Sunday, July 12, 2009

Surviving a Yard Sale

Well, folks, time is ticking down and we did finally have that monster Yard Sale to get rid of all (most) of the stuff we weren't dragging with us to Alaska. Thinking ahead (a bit too far maybe), I scheduled a charity truck to come on Monday to pick up all the stuff I didn't expect to sell on Saturday. Surprisingly, I think we actually sold about 90% of our extra stuff, and the only big things really left for pick up is half of an office desk system (sold the file cabinets, but the buyer didn't need the desk tops or hutches), a kitchen table, and a sofa. I think charity will take the desk units and table, but they never accept used soft furniture... so it'll be off to the dump :( All the rest is just dishes, alarm clocks and other flotsam that charity always takes. Yippee!

Here are a few of my tips for a good yard sale:
  1. Dust/clean everything... people really appreciate it and it shows that the stuff is taken care of, not just junk!
  2. If something is missing parts, or you don't know if it works, mark it as such and keep the price really low (we sold a completely defunct computer because it was marked "salvage" and only $5 -- we removed the hard-drive first though!).
  3. If you have the original box, or at least the product manual, you can usually get a higher price... even if the item doesn't work (go figure?!)
  4. Try to arrange your sale like a department store. We had all the office/computer stuff in one place, all the kitchen/dining stuff in one place, all the books/movies/games/toys in one place, and all the yard/tool/construction stuff in one place (right up front so hubbies who got dragged out yard-saling had something interesting to look at!). We also prominently displayed our high-ticket/interesting items in a spread-out fashion to draw people through our entire sale... it's a cheap marketing ploy, but it works (a million department stores can't be wrong, right?!).
  5. Do all the cleaning, pricing and sorting well in advance so you don't end up awake all night (like me) getting everything ready, or having people showing up to buy stuff while you're still dragging stuff out. Being prepared makes everything so much easier and people seem to be reassured when they show up at an organized sale.
  6. If you're having a yard sale (as opposed to a garage sale) and have a lot of heavy furniture, consider scheduling a bunch of friends to come help you move it all outside, and arrange it, the evening before the sale (if the weather is cooperating). It's pretty safe to say that a 100 lb desk or 8 ft sofa is not going to "walk away" in the middle of the night unless you live in a really bad neighborhood. Moving all the furniture and heavy stuff was, by far, where the largest porportion of our injuries occured and we did some minor damage to a few pieces that required us to mark the prices down. Live and learn!
  7. Promote your yard sale well. We posted it with the newspaper's online classified (free), had it printed in the newspaper's classifieds the day of sale (free because it was only 3 lines - date, time, location), and online at Craigslist (also free). If you have an unlimited amount of free advertising space (like most online classifieds), make a list of the categories of stuff you have, noting anything particularly catchy (like our barely used spare bed that came with pillows and all linens), and consider posting pictures of unique stuff. The morning of the sale, I also ran around to all the major intersections nearby and staked out some hand-made flourescent yellow sale signs (with arrows!) as well as prominently marking our intersection since our house is hard to find. (Remember to take your signs back down when you're done!!!)
  8. We used our PayPal account to accept credit cards at our yard sale using our laptop. It came in handy for some of the larger/expensive things like furniture and computers. People didn't have to rush out (possibly losing the item to another buyer) to get cash out of an ATM; and we didn't have to reserve an item that others were interested in waiting for the original buyer to come back (or not) with the money. If you have several items costing more than $50, you may also want to consider the credit card option.
  9. Doing package deals really worked effectively. No one was going to buy a lone dust ruffle, but it went along with the bed... which somehow made the bed more attractive and got rid of the dust-ruffle. Bonus! Everybody wins. This worked really well for our computers, too... we put the Windows and Office disks in a zipper bag taped to the case AND allowed them to chose any monitor, keyboard & mouse they wanted from our selection, plus one additional software item or accessory for free (woohoo... that's one way to get rid of a 10 year old scanner!).
  10. You need to decide ahead of time what the objective is for your sale. Do you want to make as much money as possible, or do you want to get rid of as much stuff as possible? Often, you can only do one or the other well. If you want to make the most money, things really need to be good quality & condition, and you need to price them high enough not to lose out on haggling but not so high people don't even make offers. If you want to get rid of as much stuff as possible, you still need to make sure that things look decent, but you really need to price them low enough that people realize they are getting a real steal, erm, deal... but not so low that they think the stuff is junk or broken (low prices + organized sale = deals, not junk, so that's important to remember!)

