I go to far more garage and yard sales than the average person. I don’t go to every garage sale, and there are certainly people who go to more than I do. However, for anyone who is contemplating a garage sale of their own, let me offer some advice to get more people to your sale and sell more of your items.1. Keep your prices realistic. I cannot emphasize the point enough that you will not get rich selling all the trash in your basement to the public at large. It quite simply will not happen.

That small, underpowered microwave you bought ten years ago for $80 and let moulder in the basement is not worth $50 today. It might be worth $5 to a starving, broke, and desperate college student. If you insist on getting $50 dollars for it, I hope you are prepared to give it a good home because you’ll still own it at the end of the sale no matter how long your garage sale runs.

Used books are a classic example. If I can buy used books from a used book store for $0.50 cents per paperback, why should I pay you $1.00 per paperback?

Rusty tools from the sixties aren’t antiques; they are simply rusty tools. Furniture made out of particle board and veneer isn’t worth more than $5-10 a piece, no matter how big it is.

People go to garage sales to find bargains; people don’t go to garage sales to get ripped off.

  1. Price items clearly. Unless you want to spend all day answering the eternal question, “How much do you want for this garden gnome made out of macaroni and styrofoam,” put obvious prices on your items.

If you don’t have prices on your items, many people will just leave without buying a single thing. They figure you have unrealistically high notions about how much your crap is worth but didn’t have the guts to put those notions into print. They’ll simply leave without asking the price of a single item.

  1. Use the word "firm" if you are not willing to negoiate on price. If you absolutely must have $60 for Aunt Nellie’s prized doily collection, then put a price tag on it that reads, “$60 firm.” Otherwise, you’ll waste everyone’s time and patience. People will spend all day offering you $20-$40 dollars for the doilies and you’ll be frustrated with time and time again having to state that you want $60.

Even if we think you’re crazy for asking the price you are, we can at least respect and understand that you’re not willing to negoiate on price.

  1. Don't use those stupid pre-printed price stickers. Are you so lazy that you can’t write on masking tape? You won’t make much money having a garage sale, but you want to reduce your net even more by purchasing little pre-printed stickers?

  2. Surliness does not sell. Yes, I’m a stranger on your property. However, you invited me here to peruse the physical remnants of your youthful indiscretions (Yanni and Barry Manilow CD’s anyone?). If you’re lucky, I’ll hand over a few greenbacks in exchange for that odd kitchen gadget you not only don’t remember how to use, but don’t remember why you might want to use it.

However, if you treat me only slightly better than you might a strung-out, home-invader thief, chances are I’m not going to do you the favor of purchasing your trash.

There’s a reason that surly doesn’t sell in the retail world: people don’t like giving their money to people they don’t like. Faking friendliess for a total of fifteen minutes over the course of two hours has never killed or blinded anyone.

  1. Put big, eye-catching stuff where we can see it. If the furniture and sporting goods are all in the garage, and I drive up to the sale and see a set of rusty pots and pans and a well-used scratching post near the curb, I won’t even slow down or get out of the car. Put things people might want to buy where they can see them. While it is a nice idea to force people to walk by all the garbage you’re selling to see the one or two interesting items, you need to get people out of their cars first. The only reason we’ll get out of our cars is if we see something interesting.

  2. Have plenty of change on hand. If you can’t break a twenty, you shouldn’t be in business.

  3. Decide ahead of time if you'll take a check. Nobody likes to ask if you’ll take a check and see you hemming and hawing. Decide before you open up shop in the morning whether or not you’ll take checks.

  4. Inventory your stuff to see if having a garage sale is worth your while. There are any number of people who would do better to place a classified ad in the newspaper and save themselves the trouble of sitting in their garage for six hours on a beautiful Saturday. If all you have to sell is a Rotato,a stack of thirty broken Commodore 64’s, a coffee cup from an out-of-business convenience store, and a complete set of 1987 National Geographic magazines, you don’t have a garage sale; you have a compulsive-urge-to-save-useless-items problem. Place a classified ad or hang some fliers on bulletin boards at local grocery stores for the Rotato and the magazines and call it good.

  5. Put up signs. Just because you know to take a right off of Raymond Rd, onto Lindeman Rd, bear left at Russian Kale Cir, turn left at Crawling Stone Dr., and your house is the second one on the right doesn’t mean I do.

You’re going to get people from all over town who might as well be driving in Africa for all that they know their way around your neighborhood. Put up a few signs to guide us to your sale.

  1. The only thing worse than no signs is bad signs.I see it done time and time again where someone gets a handful of small, free signs from the local newspaper for placing an ad announcing their garage sale. The signs are 8.5” by 11”. The top two thirds of the sign read (cleverly enough) “Garage Sale.” The bottom third of the sign is a small white box. After getting the signs in the mail, these folks carefully write their address in the small white box with a fine tip black marker. They then dutifully trot out to the nearest large intersections, plant their signs in the ground, and hurry back to their houses so they are ready for the innumerable cars that will surely descend upon them any minute now.

Those folks are crazy.

How many businesses in the world advertise their location and services on 8.5”x11” pieces of paper along the side of the road? None. The reason is that signs of that size are TOO DAMN SMALL to read from a car moving along at thiry miles an hour. I cannot believe how many people simply do not make that connection.

Signs for moving traffic have to be big. The writing on them needs to be big. The writing needs to be uncluttered by other things like more writing, funny pictures, balloon strings, etc.

So, how can you make good signs? Here are a few suggestions:

  • If you make a sign, make it big. If you make it billboard sized, you’ll probably violate your city’s sign ordinance, but you’ll definitely get customers.
  • Don’t list every item you’re selling on your sign. This happens more often than you might think and quite frankly nobody can read the things because the writing is tiny and we’re all moving along at 30mph. If we can just find your damn house, we can see for ourselves just what you’re selling.
  • Take a lesson from city street signs and business signs. These signs are made by professionals–people with hundreds of years in the sign-making business. You’ll notice that the signs get bigger as traffic gets faster. You might also notice that text is larger than is necessary to read the sign while standing next to it. That’s because the target audience is moving relatively rapidly and needs to start reading the sign from farther away.
  • The absolute best way to get people to your garage sale is to make signs with big bold arrows. Arrows cannot be misunderstood. You’ll notice that curves in the road aren’t marked with signs that read, “Hey, genius. Slow down, there’s a curve coming up ahead. Prepare to gently turn the wheel just a hair to the left for a while.” In instances like that, arrows are used. We can all understand what an arrow is trying to tell us as we motor along at 65 miles an hour. Similarly, arrows tell me which way to turn at a given intersection to make it to your house. A sign reading “Broken Toilet Ln–Multi-family sale” does not. Use an arrow at each intersection I encounter to give me turn by turn directions directly to your house. A big bold arrow is much easier to see and understand while driving in an unfamiliar part of town than “4902 Dead Lawn Ct.”

While I can’t guarantee that following these tips will make your garage sale one that the neighbors and the riot control squad will discuss for years, they can help make the difference between a net profit of twenty bucks and fifty bucks.

Have fun out there and remember, “Just because you’re selling it, it doesn’t mean that I’m buying it.”