Secrets of a professional garage saler

That buyer who’s walking around with something? Name a higher price.

Secrets of a professional garage saler

Photograph by Mark Peterman/Getty Images

After Lynda Hammond lost her television news anchor job, she managed to turn her love of a bargain into a full-time career as a professional garage saler. For months, Hammond hit the garage sale circuit, reselling her purchases online for 20 times what she paid. She became so expert at bargain hunting and selling that she launched a website, Garage Sale Gal, started teaching courses on how to hold garage sales, and landed a newspaper column in Arizona where, each week, she advises readers on how to make money off their unwanted stuff. Now she’s put all her advice in a new book, The Garage Sale Gal’s Guide to Making Money Off Your Stuff.

Her first suggestion is that sellers should carefully check each item before putting it up for sale. “It would be awful if you sold that jewellery box for $1 and later remembered you had hidden a wedding ring in it.” She reminds readers about the 2009 news story of a woman in Israel who surprised her elderly mother by buying her a new mattress and throwing out the old one. “The bigger surprise was her mother had stashed away her life savings in the mattress.” One of Hammond’s friends paid a quarter for a pair of panty hose at a garage sale, and was happy to discover four $20 bills rolled up inside.

Hammond’s single best tip is not to price anything. Let the seller name the price. She learned this one day when a woman pulled up and started looking at the leftovers of her garage sale. “She picked up a comforter that had a hole smack dab in the middle. She asked me the price. I told her, ‘Oh, it doesn’t matter. Just name your price.’ She began to speak, hesitantly at first?.?.?.?‘Would you take $20 for it?’ Would I? That turned out to be my best sale of the day. Had I priced that blanket, I might have put $5 on it, then probably would have been lucky to get $3.”

When a buyer picks up an item and walks around with it, quote a higher price, she writes. Also, “When someone is eyeing that old blender, consider adding some facts. Yell out a price and say, ‘That’s from the 1960s.’ Buyers often feel more inclined to pay your asking price if they feel like the item is more special.”

Weekends are the most popular days to hold a garage sale but a weekday attracts more buyers, she writes. “Let’s say it’s a Saturday, and there are seven signs at that street corner, each pointing in a different direction. Odds are you won’t go to all those sales. You’ll hit one or two then drift off in another direction, never making it back to the place where you started. So, if you want a jump on the competition, set up shop the day before.”

Don’t shoot down early birds, she writes. “If your sale isn’t open early, they’ll go down the street to find one that is. I get my best crowds and make the most money between six and eight in the morning.”

On the day of the sale, “make shopping easier by getting stuff off the ground for those who hate to bend and crouch.” Use long banquet tables, and hang up clothes. If you don’t have racks, use the bottom of your open garage door to hang clothes on, and group similar things together such as kitchenware in one area, electronics in another.

Hammond also has advice for buyers. Don’t insult the seller by saying things like, “This item isn’t worth $5.” Instead ask, “Is this your best price?” And “if a footed cake plate is marked $20, don’t test a seller’s intelligence by asking if he’ll take $2. Be realistic when haggling.” Also, “leave the Jaguar and Hummer at home—you lose all your bargaining power if you pull up in pricey wheels. I see this more often than you can imagine.”

If you’re seeking to buy furniture and forget to bring a tape measure, remember that the bills in your wallet are six inches long, she writes.

If an item is priced under $1, don’t commit what Hammond calls the $1 faux pas. Hammond learned this early in the game. “I found a 1960s stained-glass Santa Claus candle holder. It was a quarter—25 pennies for heaven’s sake! I asked the seller if she’d take a dime. I’ll never forget the look on that lady’s face. She looked me up and down, rolled her eyes, and said, ‘Yeah, I guess.’ I handed over the dime. To this day, I regret doing that. I’d love to give her 15 cents and apologize.”

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