Successful garage sales

Photo: istockphoto.com/Jim Jurica
Boost your green cred (and your wallet) with a cash-n-carry yard sale.

If trawling through Craigslist and Kijiji lists for gently used treasures is losing its thrill, why not go back to buying and selling yard sale-style? Buying second hand has a clear sustainable advantage: It rescues goods that might otherwise have ended up in the trash plus it can also save you some money. But what are the secrets of putting together a successful garage sale and how can you find true bargains?

Bargains still to be found

The lure of the garage sale is the hope you will pay pennies for a priceless treasure just like Jean-Louis Proulx of St. Joachim de Courval, who in 1992 paid $20 for two paintings that turned out to be worth half a million dollars.

While those kinds of finds are rare, there are still plenty of deals, according to John Black and Pat Grant of Westmount, who have been attending Montreal-area garage sales for years. You have to be patient, look around and not buy on impulse. "The bargains are out there, but only if you know what you're looking for," says Black.

Good planning

The key to holding a successful sale is organization. For the last five years, Jocelyn Laurence, a resident of downtown Toronto has been holding an annual yard sale.

"Start by sorting your belongings,” advises Laurence. “Eliminate anything broken—it just doesn't sell. Clean everything thoroughly and take the time to label everything with a price.” She has found the best sellers are children's clothing and toys, glassware, old china, tools, small appliances and CDs.

Chris Heiska, The Yard Sale Queen, recommends avoiding three-day holiday weekends, when people are prone to head out of town. Both Heiska and Laurence also suggest putting up signs that can be easily read by people driving by and advertising in the newspaper, especially if you have a lot of goods. "Just beware of people who show up early and start pestering you. They're usually dealers who want to pay as little as possible. Have a no-early-birds policy and stick to it," says Laurence.

Show me the money

Designate one person as the cashier and have the others help out at the tables. The chaos of making change can result in lost sales or even worse—people stealing your items.

"Get a good selection of change," says Black. "Pricing everything in increments of $1.00 will make change simpler." If you are a buyer, bring along at least $100, since hot bargains go fast and you may have to beat out the competition with cash in hand.

Negotiations are a must

A wise shopper will barter. “If you are a seller, then stick to your price," advises Black. But be realistic about what you can charge. Retail prices are not an option since people are looking for a bargain.

If you’re a buyer, remember that too much haggling can lose you the sale, and be down right insulting. "I've had items left because I refused to sell them at some ridiculous price like fifty cents for a Royal Dalton figurine," recalls Laurence.

Verify the goods

Like any sale, it's buyer beware, especially with electrical goods. When buying anything electrical, be sure to test all the settings "I've bought appliances only to discover they worked on one speed only," recalls Grant. If you are selling, make sure there is an electrical outlet available for people to test an item. You may know that the items work but your customer may be  looking for proof.

Hold on to your day job

How much money can you expect to make? It all depends on your goods and the turnout. "One year we made $2,000," said Laurence, "but we had four families with a lot to sell. If you pull in $200 or more, consider your sale a success."

Bargains aside, garage sales are still social events. It's a great way to recycle and to meet people in your own neighbourhood. So remember to relax and have fun.

And, for a fun summer read about Westmount, Que., garage sales, check out the murder mystery No Early Birds by Edward O. Phillips. You might even be able to find a copy at a lawn sale near you.