The Ultimate Tag-Sale Guide
Setting a Date
Tackle the job between June and October, which is the most popular period for tag sales nationwide. People’s schedules tend to be more flexible in the summer. “If you live in a college town, the moving months of August and September can be particularly profitable,” says Harry L. Rinker, author of Garage Sale: Manual and Price Guide.
If you’re worried about rain, however, you might choose October, the month with the fewest storms in most parts of the country, according to the National Climatic Data Center. The first Saturday of the month usually works well because it’s the day after many of your hardworking neighbors have been paid, but follow local customs if they are different.
You may want to see when local churches, schools, or civic groups may be sponsoring fund-raising tag sales in your community; you can rent a table or space. The charity benefits from the entrance fee, while you benefit from lots of traffic (and get to keep the proceeds).
How Long It Should Last
One-day sales are best in most cases. A full day in the sun (or shade, if you can find it)―say, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.―is plenty of time to get rid of your wares, and shoppers shouldn't feel as if they have all the time in the world to haggle and browse. So don’t let your sale drag on until dusk or the next day.
A two-day schedule is most appropriate for an estate sale, in which an entire household of inventory needs to be moved, Rinker says. Estate-sale goods tend to be upscale; if your items fall into this category, an auction may be a better solution. To find a professional appraiser where you live, go to isa-appraisers.org or appraisers.org.
What Items to Sell
If you haven’t used it or worn it in two years, sell it. If you hate it but are keeping it because it was a gift, sell it. (Just make sure the giver does not attend the sale.) “Try to go through your house objectively,” says Leslie Kaplan, co-owner of the Boston consignment store Garage Sale. “You have a ton of stuff that may be great but you have no use for anymore.” Look at your items as if you were seeing them at a garage sale. Would you buy them again, even at a discounted price? If not, then sell them, keeping these points in mind:
- Best-sellers tend to include baby equipment (strollers, car seats), sporting goods, furniture, tools, books, kitchen appliances, toys, and framed art.
- Clothing usually doesn’t sell as well, because by the time it’s for sale, it’s already out of fashion. But brand-name and children’s clothes are exceptions, says Jennie Callahan of Fort Payne, Alabama, who has earned up to $1,500 a weekend at the World’s Longest Yardsale, a multistate event held each August. Carey Rademacher, creator of ItsDeductible, a donation-valuation software program, always donates clothing instead of trying to sell it. “A bagful of brand-name or designer clothing could be worth a $250 tax deduction versus a fraction of that at your sale―if the clothes sell at all,” she says. But if you are less concerned about money than about clearing your home of clutter as quickly as possible, go ahead and bring out that pile of clothing―just keep the prices low.
- Don’t repel potential buyers with used cosmetics or lingerie (yes, it’s been done). “Garage sales are recycling sales, not garbage dumps,” says Rinker. “Don’t sell broken or damaged goods. What you sell should be stuff somebody else can use that has no value to you.”
- Don’t hawk antiques or truly valuable collectibles (which may include items that are 25 years or older). Tag-sale shoppers expect to pay very little for your unwanted goods, and there are better markets for such items. Call an appraiser, and consider using an eBay trading assistant to fetch the best prices for your stuff.
Supplies You’ll Need
Clear signs: Mead makes a waterproof poster board that won't wither in the rain. You can find it at Staples, Wal-Mart, and Office Depot ($5 for two sheets). Use a permanent marker.
Money to make change: Have on hand $50 in ones, $30 in fives, $50 in 10s, $60 in 20s, and $10 in quarters (one roll).
Fanny pack or carpenter’s apron (one for each seller, if yours is a multifamily sale): Keep bills in one pocket, change in the other.
Calculator: For tallying sales.
Notebook and pen: For keeping track of sales.
Card tables: For displaying wares.
Measuring tape: So shoppers can measure pieces of furniture.
Garment rack: Target (target.com) and the Container Store (containerstore.com) sell racks starting at about $20.
Full-length mirror: So shoppers can see what clothes look like.
Extension cord: So shoppers can test lamps, radios, and other electrical appliances.
Packing supplies: Old newspapers, bubble wrap, plastic bags, boxes.
Tips for Setting Up
Give Items Some TLC
Make your items look as appealing as possible. “Use a hose to spray the dirt off outdoor kids’ toys,” says Callahan. Display two pieces of clothing together as an outfit, or arrange china as a charming place setting instead of leaving it stacked in a dusty box. Also, be sure to keep breakables away from the outer edges of the table.
Display a show-stopper at the end of the driveway or in clear view. “If you treat your sale like a store, these items are like your window displays,” explains Callahan. A colorful quilt, a great piece of furniture, or a striking piece of art will attract attention.
Group Similar Things Together
Some shoppers will be looking for a specific item, so don’t make them wade through all your merchandise. Clothes and accessories should have a section, as should electronics, tools, kitchenware, and so on.
Make It Personal
A little tag of information―“Made for walkin’: vintage cowgirl boots, straight outta Nashville”―will give an item more character. Suddenly your piece of so-called junk will have a lively history and thus be more attractive to a potential buyer.
