Liz Weston: How to make more green at your next yard sale

Yard sales take hours of preparation and plenty of hard work

NerdWallet-Liz Weston-Successful Yard Sale
NerdWallet-Liz Weston-Successful Yard Sale

A successful yard sale involves hours of preparation and plenty of hard work. So does an unsuccessful sale. I’ve had both kinds and can confidently say the version that makes money is better.

If you’re ready to take advantage of warmer weather and the opportunity to declutter, consider these tips culled from experts (and bitter experience) for having a good sale.

DETERMINE YOUR GOALS

First, consider whether a yard sale is the right method for your goals. Yard sales and their cousins — garage, estate, moving and tag sales — can help you get rid of stuff and raise some cash. But you can’t expect to get top dollar.

If making money is your priority and you have time to wait for buyers, consider offering your more valuable items elsewhere. Check out auction sites such as eBay ; apps including Letgo and OfferUp; platforms like Craigslist, Nextdoor or Facebook Marketplace; and consignment stores or even pawnshops.

If you just want to get stuff out of your house, donating your unwanted goods is usually the fastest and easiest option. (You’ll get a tax break for your donation only if you’re one of the few who itemize deductions.)

If your goals are relatively balanced — you want more space and more money, for several hours’ worth of work — a yard sale may be the best option.

GO BIG

Consider enlisting at least one other household that can contribute helpers and stuff for your sale. Shoppers want to see a wide variety of goods — there’s a reason many yard sale ads use the headline “Multifamily sale!” — and the whole experience is a lot more fun with friends.

Tools, kitchen gadgets, sporting goods and camping gear are often the best draws, says Chris Heiska, who has operated the yardsalequeen.com site since 1996. What usually doesn’t sell: anything broken or badly stained. Outdated technology can be hit or miss. Our friends found no takers for their VCR tapes or Princess telephone . But vinyl records can be hot sellers.

Expect to spend several hours collecting, sorting and pricing your items. Pricing is essential — many people won’t ask what something costs, so you’ll be losing sales if there’s no sticker, Heiska says. You can find lists of suggested yard sale prices online or check other sales in your area. When in doubt, Heiska suggests pricing something at one-quarter to one-third of what the item costs new. In some areas, 10% to 20% of the original cost is often the norm.

“You have to think of your shoppers,” says professional organizer Cyndi Seidler of Los Angeles, who manages estate and moving sales for clients. “They don’t go to these things to pay retail prices.”

Pro tip: Price as you go, so you’re not trying to do it all right before the crowds arrive. You can use masking tape and a Sharpie, but I invested $8 in a big package of pre-marked pricing stickers ordered online. Each of the three sellers used a different color, which made it easy to keep track on the day of the sale. We also procured some change: quarters, singles and a few larger bills. How much we started with is a matter of dispute; I’ll get to that later.

GET THE WORD OUT

Craigslist is a good place to advertise your sale for free, but it shouldn’t be the only site. That’s the mistake I made with the yard sale that flopped a few years ago, with few attendees and even fewer sales. One of those attendees explained that veteran shoppers check the sites devoted to yard and garage sales. (Search for “yard sales near me” to see which ones pop up and offer free listings.)

This time, we advertised on a few of those sites plus Craigslist, Nextdoor and Facebook Marketplace. We also used some of our social media accounts to let local friends know about our sale. We employed old-school signage as well: bright yellow yard sale signs, scored from a dollar store and duct-taped at several local intersections with the address, date and time drawn large enough for passing drivers to easily see.

We also made our sale “a shopping experience,” in Seidler’s words. That meant borrowing tables and clothes racks from friends to keep things off the ground, grouping like items together and, toward the end, creating bundles of items and slashing prices. For example, we scooped all the leftover craft items into a box and sold the lot for $5. (By this point in the day, I no longer cared whose items were whose; I just wanted it all off my driveway.)

Our five-hour sale was a blast and netted around $600. As mentioned above, we didn’t keep careful track of how much money we brought into the sale, so how much we cleared is a matter of some debate. We’ll pay more attention next time, because there definitely will be a next time.

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This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Liz Weston is a columnist at NerdWallet, a certified financial planner and the author of “Your Credit Score.” Email: lweston@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @lizweston.

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