Do's and Don'ts of Yard Sale Transactions

Man buying lamp at yard sale

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You're holding a yard sale to make money, right? Otherwise, you'd just donate the stuff. That means transactions matter. You don't want to lose a big sale because the customer is mad and you sure don't want to fall for a scam. Here are 14 do's and don'ts of yard sale transactions:

The Do's

  • Do get change a day or two in advance. You won't have time on the sale morning. You need lots of quarters and ones, and a handful of fives and smaller coins. 
  • Do keep different denominations and coin types separated in your money box or multi-pocket apron. You'll be able to make change faster and you won't accidentally hand back a five instead of a one.
  • Do tally the items yourself—even if the customer tells you his total. Do it quickly and discreetly if possible. If you're more comfortable explaining, just say you need to note the amounts or take the tags so you know who sold what. 
  • Do look inside objects with lids or drawers while you're totaling up a purchase. It happens innocently at times but it also happens when shoppers try to steal. If you do find something inside, don't assume the worst. Just ask the customer if he wants those items.
  • Do require upfront payment if a customer needs to come back for a big piece much later in the day. If you hold it all day and she doesn't come back, you've missed the chance to sell it to someone else.
  • Do set out a stash of grocery sacks and newspapers for shoppers buying breakables or lots of little things. If you have other customers waiting to pay, you don't have to wrap and pack their purchases yourself. Self-service is fine. Your customers will just be glad to have them available.
  • Do thank your customers as you complete their transactions. It only takes a second and it's the courteous thing to do.

The Don'ts

  • Don't rely on your early morning customers to provide change. The first batch of shoppers may all hand you twenties, especially if they got their yard sale cash at the ATM. Don't be that disorganized seller shoppers hate.
  • Don't put your customer's paper money away while you make the change. Hold that bill in your hand until the transaction is complete. You'll avoid any misunderstandings—both legitimate mistakes and deliberate scams—about the denomination the customer gave you.
  • Don't accept checks unless you know and trust the shopper. Your neighbor from two doors down is probably okay, but you don't know if a stranger's check is good. If someone found more than expected at your sale, which happens, offer to hold the stuff for half an hour while she runs to an ATM.
  • Don't hold an item past the agreed-upon half-hour or so. Don't hold it all day. Most yard sale action happens in the morning. A late customer probably isn't coming back.
  • Don't ask your young children to help with customer transactions. Totaling up prices and making the change should not be a teaching moment. It takes too long and there are lots of other ways your kids can help.
  • Don't hold your customers captive with excessive chat after the cash changes hands. A little small talk is fine if the customers start it, but don't share your life story. Even if your sale isn't busy at the moment, serious yard sale shoppers have other stops to make.
  • Don't let a chatty customer hold you up when other shoppers are waiting to pay. If they have to wait too long, they may give up and leave. Listen to your chatty customer for a quick moment, and then make a polite escape.