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Last weekend, I held a garage sale at my parents' home in Ancaster, Ontario. Despite the fact that I had never hosted one before, the sale turned out to be a huge success. Here is some advice to follow if you're planning a sale of your own:

1. Spend on advertising

Garage sale enthusiasts scour their local newspapers for listings. If your sale is taking place on a Saturday morning, you should place ads in your local daily on both Friday and Saturday (I also booked a Thursday ad in a weekly village paper). Many newspapers gave you a bonus listing online; some also offer free posters. Be descriptive in your word choice — are you hosting a garage sale? A contents sale? List any key items that could attract specific buyers. Our family was offering antique furniture, vintage books, old tools and garden decor; we mentioned all of these things in our description. I spent about $85 in advertising.

2. Take the day off work the day before (if you can)

A successful garage sale is a well-organized garage sale, and preparation takes time. Start with a clear-cut plan of action. The day before our sale, I cleaned out our entire garage, which gave us a blank slate to work with. I also made room in our backyard shed and in our basement. Don't wait until the night before to do the grunt work, or you'll be working into the wee hours of the morning.

3. Expect people to arrive early

If your sale starts at 8 a.m., count on the first people to arrive an hour early. (Ours started at 8 a.m. with the first buyers pulling up in front of our house at 6:45 a.m. A few furniture dealers actually came to our house the day before. I was happy to sell a few pieces in advance.)

4. Enlist a team of helpers

Leading up to the sale, my brother and sister-in-law did an incredible job of organizing our sale items into batches: in each room of our house, they made neat piles of all the things we'd be selling and clearly labeled them "For Sale" or "NOT For Sale!" They arrived bright and early on the morning of the sale, along with my niece and my partner. With five people working the sale, we were well covered.

5. Don't bother with pricing

Determine the going price of your important pieces beforehand. Everything else can be negotiated on the spot. Even though we had five people working at our sale, we decided that one of us needed to play the role of Tough Cop if buyers made low-ball offers (and they did). I had no problem saying no to an offer of a single dime for a lovely vintage leather-bound book!*

6. Merchandising is everything

Even though hosting a garage sale was new to me, I am no stranger to flea markets and antique shows. Here's what I've learned: display as much as you can on tables, so people don't have to bend down, and place similar objects together. I organized my family's collection of rose glassware and wine goblets on one table, and placed our crystal decanters, vintage cutlery and silver trays on another. Kitsch all got grouped together! When items start to sell, it's a good idea to either replenish or consolidate — no one likes the look of a sparsely laid table.

7. You can never have too many card tables

For a full-looking garage sale, plan on using 10-12 tables. Don't have enough? Ask your friends and neighbours if you can borrow theirs; offer them something free from the sale to say thanks! I set the tables out along the perimeter of our driveway, so that there was a nice flow of foot traffic.

8. Don't think it will sell? Think again

On the morning of our sale, my sister-in-law and partner emerged from our basement with a few dusty cardboard boxes filled with old copper pipe fittings, plumbing cast-offs and fishing tackle. They both thought we might be able to get good money for them. I was mortified. "No one will want that! Plus it doesn't look very nice!" I told them. Guess what things sold in no time flat?

9. People love to rummage

An addendum to #6 above: Even though attractive merchandising can make an everyday garage sale look more elegant, don't be afraid to include a few unorganized, haphazard boxes of "junk." People enjoy the thrill of the hunt! I was about to start organizing several boxes of old paperbacks and records onto shelves, until I saw how much people seemed to love the process of leafing though them.

10. A good back story goes a long way

I can't tell you how many times I closed a sale by offering up a fun anecdote about an object. "That glass demijohn you're looking at? My dad used to make wine in it every September!" "That framed print you're holding? It's in the style of Dutch Renaissance genre painting, and it hung above our fireplace for almost 30 years!" A little history goes a long way. Who doesn't want to bring home a fun story?

*Before you host your sale, it's a good idea to prearrange a pick-up of any items left unsold. We called a local charity and they were able to swing by after our sale. Gently used books and full sets of dishes are especially appreciated by charitable organizations.

Finally, I'll share with you list of what I found to be the most in-demand garage sale items. These were things that people either asked me for repeatedly, or pieces that we sold immediately, with no haggling whatsoever. If you have any of these items to sell, I'd suggest that you start thinking about hosting your own garage sale soon!

Our 5 Most Popular Items

  • Teak furniture (preferably from the 50s or 60s)
  • Vintage globes
  • Antique wristwatches and jewelry
  • Outdoor furniture
  • Vintage tools

See a gallery of our editors' refurbished salvaged finds and read more about top flea market finds here.

Photo sources
Mark Challen

Author: 

Mark Challen

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