How to Organize a Successful Yard Sale

Minimize Stress and Maximize Profit

Yard Sale
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Having a yard sale can be torture of the worst kind or a relatively easy way to clean out clutter and make some extra cash. Your goal is likely to have the latter. The key to having a successful, stress-free yard sale is organization. Follow the tips below to ensure you're well-organized.

General Preparation

  • Estimate the time you think it takes to get a yard sale together. Now triple that, and set your sale date for a convenient weekend afterward.
  • Conventional small-town wisdom, where your buyer pool is limited, is to plan your yard sale for the first weekend of a month. Buyers on fixed incomes will be the most flush at that time. It doesn't seem to matter as much in larger cities.
  • Once you set the date, go ahead and get a permit if your city requires it. You might forget once you're busy prepping for the sale.
  • Print out a yard sale checklist and timeline. Keep it handy so you can check off your tasks as you go. 

Gather the Merchandise

  • Except for large items, go ahead and corral the things you're sure about selling in one area, a garage or seldom-used room if possible. They'll be out of your way, physically and mentally, while you deal with the iffy items.
  • For the items you're unsure about selling, ask yourself these questions:
    • If I didn't already own it, would I buy it again today?
    • Do I care what happens to it or who buys it? If you're worried about who gets it, you aren't ready for it to go.
    • If I regret selling it, can it be replaced?

Price the Merchandise

  • Pick up some neon-colored price stickers. Some come preprinted with various prices.
  • If you aren’t using preprinted stickers, use a large permanent marker or something similar so the price is easy to read.
  • If you're not a regular yard sale shopper, go to some. Look at prices and watch the shoppers. If the merchandise looks pretty good, but most people walk away without buying, the prices are too high. If shoppers are carrying stuff around and seem excited, the prices are right.
  • Price everything. Make it easy for your customers to buy. It’s annoying to have to ask for a price on everything you like -- and some shoppers just won’t bother.
  • Don’t rely on complicated systems where customers have to refer to a price chart that may be obscured by the crowd. Even if the view isn’t blocked, they’ll drive you crazy asking for prices anyway. It takes more prep time, but you’ll be glad things are less hectic on the day of the sale.
  • If you’re selling something with some value, but you're not sure how much, do a completed item search on eBay. Then, price it for a little less.
  • Don’t overprice. It’s an interesting phenomenon. For some people, the nasty, ratty chair they just can't stand becomes fine designer upholstery in mint condition when it comes time to sell it.
  • Don’t expect to get what you paid for something unless you bought it at a yard sale. If you want top dollar, sell it at auction with a reserve or put it in a consignment shop.
  • Be aware that people will expect to haggle. Determine the minimum you're willing to take for your nicer items, and then add 10 to 20 percent to give yourself some negotiating room.
  • Write the word “firm” on the tags of your pricier pieces if you're not willing to negotiate. Some will ask anyway, but not as many.

Advertise the Yard Sale

  • Place classified ads in your local newspaper -- both the web and print versions -- and on Craigslist.
  • Serious shoppers plan in advance. If your sale starts on Friday, start your newspaper ad on Thursday. If the sale is Saturday, start the ad on Friday.
  • Start your Craigslist ad a couple of days in advance. Spend the extra money and list your prime merchandise. Don’t forget your address, the dates, and the starting time.
  • Ads won't generate as much traffic as your classified listings but do list your sale on yard sale sites and online community calendars, as long as there's no cost.
  • If your HOA, neighborhood, or town has a Facebook page, list your sale there too.
  • Yard sale signs are just as important as your published listings. Use a neon-colored poster board and thick, thick black lettering. Place them at the main intersections near your neighborhood, and at all the turns leading to your house. Point the way with thick, black arrows. Put your signs out the night before the sale.

Set Up the Sale

  • If you’re having the sale in the garage, start setting up a few days in advance. If you’re having it outside, have everything ready and get up early.
  • Expect a few shoppers to show up while you’re still setting up outside, even though it's way before your starting time. Send them away if they bug you, but know that early birds usually come to buy -- and they still have all their money in their pockets.
  • Other than folding tables, don’t display merchandise on anything you don’t want to sell. It seems to be understood that folding tables aren’t up for grabs, but drag a table out of the dining room and shoppers will drive you crazy asking if it’s for sale. Borrow or rent folding tables if you don’t have them.
  • Arrange things logically. Put all the books in one place, all the clothes, all the dishes, etc.
  • Display valuable items close to the house, or close to the inside door if the sale is in a garage, where you can keep an eye on them.
  • If you are holding the sale in the garage, remove everything that's not for sale. If that's not possible, rope it off and use “Not for Sale” signs.
  • If the sale is in the yard, put “Not for Sale” signs or stickers on any statuary, lawn ornaments, planters, or porch furniture. Better still, move it somewhere else until the sale ends.

During the Sale

  • Make sure you have plenty of one dollar bills, at least one roll of quarters, and a handful each of dimes and nickels to start.
  • Unless you have a designated cashier with no other duties who sits at a designated table, do not use a money box. Otherwise, you will accidentally leave that box unattended at some point during the hectic day.
  • If you have no designated cashier, wear a fanny pack or an apron with lots of big pockets. The apron is best. You don't have to worry about a zipper and it helps shoppers identify you as the seller. 
  • Keep plastic grocery bags and old newspapers on hand for shoppers who buy multiple or fragile items. If there's a rush, it's fine to hand over a bag and some paper and let them pack their purchases themselves.
  • Greet shoppers as they arrive so they know who's running the sale. Otherwise, they'll have to track you down when they have questions or want to pay.
  • After you greet people, leave them alone and let them shop. They are on the hunt and don’t have time to chat. If someone is really eyeing something, it’s okay to drift that way in case they have questions, but resist the urge to try to sell. Unless they ask, don’t tell them your Aunt Hilda whittled the spindles with her pointy teeth. They don’t care and you’ll look pushy.