Editor’s note: This essay was first published Jan. 23, 2005. It is posted again to provide some guidance as the weather warms and we begin to emerge from our pandemic hibernation.
There comes a time to sell stuff long ago tucked away in closets, kitchen cabinets, attic, garage and back yard. A time to part with items not seen or used in years. It is a time to see how much you can sell those odd and useless trinkets gathered from weddings, birthdays and Christmases.
There is a time to buck up and have a garage sale.
Many of you have endured this event. A few oddballs out there enjoy having several garage sales a year. And what follows will be wasted reading for those of you for whom a garage sale is entirely beneath you.
What follows are also a few pieces of info for those who have yet to operate a motley merchandise market where a nickel difference in price could be a deal killer.
• Time doesn’t matter to professional garage salers. If your newspaper (or Facebook) ad clearly notes that your sale will begin at 8 a.m., don’t be surprised when you wake at 6 a.m. to discover folks waiting in your driveway or peering through your front windows. And they will be exasperated to see you unprepared at 6 a.m. for an 8 a.m. sale.
• If you don’t want it carried off, tie it down or put “not for sale” on it. And for some folks, “garage sale” is to be understood in an unwavering literal sense. If you don’t cordon off the garage – and for such crowd control, might I suggest concertina wire and water cannons – people will help themselves into your garage and plunder through its contents.
“Hey, how much for this lawnmower and that door?”
“The lawnmower? That’s a good lawnmower. I just bought it. Cost me about $250. And the door, well, sir, that’s the door into my house.”
“OK, I’ll give you $15 for them.”
“The mower and anything attached to the house ain’t for sale. Nothing past those two tables intended to keep you out of the garage is for sale.”
“OK. How ‘bout the power drill you still have in the box and the plastic container with your family pictures for $5?”
• People will haggle ferociously over 25 cents. It’s possible a website somewhere exists that gives a “blue book” value for items found or ever to be found at a garage sale.
“Just can’t do a buck fifty for this here cookie jar what looks like the old Elvis, but I can give you a buck twenty-five.”
“Well, sir, it’s early in the day, in fact a full hour before our newspaper ad said we’d open, so I think I’ll wait for other offers. Now, I’d appreciate it if you’d kindly go back outside and let me finish my shower.”
“OK, but it just ain’t worth a buck fifty.”
What it’s worth? It’s not worth throwing away, but people …
• … will buy ANYTHING.
In fact, it’s easier to sell a piece of junk for $1 than to give it away. Compare the following conversation.
“Whaddya want for that old tire?”
“You can have it.”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“It’s an old tire with a hole in it.”
“Can it be patched?”
“Don’t know. Don’t care. Take it if you want it.”
“Not sure I want it if it can’t be patched.”
“Whaddya want for that old tire?”
• People come in waves. After the initial rush of professional garage salers has picked through your stuff a full hour before your official opening, there will be periods of inactivity. Then a car will pull up. About 10 seconds later, five more cars will pull up.
• People leave in waves. About 15 minutes after the wave arrives, the folks who washed up in the wave will want to haggle and pay for their stuff and leave all at the same time. These people must meet and plan their garage sale assault.
Susie will hit 1545 Peckerwood Lane at approximately 8:16. Joe, you and Betty come in 25 seconds later. Bert, bring your family in straight-up 8:18. Donna Jane, you come up with your kids 32 seconds after Bert arrives. I’ll show up 30 seconds after that. OK, let’s synchronize our watches.”
• Don’t leave early. They are watching you. Although the professional garage salers don’t care to honor the official start of your garage sale, they will wait and force you to conduct your sale until your announced closing time. They know your garage sale is not supposed to end until noon. If at 11 a.m. you start to load up the rest of your stuff for the dump or a local charity, well, remember, people come in waves. It’ll be Susie first. About 25 seconds later, Joe and Betty. Then Bert. And so on.
And finally, the Elvis fan will return. He’ll have a buck twenty-five at the ready. And you’ll know then that the market, the unseen hand of which Adam Smith noted, has determined the supply and demand price point for the cookie jar is indeed $1.25.