Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 9, 2012

Vanessa McCray: Do's and don'ts of garage sales

By Vanessa McCray, Record-Eagle staff writer
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---- — Here are two things I know for sure.

No. 1: Garage sale shoppers want a deal, plus some.

No. 2: Garage sale shoppers will buy almost anything.

Those are among the lessons I learned recently as I planned and held two sales on different sides of Traverse City. No matter the location, be it Holiday Hills or Central Neighborhood, bargain hunters swarmed. What they were willing to purchase, and what they wanted to pay for it, never ceased to amaze me.

A half-used bottle of make-up remover? Sold for a small coin.

A nearly pristine set of four vintage copper mugs? No takers.

When I held my first garage sale about five years ago I realized I buy too much stuff I don't need or never use. I also discovered even old nail polish can open a shopper's wallet — if it's priced right.

I remembered those lessons when planning this summer's sales.

The following are a few other tips I picked up:

n Keep the original boxes. It's a pain to store the boxes items come in, but intact packaging materials and instructions helped me sell some seriously out-dated technology. Someone snatched up my VCR (displayed in its cardboard box) for $5. My first digital camera, a relic that resembles a paperweight more than a picture-taker, went for $8. Sure, that's a huge hit from what I paid for it years ago, but the only reason I salvaged even a few dollars is because I still had the box, software, cord and charger.

n Be willing to bargain. Expect bold shoppers to demand a discount. A once-prized art piece that collected dust on my bedroom wall went unnoticed when I priced it at $12. At the next sale, I marked it down to $7 and immediately got a bite. Would I take $5, a shopper asked? We settled on $6.

n But don't always drop the price. I tagged a coffee maker at $2, and a guy offered me a buck. I countered at $1.50. He was so upset by my 50-cent stubbornness that he left in a huff. The coffee pot sold the next weekend for $2.

n Consider the hours. I found that serious yard sale shoppers are early birds. They show up before the advertised opening, and traffic wanes after noon.

n Display items nicely. At my first sale, shoppers pawed through sweaters and skirts I left in a pile on the pavement. At my next sale, I hung the items and more shoppers came over to take a look.

n Be helpful. A lady asked me to untangle a jumble of jewelry, carry her items while she shopped and retrieve a tablecloth buried under layers of for-sale flotsam. I did it all, while silently reprimanding her for mistaking my garage for Barneys New York. In the end, she forked over about $17 for her purchases, and I was pleased I'd kept her happy.