Garage sale gurus say planning, pricing are keys to unloading unwanted stuff

How many people can say they learned how to hold a proper garage sale from comedian Phyllis Diller?

Frankly, anybody who's brave enough to admit it. She's done a videotape on how to run a garage sale. There are also several books by so-called experts at holding these homemade flea markets. They can tell you just how to get rid of your unwanted junk.


If you're not the reading type, or would rather not sit in front of the television watching Phyllis Diller, one of the best ways to learn how to hold a garage sale is to go to some.

Scan each sale and see what you like and don't like about it. If you have the gumption, ask the people holding it about their successes or what they did wrong.


This is also a good way to check the going rate for items you may be selling at your sale.

Thrift stores are another way to compare prices. Clothing usually starts at $1, depending on its condition; old magazines, 50 cents; and knickknacks, usually $1.50 or so.

It's up to you to determine their worth, but remember -- you want to sell them.

"You want to get rid of it," said Rose Reyes of Fort Worth, Texas. About once a year she and her mother cart furniture and clothing into the yard and hold a sale.

"Don't be greedy," is one of the key rules about holding a garage sale, Ms. Reyes said. "You don't want to have to take it back in the house. Sell it for what you can."

The best times to hold a garage sale are the spring and late summer/early fall. In the spring, the heat hasn't set in; in the late summer, you'll be able to get rid of all those unwanted school clothes your children have outgrown.

Most garage-sale gurus agree that summer weather usually doesn't attract too many customers.

"You really don't want to sit out on your driveway in 100-degree weather with all of your junk. It starts to lose its appeal real fast," said veteran garage-sale participant James Lehr of Fort Worth.


Over the years, Mr. Lehr has held and helped with dozens of garage sales, he said. He even held sales during college, using them as a means to make a little extra money.

To ensure that your unwanted clutter sells, advertise in local newspapers and put up signs that serve as a kind of yellow brick road to your house. These are the best means to attract potential customers.

But, when you advertise you will be having a sale at 9 a.m., people known as "early birds" will probably be knocking on your door the night before the sale or early the next morning to get a jump on the crowds.

Many times they are collectors or are buying your stuff so they can resell it elsewhere for a profit.

"You shouldn't have a garage sale if you don't expect to get up early," said Sandra Alston of Arlington, Texas.

She ought to know. For about 15 years now, she and her friend Martha Rawlinson have been holding garage sales annually, taking turns at having them at each other's homes.


They're such veterans, they even call customers they've met over the years to remind them when the annual sale is approaching.

"It's almost a cult," Ms. Rawlinson said. "Ever since we've been having the sales, we have the same people coming."

Holding a sale with a friend or several friends can make it more fun, especially during the slow hours.

To keep track of whose item was sold for what amount, you may want

to label each price tag with the original owner's initials, then make a list of what is purchased and for how much. That way you can divvy up the profits from the shoe box after the sale.

Even if you're holding the sale by yourself, you may want to record purchases and prices to compare to your cash total at the end of the sale.


If some of the items you've priced don't seem to be selling, you may want to put them into a designated "free box" and give them away during the dwindling hours of the sale.

Anything that's left can be disposed of in several ways. You can trash those items, pack them up and save them for the next sale or give them to charity.

The setup

Here are a few things you may want to know before holding a garage sale:

* Check the city hall where you live to see whether your city requires a permit to hold a garage sale. Some cities limit the number of garage sales you can hold per year and have specific regulations to follow.

* Friday and Saturday are the best days to hold a sale. Try to aim for the first or the 15th of the month when people get paid. That way, they'll have more money to spend at your sale.


* Try not to hold your sale around major holidays because people are too busy spending their money on something else.

* It's more fun to hold the sale with a friend or two. Be careful, though. If too many people are involved, it may become confusing to keep up with whose item was sold for how much.

* Make sure you have enough items for a sale. Some people regularly set aside unwanted items and store them in boxes until they have enough for a sale. Others just do one massive housecleaning, gathering up the discards and immediately scheduling a sale.

* Furniture and tools are best sellers. Put the furniture out where people can see it as they drive by. (Sometimes if the sale looks disorganized or slim, people won't stop.)

* Be flexible in your pricing. Chances are a few people will offer you less for some items than what you're asking. Be prepared to negotiate. Try to round off your prices unless you want to deal with pennies and small change.

* Start pricing early; don't wait until the night before. Also, don't put prices on items with a permanent marker that will damage the item or make it hard for the customer to remove.


* Have plenty of tables or boards on saw horses to put your smaller items on. Remember, you're trying to sell them, so you want to make them look attractive. Hang clothes on a rack so they can easily be looked through.

* Put attractive and concise signs at busy intersections or streets near your home to lead customers to the buried treasure in your garage. Check with the city to see where it's legal to post your signs.

* Some authors suggest that mood music be played in the background, so people will feel relaxed while browsing, like in the stores. (It's your option.)

* Have about $30 to $40 in change of various denominations. Invariably, someone will pay for a cheap item with a $20 bill.

* Decide whether you're willing to accept checks. (Many sale-holders don't.) You may want to avoid it altogether or accept checks only for large purchases or expensive items, like that antique couch Aunt Bessie left you.

* Expect the inevitable early bird.


* Don't forget to take your signs down after the sale. You can save them for your next sale, if you're brave enough to hold one.

* Now appearing on bookshelves: "The Garage Sale Book: Turn Your Trash into Cash" by Jeff Groberman and Colin Yardley; "Trash and Treasure: The Complete Book about Garage Sales" by Jack and Chris Wilkie; "How to Hold a Garage Sale: Everything You Need to Know to Make Your Sale Easy, Successful and Fun" by James Michael Ullman.

* On video: "How to Have a Moneymaking Garage Sale: Starring Phyllis Diller" (1987). The summary reads: "Phyllis Diller shares her secrets with you as she organizes an attractive moneymaking garage sale."