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'Tis the Season for Yard Sales

Preparation is key to efficient buying and selling

By Tana Weingartner · July 8th, 2009 · News

During college I purchased a comfy oversized chair and ottoman at a yard sale. They cost $10 and took up most of my bedroom.

The chair, in all its early ’90s light blue plaid glory, sturdily held up through six moves, though the door frames it was squeezed through often did not. The gigantic garage sale gem was great for studying and offered pals a cozy a place to crash for the night. It was my neighbor’s trash, but I treasured it.

Whether you’re looking for a great bargain or to make some extra cash, summertime is yard sale time.

Rebecca Sutherland Borah, a pop culture expert and University of Cincinnati associate professor of English, says yard sales gained popularity in the mid 20th century when prices for consumer goods became much lower and people began fleeing to the suburbs. “Especially in the late ’60s and early ’70s … you had people who were buying a lot of consumer goods and then (thinking) ‘Gosh, what are we going to do with this stuff?’ ” she says.

During uncertain economic times, Borah says yard sales flourish as people hunt for items that remind them of an earlier, happier time … like that lunch box you had as a child or a vintage clock like the one mom and dad had in the kitchen.

There’s also something to be said for the concept of shabby sheik, according to Borah. You have to watch only a few hours of any home improvement show to know that repurposing old items is big green business.

The first step to a successful yard or garage sale is picking the date. Give yourself several weeks of lead time in order to gather and prepare items and advertise. Chris Crothers of Union Township runs his annual sale like a pro. He recommends a two-day sale starting on a Friday morning.

“Two days are better since there are lots of sales around Cincinnati and serious shoppers like to get there early so they can get all over town,” he says.

If you prefer a less time-intensive sale, a one-day Saturday sale is a fine option. Some communities or homeowner’s associations might require a permit or have restrictions, so do your homework before getting started.

Once you’ve set the date, start de-cluttering your home. Look for items that you don’t use anymore or have been outgrown, such as toys, cloths, collectables or extra housewares. A good rule of thumb is if you haven’t used an item in the last year you likely don’t need it.

If you have children, get them involved. Explain why you’re having a sale and allow them to sort their toys and clothes. Think of the sale as a learning experience. Also set some ground rules for both kids and adults: For instance, once an item goes into the sale pile, it doesn’t come out.

Speaking of kids, old toys and baby items are big sellers. However, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission spokesperson Patty Davis says it’s illegal to sell recalled items. She recommends checking the recall lists at www.cpsc.gov.

“In many cases there’s a fix for a product,” she says, “so you can get the fix and then sell the item.”

Buyers are more likely to purchase items that are clean and easy to see. Run glass and housewares through the dishwasher. Dust everything and make sure clothing is laundered and hung on hangers for shoppers to easily find sizes. If you’ve kept an item’s original packaging, Crothers recommends including that with the sale item.

“When it comes to high dollar things like electronics,”Crothers says, “being a pack rat can help. Boxes and paperwork make items appear newer and entice buyers.”

Once you’ve found and cleaned your inventory, sort and display it by type.

When pricing items, be realistic about what things are worth. If you have collectibles, check eBay and other auction sites to find their value.

And yes, you should definitely price your stuff. People are going to haggle for a good deal, but prices save a lot of time when your sale is busy and are nice for shyer folks who don’t enjoy negotiating.

You can also find pre-printed price stickers in a store’s school supplies aisle.

Start advertising your sale a week or so in advance. Be specific about what you’re selling in order to attract picky shoppers and collectors. Run an ad in newspapers, post your sale on Web sites like Craig’s List, backpage.com and garagesales.com and put up signage.

“Make your signs stand out by using balloons to attract potential buyers,” Crothers suggests.

Be sure to take down your signs once the sale is over.

A day or two before your sale, go to the bank and pick up several rolls of change and plenty of dollar bills in order to make change. Keep your cash box in a secure place or assign a helper to play cashier. Save old newspapers for wrapping fragile items and use plastic bags to pack purchases.

On the day of your sale, get up early to set up your sale. It’s best to set up as much as you can the night before to save time. Be prepared for early birds. Once the sale is over, pack up what doesn’t sell and donate the items to charity. Then sit back, count your earnings and treat yourself to a nice dinner.

If you’re a bargain hunter, preparation is key. Scan newspaper and online ads for sales. Know yourself. If you aren’t Mr./Ms. Fix-It, don’t buy items that need repairing.

Map out your route in advance in order to hit as many sales as possible without wasting time getting lost or backtracking. Head out early to find the best items and be ready to haggle. Set limits on how much you’re willing to pay for certain things and stick to them.

Other than that, the secret is to be persistent. Keep hunting until you find your own perfectly oversized, cozy blue chair.



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