Getting People to Help
Why (and How) to Make It a Group Effort
You can’t keep an eye on every shopper or kindly explain that, no, your adorable Labrador retriever is not up for grabs while simultaneously making sales. The more people involved, the better. (“Multifamily” spells “gold mine” for experienced shoppers.) But keep in mind that having more sellers also requires more organizing and delegating. Decide ahead of time how you’ll price items and tell them apart. Some people use different-colored price stickers for each seller (green for you, red for Mom, blue for Aunt Evelyn) and then place the stickers in a notebook next to the cash box after items sell. Others simply send interested shoppers to the appropriate seller, using the price tags as a reminder of who is entitled to the cash.
Enlist Some Muscle
Make sure you have someone on hand who can help move heavy objects or load items into buyers’ cars, suggests Gwen Glass Carbone, a New Hampshire auctioneer and the author of How to Make a Fortune With Other People's Junk ($17, amazon.com). If a shopper is interested in a piece of furniture but has no idea how she’s going to load it into her trunk, she might think twice about making the purchase.
Keep Kids Occupied
Try to involve the kids so they’re not needlessly wandering around in the front yard. Why not have them operate a well-placed lemonade stand? Besides giving them something to do, you’ll be offering weary shoppers a refreshing break. You can also set up a table where little entrepreneurs can sell their own toys (and, best of all, you can smile knowingly as your customers try to “negotiate” with your stubborn 9-year-old).
Pricing and Selling Your Goods
Do Some Research
Spend one Saturday comparing items similar to yours at other tag sales, or consult a reputable market-price guide.
Try to look at your merchandise objectively. For newer items, start at about 25 percent of retail. Most items usually end up selling for closer to 10 percent of retail. (If you bought a set of wooden stools from Crate & Barrel a year or two ago for $200, for example, price them at $50 to start, but be prepared to sell them for around $20.)
Charge Early-Birds Extra
Keep in mind that early birds are inevitable―tag sales tend to have a very devoted following. If you have enough help on hand, you might consider charging a $10 early-bird fee so shoppers can get in and out quickly and you can make a little extra dough with hardly any effort.
Negotiate―To a Point
Expect shoppers to haggle―it’s part of the experience. For buyers, this transforms a mere purchase into a sport. But if your price is firm, say so. (Some buyers don't know when to stop―luckily, you do.)
Liquidate Late in the Day
If your items aren’t selling by noon, drop the price to 20 percent of retail and go from there. Don’t get greedy, warns Rinker: “Remember, this stuff was sitting in your basement doing nothing for you. Any money is found money.” As the sale winds down, Kate Kelly, coauthor of Organize Yourself! ($15, amazon.com), recommends handing out plastic shopping bags and deciding on a flat rate―$5 to $15―for as much as shoppers can carry home in each. If the items still don’t move, take them to a consignment shop, donate them to a charity, or haul them to the dump.
How to Spread the Word
Tag-sale veterans say that attracting buyers to the sale should be your top priority. But first make a quick call to the town hall. Some towns require a permit to hold a tag sale. If yours does, get one―it will usually set you back $10 to $25. Others have strict rules about where you can post signs. Some, for example, allow you to place them only at a central intersection, as with political advertising during election season. Once you know the local rules, here’s how to get the word out:
- Advertise in your daily newspaper (your ad should run on a Friday for a Saturday sale), as well as in a weekly newspaper or two in your area. If the paper has a special tag-sale section that readers can cut out, make sure you’re in it. An outlay of $100 should cover three newspaper ads plus flyers and posters.
- Get the word out via social media. Post notice on Facebook and Twitter; Instagram a few of your most noteworthy items.
- Post flyers at gathering places around town (the supermarket bulletin board is a good place to start). They should list the best offerings, including any recognizable brand names (Ethan Allen, Crate & Barrel, Frigidaire, etc.), and details of the sale. Head flyers with classic attention-getters, such as “cleaning out the attic,” “1,000s of items,” “moving after 30 years,” and “first-time tag sale.” Save any lengthy descriptions for the flyers placed where readers can pause to peruse them.
- Don’t forget good, old-fashioned signs, which can be what separates a blockbuster from a bust. Large, waterproof posters should use arrows to point shoppers to the sale. Place them at busy intersections on the morning of the sale. Keep the messages short and sweet: “gigantic tag sale” should do the trick. (Of course, if your sale is relatively small because you’re simply getting rid of, say, your college-age son’s belongings, don’t advertise falsely.) Carbone advises that you use a single color of paperboard for all your signs so potential shoppers aren’t confused by inconsistent signage (black marker on a bright, light- colored background, such as yellow, will be highly visible).
- Designate someone to drive around the neighborhood about three hours into the sale to make sure the signs are still up. Sometimes the wind (or sneaky neighbors who are also having a sale) will have taken them down.
- You can place free ads for your sale at craigslist.org, garagesalehunter.com, and yardsalesearch.com.
What to Do If It Rains
Tag sales, by their nature, are outdoor affairs, which means they’re at the mercy of the elements. The simplest contingency plan for bad weather is to designate a rain date in your ad, on your flyers, and on social media. That way, if the skies open up on the morning of the big event, buyers will already know to return the following Saturday. (Reposting directional signs on the rain date is a good idea.) If you’re committed and you have a garage, you can also move the whole show inside. True collectors shop rain or shine.
Planning to hold a tag sale? Print out the Tag Sale Supplies Checklist, which spells out everything you need to make it a success.