The Business of Garage Sales

Garage sales are becoming more and more popular; especially in this economy, homeowners are finding it makes good money sense to sell these items rather than throw or give them away, or have the expense of putting them in storage or hiring a mover for them.

Some people are going through “right-sizing,” i.e. moving to a smaller home for various reasons. Garage sales are also held by people who just want to get rid of odds and ends cluttering their home. Some people even seem to be make a part-time job of garage sales!

Whatever your reason you will have the most enjoyment from a garage sale that has been carefully organized well in advance.

Market Research

Begin as anyone contemplating the running of a business would.  Check the local municipal by-laws to see if any of them pertain to garage sales.  Are there any restrictions on the placing of signs advertising your sale or ordinances covering the sale of bedding, food, clothing?

Visit other garage sales in your area to see how they are run. This will give you an insight as to how to display your merchandise and where in your home or property to hold the sale.  You can also receive some handy tips from other garage sale buffs / vendors who can share their expertise in the running the sale.

Organizing Your Sale

Decide where you will hold the sale.  There should be actual barriers between the sale and non-sale areas - or you may find yourself being asked the price of your favourite chair that is decided not for sale! The garage, basement, patio, and back yard are your best choices.

Consider the day or days you will hold the sale.  Sale days on or near the weekend are best. If at all possible, avoid holding your sale at a time of the year when there is a possibility of snow, ice, or heavy rain.

The longer your sale lasts, the less items you will probably sell each sale day.  People who regularly patronize garage sales know the best stuff goes first and you can depend on the fact that the first hour will be the busiest.   Often people come before the sale time.

What to Sell

It is important to remember that the type and variety of merchandise you have to sell will be a big factor in determining whether your sale will be a success.  There are three basic principles worth noting:

1. The more things you offer for sale, the more you are likely to sell. (Be careful WHAT you sell; in the US it is now illegal to sell any unsafe products, such as those dangerous toys from China, even at garage sales.)

2. No matter how useless an item my seem to you, someone may want it.

3. Have a variety of low-priced merchandise for sale in addition to your more expensive items.

A large display of merchandise at a variety of prices induces customers to stick around longer, and the longer they linger, the more likely they will find something to purchase.


Check the local pricing levels.  See what your neighbours are asking for items that are similar to yours.   Are people actually buying at those prices?

One of your most important preparations will be to put price tags on everything you hope to sell. It will help identify bargains and encourage buyers, since a lot of people dislike haggling.

The most common mistake made by inexperienced sellers is to set prices too high.  Remember that you cannot ask store prices in a garage sale.  It is best to keep an open mind about the whole business of pricing.  The prices on your tags should not be totally inflexible especially as you get near the end of the sale and you figure that selling an item at a lower price would be better than not getting rid of it at all.


• Call a local realtor to see if you can borrow a law sign or sandwich-board sign for roadside promotion. (As well as on your own property, place signs stating your address on arterial streets near your home.)
• Many stores and other businesses have bulletin boards on which you can post a free advance notice of your sale.
• Check your local cable television station.
• The most effective free advertising is word-of-mouth spread by people you know.
• Place your garage sales in the local newspaper; that’s where hard-core garage sale buffs learn about sales.  If you are advertising in a daily paper, an advertisement placed one or two days before the event is best.

Now you are ready for action! All that pre-planning will pay off as your garage sale gets underway.  If you are flexible, friendly, and fair you will soon find yourself involved in the pleasant task of counting all the money you made from your garage sale.

Final Checklist

1. Ensure you have lots of change.
2. Have bags and newspaper available to wrap items.
3. Clean your merchandise before selling.
4. Check that there is enough room down aisles so that people will not knock anything over by accident.

Good luck, have fun, and may you prosper! In many parts of Canada this summer, make sure you have lots of plastic sheets handy to throw over your goods and wares when that sudden thunderstorm arrives!

Share your own garage sale stories; leave them in the comments section below.

Eric McCartney is a broker with Century 21 Heritage Group Ltd. based in Newmarket, ON.

There are no comments

Thank you! Your comment has been submitted and is awaiting approval.

Blog Archives