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The Secrets of Yard and Estate Sales


Yard sales are ubiquitous, particularly in springtime. Follow these tips to succeed with your own sale, or to score great deals as a shopper.

Garage Sale

Last week I wrote about the world of auctions. This week let’s visit its vulgarian cousin, the yard or estate sale. These things are ubiquitous, but we never see them until we are faced with cleaning out the garage, basement, or attic. It’s springtime, we might be moving, the spouse is on a tear, so let’s make it fun and profitable.

First, here are some tips on how to set one up. Pick a weekend at the beginning of the month, just after people have been paid. Advertise on social media and tack up signs. Research has found that you get better results if you use a black border on the sign, by the way.

Next, put out your precious accumulation of junque by category. Get the kids to help as a fun family project. Set up your yard, garage, or driveway like a store. Make sure that everything is clean and stacked or hung. Have a handy garbage can and some packaging for people to take home their treasures in.

Put a price tag on each item. Be clever, be honest, and price things to sell. Start with half to one-third of retail price. Selling is the whole reason for this effort, isn’t it? Consider making everything half off in the afternoon, or second day, if you have to move volume. Keep a lot of small bills to make change.

Set up early. It will take more time than you think and serious shoppers will always show up first thing. Put your “hot” items up front to draw people in. Have cookies and $1 water available. That always keeps people hanging around longer so that they will discover additional “finds.” Play background music, put up balloons. This is supposed to be fun.

Also, find out if your municipality requires a permit! You’d hate to have the party spoiled by being shut down or fined. It can happen, so look into it.

Success as a Shopper

The flip side of this is having fun spotting a yard or estate sale deal as a shopper. Start by looking in social media or your local newspaper to see where the sales might be clustered for convenience.

Consider or the Garage Sale Rover app. And look for upscale neighborhoods. People moving especially from older homes is a key. Isn’t that where you’re more likely to find the good stuff?

Shop early, as in the bird and the worm. Your competition will be serious collectors and dealers. Where do you think they get their inventory?

If you are even thinking about something, pick it up and hold it. Polite snatching is the rule, so hold on until you have decided. Check values online while you are at it. Bring a flashlight and magnifying glass for close inspection.

One important thing to understand is that haggling is the rule of the day. Many Americans are uncomfortable with this, but it is expected, it is fun, and you may save a lot of money.

Start by asking for “your best price,” or just a discount. How about: “Work with me on this,” “Would you take…?” or put together two or more items to make a bundle that you can leverage into a discount. They use this method a lot on the History Channel’s “American Pickers.”

Lastly, it’s your money and you are in control. Say “I need to think about this,” and just walk away. Sometimes the seller will come after you to finish the deal. It’s fun either way.

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Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice
Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice