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Turning Trash Into Cash: 5 Tips For a Successful Yard Sale

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What better time to turn some of your trash into cash than spring? Spring and summer are prime time for yard sales, so we turned to the experts for advice on cleaning out clutter at home – and making some extra cash in the process. Here are five tips for throwing a successful yard sale:

1. Team Up

Alert neighbors in advance of your sale. This could pique their interest in shopping, or it might prompt them to throw their own yard sale — which can help bring in more shoppers, says Jonathon Papsin, co-author of The Ultimate Garage Sale Guide and cofounder of virtual garage sale site TagSellIt.com.

The old real estate adage, “location, location, location,” also applies to garage sales: if you’re in an out-of-the-way area, it could be tougher to attract shoppers. That’s why Leah Ingram, a frugal living expert and author of Toss, Keep, Sell! The Suddenly Frugal Guide to Clearing Out Clutter and Cashing In, decided to help organize a community yard sale at the local high school instead of hosting one at her house. “It isn’t so much what you have to sell but where you are selling it,” she says.

Sellers paid $20 for a table as a fundraiser for the school, then pocketed the proceeds. Ingram says she sold $200 worth of her family’s stuff between 8 am and noon, when the sale ended. She adds that sellers can also get involved in church sales or other community events.

2. Promote Your Sale

Papsin begins promoting each yard sale two and a half weeks in advance, starting with free sites like Craiglist and Oodle.com. “I update all the online advertisements about a day in advance of the sale to make sure they’re fresh and appearing at the top of the page,” he says.

Don’t post signs too early, though, or they become white noise, Ingram cautions. She suggests posting signs at least a week in advance but no more than two. Here’s what Ingram suggests including in yard sale signage: street address, time/date of the sale, arrows pointing shoppers in the right direction, and a few words describing what people will find (toys, antiques, books, furniture, jewelry, or whatever else you’re selling). “Make the lettering big enough so people can read it from afar,” she adds. “And make sure that they’re waterproof and windproof.”

3. Price to Sell

Serious yard sale goers who show up at 7am in their quest for a bargain expect deep discounts, so price items accordingly or you could be left with the same pile of clutter at the end of the day. “Common items like a household appliance, I try to price at $3 or less, depending on how old it is,” says Papin. “Little things like that can’t command top dollar, especially with the birth of Wal-Mart.” If you’re selling antiques or collectibles, do a little research so you don’t short-change yourself.

Instead of pricing each item individually, you can also arrange items in boxes according to price ($.50/book or $1/toy) to save time or ask shoppers to offer what they’re willing to pay, since many will try to haggle on the posted price anyway. Ingram says she’s been pleasantly surprised by how much money you can earn just by asking people what they’re willing to pay. “For me, the idea is I don’t want to come home with this stuff,” she adds.

4. Don’t Ignore the Details

When getting ready for a yard or garage sale, a few details that can boost your bottom line and ensure a successful sale. First, Papsin recommends having an extension cord handy so shoppers can test out electronics. “If you have the manuals, that helps in selling them,” he says. And, of course, clean items thoroughly before you put them up for sale.

Stockpile plastic bags so shoppers can carry their purchases and have plenty of single bills for making change, suggests Ingram. “Another way to make money on a yard sale is to think about having your own bake sale,” she adds. “Also get a case of water at BJ’s, sell those bottles of water for $1 a pop. People don’t blink at that.” If it’s a hot day when people are out running errands, ice cold water and snacks could be a huge hit!

Presentation is another important consideration. According to Ingram, successful yard sale sellers often take a “retail approach” to displaying items, such as clustering jewelry together on a piece of black velvet like you’d see in a jewelry store, or hanging clothes on a rack.

5. Put Safety First

Yard sales can be a fun way to earn extra cash, but Papsin and Ingram had some important safety tips to make sure it doesn’t turn into a liability. First, lock your door and don’t let anyone inside to use the bathroom or try on clothes. “People should know their size,” points out Papsin. “If they’re really interested in a particular article of clothing, they can leave a deposit and come try on the article in my home another time when someone else is there.” Papsin adds that you should check with your insurance provider about whether your homeowner’s policy will cover liability issues in case someone is injured on your property.

According to Ingram, “the best way to do a yard sale is to take a two-man approach so you are never so distracted that somebody gets your money box.” Wearing an apron with pockets can also help so the money is always on your person instead of sitting on a table. Either way, it’s wise to have more than one person working the sale.

Susan Johnston is a Boston-based freelance writer who covers business and lifestyle topics.