Yard sale tips: How to get rid of your stuff and make more money

We've reached prime yard sale season, when people are looking to declutter their homes, kill lazy afternoons and hunt for exciting deals.

That means it's a glorious time for yard sale queen Ava Seavey, author of “Ava's Guide to Garage Sale Gold,” who has spent more than 30 years applying her advertising and marketing skills to help people have successful yard sales.

While bricks-and-mortar stores are losing money to online shopping, yard sales appeal to a different set of shopping impulses: the desire to explore and find something special, to connect with another person, to buy on a whim.

“I think garage and yard sales are bigger than ever,” Seavey said. “People want deals. They're very interested in getting quality things for less, and the face-to-face, person-to-person shopping experience can be more satisfying in a lot of ways.”

Daunted by the prospect of running your own yard sale? Don't be. We asked Seavey for her advice on getting rid of old stuff and bringing in the big bucks.

First things first: Don't call it a garage sale (yes, even if it's in your garage). People associate garages with dirt and dust, Seavey said. Instead, call it a yard sale or tag sale and you're likely to make more money.

“You want to attract the widest swath of people that you can,” Seavey said.

Surprisingly, Sunday sales tend to do poorly, she said, perhaps because people are busy with church and chores they pushed to the tail end of the weekend. She prefers Fridays and Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and warns that determined buyers will often show up early.

Promote your sale in advance on social media and with posters and signs in highly trafficked public places, such as community centers or busy roads, and be sure your ads are eye-catching and easy to read. Use buzzwords such as “antique” and “vintage” and emphasize your most valuable or unusual items. Be sure to also list your sale on yard-sale-finder sites, which are popular with collectors, dealers and retirees.

There are four types of customers at yard sales, and if you have items appealing to each one, you'll have a better shot at a successful sale. There are collectors and dealers, who will be interested in specialized items and are usually willing to spend more money. There are day-trippers and retirees just looking to kill time or explore. There are people with limited income hoping to save money on basic needs. And lastly, there are garage sale fanatics, who hit up sales constantly and are hungry for deals or unusual items.

Offering a wide selection is key. If you have just a lot of one type of thing, you'll only appeal to one type of buyer. It's best to offer a variety of merchandise, so if you don't have enough on your own, team up with a friend or neighbor for a bigger joint sale.

One of the biggest mistakes people make in hosting yard sales is assuming they don't need to use price tags because people come hoping to barter. Although that's true of some buyers, many are too shy to negotiate and will be scared off. “For a lot of people, if it doesn't have a price on it, they'll disregard it and ignore it; they're just not fearless enough to come up and ask,” Seavey said.

Those who love the thrill of negotiation will use the price as a jumping-off point, but many people will take things at their listed prices and walk away satisfied.

“By not pricing things, you're setting the bar really low,” Seavey said. “At least if there's a price on it, you're giving them a point of departure.”

If you have gently used items, Seavey recommends selling them for no more than 50 percent of what they would cost in a store. Sell more worn items for about 25 percent. Offer bulk deals on things that don't sell as well — books and clothes — to encourage people to buy cheap things in higher quantities.

While many people think of yard sales as a way to clear out their junk, if you treat your merchandise that way — by throwing it out on the lawn in dusty boxes — customers will assume it's worthless. Take the effort to sort through what you have and show it off. Hang things on clotheslines or arrange them thoughtfully on tables. Make your sale easy to navigate.

“Put something on a surface and I guarantee you it'll sell more,” Seavey said. “Display things in ways that are fun and accessible.

Don't segregate your merchandise into too-specific categories. You want to make sure people have a reason to linger and spend time browsing, rather than checking for one thing and leaving quickly.

It's a bad idea to try to manage a yard sale alone. Because there's no security and plenty of stuff (not to mention cash), yard sales are easy targets for thieves and scammers, who often work in pairs: One will distract while the other steals. Keep your cash close with a money apron, which allows you to make change quickly and conveniently. Make sure you have plenty of change — Seavey recommends a lot of $20s because many collectors come with $100s. Arm yourself with a counterfeit detector pen to test the big bills; they're available at office supply stores such as Staples and at Walmart.

If you get busy while running a sale by yourself, a line might accumulate and turn off buyers who are looking to get in and out quickly. It's better to recruit friends and family to help you manage your inventory. It's especially helpful to have someone adding up costs and packing items, because it can be time-consuming to box things up or wrangle Bubble Wrap and other packing materials.

“You can lose sales by not attending to your customers,” Seavey said.

Yard sales aren't just a good way to bring in money, Seavey said. They can be a rewarding chance to declutter your home, recycle, and give back to the community by making clothes and home goods available at secondhand prices.

“You're actually helping other people, you're helping yourself, and you're helping the environment,” Seavey said. “You're actually doing something good for the world if you put in the time and effort to do it right.”

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