We really wanted to get rid of the most stuff, being that we're radically downsizing and we didn't want to drag all this stuff up to Alaska (at great expense), so we priced everything fairly low... about a dime to the dollar of retail if it was newish, and $10 or less if it was pretty old (even if it was expensive 10 years ago when we bought it). We actually had several people give us more than the asking price because they felt it was too low and they were taking advantage (my faith in human goodness is restored). We did get people who haggled down to half the already low asking price, or did some "fuzzy math" coming up with the total (my faith in human shadiness is reaffirmed); but I let these things slide because I really just wanted the stuff out of my yard and out of my life. Of course, I didn't start really negotiating downwards until it got towards the end of the sale... no sense being completely beneficent about things because we actually needed to make some money to finance the move after all!

Now, there's a little bit of trickiness to getting rid of stuff and the best way to do it. There are some things that will not sell well at a garage sale, no matter how cool it is; or that you would take a real beating on even if it did sell. These are specialty-type items or entire collections of things. For example:

  1. Gungnir had 20-odd years worth of video games for the PC and multiple console systems. Yes, those things could have sold (maybe!) at the yard sale, but yard sale folks are picky about buying stuff like that when it's out of date but not yet "vintage". It's likely that they'll cherry pick-through it, buying only one or two things, but reducing the potential value because it's not a complete system/collection anymore . So, we found a speciality buyer online; boxed all the old consoles, accessories and games up; and shipped everything to them (at no charge!) for cash in return. We may, in theory, have made more on it at a yard sale or on eBay, but only if we sold it all... which never happens. Going with the specialty buyer was faster, guaranteed, and much less hassle.
  2. I auctioned off several lots of miscellaneous arts & crafts supplies (in related categories) on eBay and made way more than I would have at a yard sale, with no cherry-picking.
  3. Really expensive stuff, like our home theater system and Gungnir's guitars, we posted on Craigslist. Eventually (after 2-3 postings) everything sold or we found a mutually beneficial trade. Trading was a bit difficult because we were trying to get rid of stuff, not collect any more... but we lucked out and found a guy who wanted to trade a bunch of his renewable energy gear (which we actually need) for our home theater system (which was still really expensive even though we were asking less than a quarter of MSRP). Woot! That deal worked wonderfully for both of us.

So, all-in-all, divesting ourselves of our extraneous crap has been a time-consuming and exhausting ordeal; but well worth it now that it's all done and over with. We survived the weeks of classified ad inquiries and all the yard sale shenanigans relatively unscathed; and came out the other side with a few crisp Franklins in our wallets for the trip, and some new backwoods energy gear. Not too bad in the grander scheme of things... better than poke in the eye with a sharp stick at least ROFL!

So now the house is pretty much empty, looking sort of lonely really. The living room is lined with boxes and several piles of stuff that needs to go into boxes at the last minute when we're finally done using it. Now we just have to decide whether we have the energy and motivation to prime & paint, and do other little home repairs before we move; or just let the house go "as-is" and use the remaining time to recuperate our strength and reserves for the really hard part... bushwhacking through virgin forest and building our new home in the wilderness. I'm so exhausted and sore today, I'm really starting to lean towards Option B.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

'Tis entertaining to read both of your posts. One verbose and full of detail, the other terse and succinct - especially when he hasn't had sufficient coffee. ;-)

Only one week - sheesh - that will go by in no time!