I love yard sales. It's an important and fun part of the recycling chain. The process of preparing for a yard sale is a great way to keep your home tidy, organized and efficient. It requires sifting through your possessions to see what you can part with. It generates cash, and it's a great way to lessen your contribution to landfills. Your castoffs might be another's treasures, and you can feel good about that. You're doing a solid for humanity.

My friends are dedicated yard salers. Every Saturday morning they set out to see what treasures they can find. This past Saturday, during my visit to LA, I joined them in this ritual and learned some great tips.

Here's a list of good things to know about yard sales.

Where to Find Yard Sales
  • You can find yard sales by driving through your neighborhood on Saturday mornings and looking for signs. Don't be misled by the number of signs you see for a yard sale. If you see a lot of signs for the same sale, it doesn't necessarily mean the seller is desperate. It might just be because there's an overzealous teenager involved who has a stake in the proceeds.
  • You can log on to CraigsList. Just navigate to your city, then use the search term "yard sales." Up pops everything that folks have listed (here's an example, for Los Angeles).
  • If you are planning your own yard sale, put up signs with your address and the time of the yard sale at major intersections near your home, and don't forget to list it on CraigsList.
Pricing of Items
  • Pricing is an indicator of the economy. In good times, people are just looking to get rid of their things. They're less likely to care about the pricing. These days, you'll see prices stuck to every item. People are more serious about getting their asking price for their things. Sellers need to have realistic expectations, though. For instance, if you want $20 for that big box of Legos, you won't get it. You'll only get $10. It doesn't matter how much they sell for in the stores.
  • If it isn't gone by 11:30am, pack it up and drop it off at Goodwill. So price things to sell.
  • Buyers can find Harry Potter books for $1 at yard sales. Want $50 for the whole series? You won't get it. No, it doesn't matter that Amazon sells the hardcover boxed set for $120. You will get $1 a piece.
  • Don't sell high end things at yard sales (yesterday, I saw a jet ski at a yard sale for $7500). You won't even get a "reasonable" price.
  • The golden ratio is 20:1. If a yard saler pays $1, it's worth $20. One person's trash is another person's treasure.
  • Sellers should have lots of change on hand - dollar bills, fives and quarters. LOTS.
  • You can find baby books, in great shape, at yard sales for $0.25 a piece. In stores, a small stack of baby books would cost a fortune. Get there early to find these treasures.
  • CDs can go for $0.25 a piece. Buyers can upload their favorite songs to their iPod, then resell the CD at their own yard sale for $0.25, rendering the uploaded songs free.
Should You Hold A Yard Sale?
  • In yard sales, the dollar still has value. Buyers are looking for a "find", a "treasure." They're not looking for a deal versus retail. That sort of shopping is done on eBay, so you might consider listing certain items there. If you don't want to ship items, list them on CraigsList because the expectation there is that people will come and pick them up from your home.
  • Yard sales are a great way to teach your children lessons about money, the value of a dollar, budget and frugality. It's also a great opportunity for your youngster to operate a lemonade stand under your watchful eye. The going rate for lemonade is $0.25 a cup (not dixie cups, not huge beer cups - the size just up from a dixie cup) - maybe $0.50/cup if your neighborhood is more affluent. Another great item to sell is Donettes or bite-sized brownies for $0.25 a piece. It is breakfast time, and people would probably love these. If you have an older child manning the stand, he/she could also make change. Younger kids might request exact change only, and buyers can get change from mom and dad.
  • Goodwill Versus A Yard Sale: For clothes, you might sell a pair of pants for $0.50. The tax deduction you might get through a contribution to Goodwill might be $0.50, and Goodwill might resell those pants to the public for a few dollars.
  • Consider joining forces with your neighbors to hold one large yard sale at one person's house. You can separate the shopping areas so folks pay the proper sellers, but you might gather a larger crowd if you've got a few houses worth of items displayed.
When to Go
  • Yard sales tend to be held 8am-noon on Saturdays. Most of the good stuff, if priced correctly, will be gone by 11:30. What's left at noon should be packed up and taken to Goodwill. Sunday yard sales don't do well.
  • Serious yard salers should show up early. In LA, there are professional yard salers. They show up at 7:30am, scour the landscape, pick up a few treasures and then might resell them at the Rose Bowl. The Rose Bowl hosts a huge, wonderful flea market one Sunday each month.
  • It's ideal to arrive at yard sales at 8:30am or 9am.
  • Sometimes it's better to show up late because when people have never had a yard sale, their expectations are high and they won't bargain until they realize they're not getting people to buy things. That usually happens later in the day.

  • If someone wants $60 for something, don't say "will you take $10?" It's insulting. You don't want to break someone's spirit. Maybe you could ask for 1/2 off, or a "2 for 1" deal. If it's $10 and you say "will you take $5?", that's very different than saying "will you take $2?"
  • If you see something you like and want to discuss it with your shopping buddy, don't look directly at the item while you're talking. It attracts the attention of other yard salers and they will descend like vultures.
  • Don't step on another yard saler's deal. If an item is tagged at $10 and they're offering the seller $5, don't cut in and say "I'll pay $10!" You will make a yard sale-ing enemy.
The Best Way to Display Items
  • Put items on tables. Resist putting things on the ground. That's what you do with garbage. It's a psychological thing. If you put things on a table, people feel like they are shopping. If things are on the ground, people feel like they are rummaging. They might not be very careful with your things and they will not want to pay money for items they have to rummage through.
  • If you're selling clothing, try to hang it up on racks.
  • If you're visiting a yard sale and you see lots of things on the ground, you might find some bargains because people overlook things on the ground.
A Word of Caution
  • The vast majority of humankind is honest and nice. Just be alert. You might encounter someone who is casing your house, looking to "shoplift" or wants to pull a scam.
  • Don't hold your yard sale inside your house.
  • One scam I've heard of is someone approaching a seller when he/she is very busy and asking a price for something, then coming back and saying "do you have my change? I gave you a $5." You don't want to make a scene, so you give the change and the person walks off with the item AND the change.
  • Don't accept checks, and don't accept any bills over $20. Counterfeiters love yard sales. If someone approaches you with a larger bill, ask them to go to 7-11 for change.

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