Demian’s Complete Guide to Yard Sales
The Fine Art of Buying from Your Neighbors
and Selling to the Same Bunch

Lessons in Negotiating with Neighbors
by Demian
© September 7, 2012, Demian
First posted in 1996.

———— Introduction

Yard sales are sometimes also called garage, patio, carport or tag sales. They are good for:

  • Fun
  • Meeting your neighbors
  • Weekend block parties
  • Getting items you need
  • Getting items you will soon have in your very own yard sale
  • Making money
  • Loosing money
  • Raising money for charity
  • Finding a bargain
  • Getting skunked
  • Recycling

My diligence at yard sailing has allowed me to furnish the house, saturate myself with music and videos, and clothe myself, at one tenth the cost that of even warehouse prices. This includes transportation costs, but not drive time, which varies depending on how you value your time.

While the savings you can make can be significant, I have found the elements of having fun, and meeting neighbors to be the most satisfying part of the experience.

One of the interesting things about yard sales is that it seems to reveal much about the nature of the people who run them — particularly their relationship to material possessions and to money.

Some people take their stuff and dump it in a heap, expecting you to sort it out. Do not marry people like this, unless you enjoy picking up after a partner and like cleaning up a lot.

Others spread all they own in a surrounding circle, as if awaiting the unseen enemy. They have been watching too many Westerns.

There are those who watch every customer as if they are about to steal something. Not a good feeling to be on the receiving end of this. With this type, it is fun to find the large suit case they are selling and start sneaking things in it. Make sure you glance over your shoulder every time you put something in the suit case.

Some sellers are no fun. Especially those who cleverly say, “Isn’t there anything here you can’t live without?”

Also no fun, those who are clingers:

  • Clingy Seller 1: those who keep telling you how great their stuff is and why you cannot live without it.
  • Clingy Seller 2: those who tell you the history behind each chafing dish, every velvet portrait of Elvis, and why you cannot live without it. (Be sure to carry a supply of those paper bags you get from airlines.)

There are those who price as high as, or higher than, new — they are living in a world of dreams. In reality, they don’t want to sell their possessions. It doesn’t matter that their stuff spills by the quarter ton out their apartment’s windows, and that they are moving out of state and can only carry three suitcases. The stuff is theirs and not even a pot of gold could separate the stuff from their bosom.

However, the real stars of yard sales are the items themselves. Chances are you will find items you never dreamed you needed so badly. Items with exotic names, or no names at all. You could find the missing pieces of your fine Dresden china, HO railroad tracks, or fencing (Hey! The real “missing link”).

Here are a few (dozen) guidelines to aid the enlightened yard sailor and the successful yard salesperson.

———— Going to Yard Sales

Demian’s First Rule of Yard Sailing
Never go shopping on an empty stomach.

Preparations for Going to a Sale

  • Make a list of items you want. Include measurements and sizes where appropriate.
  • Take the list with you when you go yard sailing.
  • Bring cash money plus a snack. (See First Rule above.)

Attending a Sale

  • Look at the prices in general. If the prices are too high,
    • Ask if they are negotiable.
    • If they are not, leave right away.
  • If the sale items have been stored in a basement and smell musty, chances are, all paper, cloth and leather items will be rotten. Everything else will need to be scrubbed for two weeks to get half the mold off.
  • Don’t buy any electronics at yard sales that cost more than $15:
    • Yard sales are not the place for fine hi-fi systems, unless, of course, you are fond of 8-track cassettes,
    • Repairs on electrical or computer systems start at $85. So you don’t save much on used stuff that will break soon. Yes, it will break soon, if it isn’t already broken.
  • Yard sale, or any second-hand, prices should generally be lower than one-third of retail. That is, don’t pay any more for a second-hand $100 table or chandelier than $30.
  • Be prepared to do a lot of searching for some items. Yard sales are random things. Sometimes they have exactly what you need. Other times, you may need to search for several years. Action figures, for instance, are an everyday yard sale thing. On the other hand, a real Jerry Mahoney ventriloquist doll could be a once-a-decade find. On the other, other hand, most of you would not be looking for Jerry, or even Knucklehead Smiff.
  • Prepare to dicker.
  • Don’t take it personally when someone is offended at your ridiculously low offer.
———— Creating Your Own Yard Sale

Demian’s First Rule of Yard Selling:
If you haven’t used an item in a year, consider it for the sale.

Demian’s Second Rule of Yard Selling:
If you haven’t used an item in two years, it must go in the sale.

