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Ten expert tips for a successful yard sale

By CAROLYN CAMPBELL
Contributing writer

Kim Cosentino turned her garage sale into a family effort.

A professional organizer with The Declutter Box, Inc., Cosentino says children who are "budding entrepreneurs" can sort through their own toys for items to sell, and invite their friends to do the same.

Her 10-year old daughter, Katie, was thrilled with the idea.

"She tends to keep everything, so I was amazed at the amount of items she was willing to sell," Cosentino said.

A key to the sale's success was that Katie was in charge of her table and was allowed to keep the profits.

A garage sale can be a great way to weed out toys and free your home from clutter. Jeff Lenci, who has hosted and shopped at many garage sales, offers the following suggestions for achieving garage sale success:

1. What is the definition of a garage sale?

"A garage sale is an opportunity to both make money and dispose of items that you haven't used in at least two years, and will probably never use again," Lenci said. "One man's junk is another man's treasure. A garage sale is a great place to sell items such as toys, old fry pans, toasters, mixers, old clothing and furniture."

2. How should I prepare in advance for my garage sale?

Preparation and proper pricing are crucial.

"Take enough time before the sale to gather all of the items you haven't used in two years," Lenci said. "Save boxes and grocery bags so that your buyers can use them to carry their items home."

Through personal experience, he discovered that merchandise sells better if it's arranged on tables rather than lying on the lawn or in the driveway. Clothes are more likely to sell if they are hanging on a line.

"Keep in mind that some garage-sale shoppers are only looking for certain of types of goods," he said.

"Organize your possessions with similar items together in a specific area-clothing in one area, toys in another, kitchen items in another, all sporting goods together."

3. How should I price items?

Proper pricing, Lenci said, can make the difference between earning $200 and $2,000 at a garage sale. As a rule of thumb, he said, items should sell for between 20 and 25 percent of their price if purchased new.

For example, if an electric fry pan costs $20 today, a used electric fry pan should sell for $5 at a garage sale. If you don't know the current price of a new item, Lenci says to check a mail-order catalog, consult a company website or "cruise through a store."

When pricing items, he says, visit an office supply store and buy a roll of "theft-proof" labels.

"Put a price on everything," he said. "Even pricing amounts - $1, $3, 50 cents - are less complicated, so that you don't have to deal with pennies, nickels and dimes."

He adds that there will likely be miscellaneous items, such as small toys, glass jars or kitchen items, that are too small to label. He suggests marking these with a colored marker, such as red for $1 items or green for those that cost 50 cents. Place these together in a produce box for display.

Lenci suggests labeling all items a day in advance of the sale.

4. Are there items that shouldn't be sold at a garage sale?

At one garage sale he visited, Lenci saw a box of six water glasses priced at 50 cents per glass. They were actually Waterford crystal worth $75 each.

"Items that have substantial value, such as Oriental rugs, full sets of china, valuable art work or antiques should not be sold at garage sales," he said. "If you have an item such as an old watch or piece of rhinestone jewelry you think may be valuable, consult with a consignment shop before selling it at a garage sale. Consigners will pay you 70 percent and take 30 percent. They know what price such items will bring."

5. How can I promote my garage sale?

Lenci distributes fliers to the neighbors on his street a week or more in advance of his garage sale to invite them to join in the future sale.

"If you invite your neighbors to join with you, you can advertize your sale as a multi-family garage sale, which has greater appeal to buyers," he said. "You can also split the cost of the advertising with other families."

Lenci added that Saturday is "the only day" to hold a garage sale.

He also advises running a classified ad in a main local newspaper or newspapers the day before and - if possible - the day of the sale.

"Keep your ad to two lines," he said. "List the date, time and address of the garage sale and note 'no early birds.'"

6. Should I provide directional signs?

More than half of the people who visit your sale will find it by simply driving around looking for sales.

"It's important that you place a large sign on the main thoroughfare," he said.

He advises using a piece of fluorescent poster board and writing only "Garage Sale" and the address with a directional arrow.

"Place a similar sign at each intersection or turnoff," he said. "A trail of signs is like providing a trail of bread crumbs for people to follow."

Some municipalities have laws against putting up signs on public property or on poles. Check your local regulations before doing so.

7. How should I handle early birds?

Early birds are buyers who buy the newspaper when it comes out at midnight, Lenci said. They map a route of which garage sales they plan to visit the next day.

At 6 or 7 a.m. their goal is to shop the sales, sweep up all underpriced merchandise and resell it themselves - often at the Sunday swap meet the next day.

"They may knock on your door the night before the sale and ask to look around or they'll stop at your house at 5 a.m. with a heartrending excuse such as their mother's funeral is that day," he said. "Tell them that no one is invited to view the sale items until the official opening time."

He suggests that 8 a.m. is a typical time for a garage sale to start.

8. How much change should I have on hand?

Be sure you have enough on hand to at least make change for $100.

"A common early-bird tactic is to gather a stack of stuff and then hand over a $100 bill, knowing that most people don't have that much change," he said. "When you say you don't have the change, the reply is often, 'I do happen to have a twenty.'

"If you give them a hundred dollars worth of goods for $20, you've lost. And when you do have the change, they'll suddenly not want everything they've picked out."

Don't accept checks from anyone you don't know, he advises.

9. What about people who want to argue over a price?

"Be firm about prices," Lenci said. "You are in business to get fair value for what you are selling."

He suggests telling buyers who offer lower prices that everything that hasn't been sold by 5 p.m. will then be sold at half price.

"If they want the item, they will come back for it," he said.

Meanwhile, another buyer might pay full price for the item before then.

Most garage sales experience a flurry of morning buyers, and are sparsely populated by 3 p.m. He suggests phoning a favorite charity to donate all items that haven't sold by 5 p.m.

10. What is the main difference between a garage sale and an estate sale?

While a garage sale is an opportunity to dispose of those items you haven't used in at least two years, an estate sale is an obligation to dispose of a person's entire belongings. If you conduct your own estate sale, Lenci advises, pay an antiques appraiser an hourly rate to price items before the sale.

"Particularly at an estate sale, be sure there is a controlled entrance and exit," he says.




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