How it Works: Running a Yard Sale

Deep in the heart of every yard saler is the fervent hope that they’ll stumble upon some real treasure – maybe the lost Ark of the Covenant.

And deep in the basement of every yard saler are the treasures they actually came home with: used vacuums, waffle irons, bicycle tire pumps – the very items they need to have a yard sale of their own.

It’s an eternal cycle. Here’s how to make the most of it.

Everything must go. Susanne Faraca of West Tisbury is a veteran of many successful yard sales and her number one rule is “Nothing goes back in the basement – anything that doesn’t get sold gets donated.” When you have that mind-set, you become a motivated seller and you’ll be surprised how quickly the tables clear.

Location, location, location. If possible, pick a spot for your yard sale where there are lots of passersby. People can’t pass up a bargain; it’s in our DNA.
The more the merrier. Running a yard sale is hard work, so get friends to go in with you. Not only can they share the workload and defray the expenses, the more stuff you have, the better the yard sale.

Get the word out. Put classified ads in the Island’s two newspapers the week of the sale. If you have high-ticket items like a windsurfing rig or a sewing machine, list them in the ad. And the morning of the sale, put up posters – the brighter the better – giving the day(s), hours, and location.

Time to sell. There are two schools of thought on how long a yard sale should last. Susanne believes that it’s best to limit the time of the sale to create a sense of urgency, so she generally runs the sale for one day, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. When Stacey Forend of Oak Bluffs hosts a sale, she’s in it for the long haul – both weekend days from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. She figures that with all the other sales taking place, this gives people a chance to make it over to her place. And as for “early birds,” people who arrive before the sale officially begins, both Susanne and Stacey agree: Let them buy what they want.

Presentation is everything. If items have been stored in your basement, make sure they’re clean and free of mildew. Neatly fold linens and hang clothing on a rack. Stacey likes to organize everything by category, so bath items are in one area, pictures in another, tools in another. Display your merchandise on tables, ideally with tablecloths. An item lying on a blanket on the ground will likely stay there.

Price to sell. As a rule of thumb, items should be around a quarter to a third of the retail price. Which is not to say that if you have an old physics textbook that was $50 when you bought it twenty-five years ago that you should hold out for $10 to $15. Use your common sense. It’s also important to have a price tag on every item and include a little description if appropriate. Don’t be put off if a potential customer wants to pay less than your asking price – part of the fun of going to a yard sale is haggling.

Change will do you good. Make sure you have at least $50 in ones, fives, and change. And don’t leave it out in a box on a table. Susanne uses a gardener’s apron with little pockets to hold money. As she explains, “Why tempt fate by leaving money hanging around?” What’s more, it allows her to go out and interact with people rather than being tied to a table.

Make it fun. There is something intrinsically fun about searching for bargains, but it doesn’t hurt to dial it up a bit. Colorful signs and balloons can help give your yard sale a more festive atmosphere. Susanne likes to have music playing as well; it seems to put everyone in a good mood. You also might want to offer a little refreshment – get the kids involved and have them sell coffee or lemonade.

And now for the ultimate tip. Susanne was running a yard sale a couple of years ago and recalls that one of her partners was selling an old 1950s-style exercise machine. “It was the kind with the belt that goes around your butt that just jiggles when you turn it on. Well, throughout the day she would start up the machine and do a demonstration – it would pull in people right off the street.”

So there you have it. If you really want a successful yard sale, you know exactly what you have to do: Shake your booty.