How to Run a Profitable Garage Sale

by Katy on April 25, 2014 · 4 comments

Garage sales, yard sales, tag sales, boot sales. Whatever you call them, they’re a great way to make extra money while ridding your home of unwanted Stuff. A well-organized and well-stocked garage sale can bring in hundreds of dollars, so it’s important to plan them out properly.

I consider myself a bit of an expert on pulling together a kick-ass and profitable garage sale — I held another one just last weekend — so I thought I’d share my wisdom with The Non-Consumer Advocate community.

Here are my top tips for running a profitable garage sale:

    • Make sure you have enough stuff to warrant a garage sale. This may seem like a no-brainer, but having enough Stuff to make people get out of their cars is key. Start a garage sale pile as far ahead in advance as possible. I’m not suggesting that you bring Stuff into your home in order to later sell at a garage sale. (Garage sale prices rarely warrant a resale mentality; for that use Craigslist or eBay.)

    • Get help. Recruit a friend or family member to act as your backup. This will be important for potty breaks, busy times, safety, setup and entertainment. Otherwise, no one will believe it when you tell your story about the distinguished looking woman who specifically asked if you had any “1970s vintage porn.”

    • Keep it short. Friday, Saturday, Sunday sales are exhausting. I’ve been known to have one -ay sales, put everything back into the garage (still on their tables), and then do another sale months later. Believe me: You’ll be zonked after one day, so know and respect your endurance.

    • Move your car from in front of your house. If shoppers can’t find an easy parking spot, they’re likely keep driving along. And while you’re at it, see if you can convince your neighbors to move their cars as well.

    • Talk to your neighbors about organizing a group sale. Neighborhood garage sales attract tons more customers, so spread the word ahead of time to arrange multiple sales. Or, better yet, hold your garage sale during an established entire neighborhood garage sale day. Talk to your neighborhood association.

    • Look beyond household Stuff as your merchandise. I have dozens of small euphorbiaplant starts that have volunteered in my front yard, as well as uninvited Lady’s Mantle. I will pot these up and sell them for 50¢ to $1 apiece. I also have some landscaping stone leftover from our stone wall project and will put that out as well.

    • Place individual Craigslist ads for your more desirable or bigger ticket items. I did this with our last garage sale two years ago and every single one of these items sold. I placed them as regular listings, but then wrote that they could be seen at my garage sale, with all the pertinent info. I also made sure to delete each of these listings as soon as they left the property. This may sound like a pain in the tuchus, but you can assemble the listing ahead of time, and then wait to approve them until the evening before.

    • Have a box of free stuff. Nothing is more fun than finding something for nothing, so I’ll be placing a large, well marked “FREE” box close to the curb. I’ll also mention the free box on the main Craigslist ad and place an individual Craigslist listing in the Free category.

    • Don’t price your stuff too low. People like to bargain, so allow some wiggle room. Also, you want to make money. You can always have a 50%-off sale over the last couple hours.

    • Price every item. If there’s no price on something, customers have no idea what a bargain it is.

    • Offer free lemonade or even just ice water. Most garage sales are held on hot days (except here in Portland, where everything is done in the rain), so a jug of watery lemonade or refreshing ice water is a nice gift to your customers.

    • Price items like a store would. I drink a lot of Red Rose tea, which comes with a tiny ceramic doo-dad in every box. I put these out at my last garage sale at “50¢ apiece or three-for-a-dollar,” and everyone, adults and children alike went nuts for them. And no one bought less than three.

    • Be friendly — but not too friendly. This may sound like odd advice, but I know that I mostly just want to be left to myself when I’m shopping, and doubt that I’m alone in this preference. I hate it when store clerks are too pushy, and garage sales are no different. Greet the person and then allow them to quietly peruse your crap.

    • Don’t base what you put out on what you would buy. I’ve been extremely surprised by what sells and what doesn’t at my garage sales. You never know if someone likes to fix broken things or is looking for materials for an art project. If it’s something you don’t want and it’s safe, put it in your garage sale.

    • Put up easy to read garage sale signs. Keep in mind that many of your potential customers are passing your sign at 35 miles per hour. Make the address and hours big and legible. You can always write some of the more juicy details in small script, but no one will come if they don’t know where you’re located. And when your garage sale is over, take your signs down! Otherwise it’s just graffiti and disrespectful to your neighborhood. It goes without saying, the best places for your signs are at intersections where cars have to stop anyway.

    • Place more exciting items closer to the curb. Got a ton of old magazines? Great, but don’t have that be what passerby see first. Put the awesome cool stuff out front and you’ll have more people stop by.

    • Make sure to have lots of small bills and change. Also bags. Nothing is more frustrating for customers than trying to pay and having it be a problem.

    • Keep the money somewhere safe. A lock box is great, but if you’re unable to constantly guard it, it’s worthless. I wear an apron with a big front pocket. Not only can I keep the money right on me, but it helps clarify who the seller is.

    • If you have the original box, keep it. Even if an item has been used, it’s somehow more appealing in the box.

    • Make yourself comfortable. You are going to have both busy and slow times, so put out a chair for yourself, slather on the sunscreen and wear a hat. Plan what you’re going to eat that day, and keep a bottle of tap water by your side.

    • Have a plan for what you’ll do with your unsold merchandise. Some non-profits will come pick up unsold garage sale Stuff, so research this ahead of time.

I ended up making $450 from my one-day garage sale last weekend. With the exception of a bicycle, this was all from low-priced items. The money now sits in a “Vacation Fund” savings account. Money in, crap out — what’s not to love?!

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Diane C April 25, 2014 at 9:25 pm

I’m just finishing making a batch of signs for our Estate Sale tomorrow. Thought I’d hop over here while they print and looky what’s on Katy’s mind, too.

We made several thousand dollars at an Estate Sale last weekend. We decided to go one more day (tomorrow) since we still have more to sell. We are consolidating two households, so we have a ton of crap to move along. We used nearly all of your excellent tips.
I’ll add a couple more to your list, if I may…
1. For higher value items, search on eBay or Amazon. Print the page showing the online price and tape it to your item, with your (of course, slightly lower) buy-it-right-now-and-take-it-home-with-you price in bold letters. Yes, printing is not free, but you will get more cash for your items.
2. Sharpies and blue tape are your friends. Have plenty of both on hand.
3. Keep your signs bright and simple. Ours simply said “Estate Sale”, the street name, and had an arrow. What made them work is that we mounted them on borrowed Realtor’s Open House signs. We used a 10′ x 10′ canopy in the front, so anyone cruising by could figure out which house was having the sale.
4. It’s okay to bargain, but don’t be afraid to defend your prices. Surprisingly, when you do so with a smile, most people will pay your asking price.
5. If you don’t want early birds, wait to post your CL ad until you are ready to go.

That’s all for now, wish me luck tomorrow!


Katy April 26, 2014 at 8:33 am

Great tips and best of luck!



Kim April 26, 2014 at 8:28 am

We also made a early morning trip to the donut shop and picked up a dozen, made a carafe of home brewed coffee and charged $1 for each.
Lots of hungry folks trolling the block looking for deals.
Make the sign visible from the street that you have HOT COFFEE, HOT CHOCOLATE AND DONUTS!


Lana April 28, 2014 at 3:57 am

Great minds think alike??!! 😉 I appreciate your bullets and lists much better than my paragraph ramblings. Ha!


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