Demian’s Exceptions to the First and Second Rules of Yard Selling:
= Do not sell expensive tools that are infrequently used but
would present a hardship to borrow or rent if needed.
= Do not sell real heirlooms, or your kid’s comic book collection.
Your ancestors and your children will hold it against you beyond the grave.

Preparations for Running Your Own Yard Sale

  • Location, location, etc.
    • Have lots of parking available.
    • If there is no parking, you will get half the number of customers.
    • Alley sales get half the customers and traffic jams.
  • Only bother placing a newspaper ad if:
    • You are having a (three or more) multi-family sale.
    • You have consulted the Farmers’ Almanac and are positive it won’t rain.
    • You are located 30 miles from the nearest sign of civilization.
  • Use easily removable tags for pricing. Do not use masking or duct tape. Walk lightly on the earth — and on yard sale items — take no paint off, leave no residue.
  • If item does not work, tag it so.
  • Put big signs up on strategic corners leading customers to your sale:
    • Telephone poles are nice, however, be cautious if local a ordinance prohibits posting on them.
    • Use a posting method that allows complete removal later.
    • Every sign should have big, thick arrows:
      1. Most lettering is too hard to see by speeding motorists. Big arrows win.
      2. Big arrows draw many into a sale, particularly if the address is hard to find.
      3. If you re-use your signs, attach an inflated balloon.
  • If you think an item is worth a huge amount of money, place an add on Craigslist, in the penny papers, or take it to a pawn shop. Do not expect it to sell in your yard sale.
  • Make it easy for drivers to see your goods from the street:
    • Sort through and display your junk in an orderly fashion.
    • Hang the clothes, don’t leave them in a pig pile.
    • Wash items, or at least wipe the mold off.
  • Put your sale items in the front yard, not in the back, not in the alley, not in the basement.
  • Collect shopping bags, plastic grocery bags, and boxes to package sold items. Yard sale customers really appreciate this.
  • Keep your money in your pocket or a fanny pack. A cash box could invite unwanted fingers.
  • Prepare for the early bird shoppers. If the signs or your ads say “9am-4pm” the yard sale vultures will be swarming by 7:30am. The following quote about early birds must be spoken in great, resonant James E. Jones-like tones: “If you build a yard sale — they will come.”
    • Put up a sign stating “No early birds allowed!”) — to keep them out of the way, -or-
    • Ask a scarecrow-like friend to tell them “No early birds allowed!” -or-
    • Ask the birds to help carry the furniture to the yard. Put them to work.
  • Make a FREE Pile. All junkie treasures go there, as well as items that do not sell as the day wears on.
  • Get help preparing for the sale. You need people to lug stuff, tend the stuff while you put up signs, or visa versa, and talk with during the lulls. Asking friends, kin, and neighbors to bring stuff to sell at your sale is a great way get help lugging, have more items (which can lure more customers), and make the event more sociable.
Demian’s First Rule of Pricing:
Price things so low, that customers would need to really,
really hate the color to not want to take it away.

Demian’s Second Rule of Pricing:
The bigger and heavier the item, the lower the cost.
(Unless you really, really want to carry the
grand piano back to the attic.)

Demian’s Third Rule of Pricing:
Generally price things one third or less than what
they would cost retail at a cut-rate warehouse.

And to come up with the retail cost, pretend you are a contestant on The Price is Right. One other way to get a retail price would be to look up stuff on Web sites such as:
At Your Own Sale
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat and long sleeves.
    • This is not a secret sales-promoting tool, this is to help prevent you from getting cancer.
    • You might also consider using a sun screen.
    • Bring a re-fillable water bottle, and healthy snacks, such a fruit.
  • If you do not have a friend, neighbor or kin to attend your yard sale, when customers stop by, remember to stop talking to yourself.
  • Prepare to dicker.
  • Don’t take it personally when someone makes you a ridiculously low offer.

After the Sale

  • Left-over items:
    • Donate all left-overs to a charity thrift store. If you make enough yearly salary to be taxed, these donations can be deducted.
    • Leave things in boxes on the sidewalk with a “FREE” sign. The best scavengers are crows and the neighborhood kids. The former take food droppings. The later take stuff like old fence gates and candles. Maybe they have a clubhouse. Who knows these things?
  • Take your damn signs down. Including the tacks and staples.
  • Count your money minus your start-up cash. The resulting figure is your profit.
  • Your treasure is the cash, plus the junk is now in someone else’s hands — plus the fun you had.
Entire contents © 2015, Demian
Seattle, WA