What I Learned at my Accidental Garage Sale

Though I wasn’t planning to, I received an impromptu lesson in garage sale vernacular a few weeks ago: people showed up as I was cleaning my garage and tried to buy my things I was arranging.

As the people rummaged through my garage, I didn’t have the heart to tell them I wasn’t having a sale. At the same time, I was curious. I didn’t care about most of it and we were saving up to rent a couple of dumpsters. It was kind of a rush. I wondered what my junk could go for? In the hours that followed I fancied myself quite the garage salesman, but after several only marginally profitable sales, I realized I had a lot to learn about this odd breed of people.

In the negotiations that followed, I learned that terms like “really good condition” are not the best when trying to get the highest price. One has to somehow let the buyer know that the item is of good quality without bragging. The reason is that if one brags too much, the buyer will feel the need to find fault in it and haggle a lower price. I even had one buyer completely drop an item and leave when I extolled the virtues of a never before used water foot spa, he probably wanted it for a quarter though, so no real loss there.

One guy who bought about $40 worth of my stuff seemed like a pro. He had gloves in his back pocket and a tape measure he pulled out more than once. I’ve often wondered since that day if he was an eBay enthusiast. If he was, he probably made quite a profit off some of my things. I admire that guy for knowing his craft. I’ve already bought my gardening gloves and I’m ready to be on his side some Saturday when I can convince my wife it’s worth my time!

Hindsight is 20/20. I learned that one avoids the pitfalls of low selling prices by stating a price one wants up front and using dispassionate, minimal language like,

“Yes . . . that’s for sale . . . it works. . . . it’s 15 dollars . . .etc.”

In doing this the buyer doesn’t have to wring his/her hands and tell you dramatically about how it is missing this or that or show you the holes in it to get you to lower the price. In short: Play your language down and hold on a price. This is the best way to get the most money for your stuff.

It was a key strategy I learned over the course of my 4 hour accidental garage sale. If I had known it at the start, I would have gotten a lot more money for my things. I made the mistake of thinking that retail sales strategies are the same as garage sale ones: they are not. At Best Buy, for example, a salesman would extol the virtues of a plasma TV to get the $3000 from the buyer . . . that would make sense. At a garage sale, extolling the virtues of wares can backfire when the buyer senses they have no chance to talk the seller down. This can be a real problem especially since traffic at garage sales is not guaranteed throughout the day as it is at Best Buy.

At any rate, I did okay that day and we took the kids to John’s Incredible Pizza (Kind of like a Chuck E Cheese of the High Desert) with the proceeds that night. I’m looking forward to putting my lesson it into practice first thing the next time I have a garage sale. The only trouble is that it may have to wait a while . . . I’ve already sold all my junk. Maybe in 10 years . . . this approach is probably timeless so I hope I’m in luck. I know for sure I’ll have a chance soon to be the buyer, so watch for that post. Since this experience I have learned that garage sales can be the BEST places to get things.

Have you learned/observed anything funny or productive out there from a garage sale?

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