers. I prefer to be kept relatively in peace and only be approached if I have a question.