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Shopping around the block

By Alicia Fabbre Daily Herald Correspondent
Posted: April 16, 2004

Time to clean out those closets and cupboards. Garage sale season is upon us once again.

And it's nothing to scoff at. Getting rid of old stuff can be a profitable business.

Some people have been known to make enough to make a mortgage payment. Others use theirs to pay for vacations. Others just use it as mad money - spending cash that doesn't have to be accounted for.

So, if you know you have stuff you don't use, now is the time to get rid of it - and maybe make a buck or two.

In some instances, garage sales even benefit charitable groups. St. Charles, for example, will host its third annual citywide garage sale this weekend. Fees charged to participate in the event will benefit the STC Underground Teen Center.

In Batavia, homeowners participating in the citywide sale April 30 and May 1 also will be helping the city's fireworks committee.

So, what's the best way to ensure your garage sale is a success? And how do you know you're getting a good deal if you're on the garage sale hunt? Following are some tips from experts and seasoned garage sale shoppers and sellers.

The price is right

Probably the top tip from the experts and seasoned shoppers.

"Nothing I dislike more than going to a sale where the lazy owner sits back and says, 'Make me an offer," writes Jenn Callum, author of a garage sale tips Web site, via an e-mail interview. "You want to sell your things. Price them. Reasonably."

Be sure the items are clearly marked and, as with any garage sale, be ready to haggle.

"Don't be 'firm' on a price," writes Callum, who has used her garage sale proceeds to make her monthly house payment or pay for trips. (I was misquoted here)

"It's not a retail shop after all. Enjoy yourself, and if the price is reasonable, let it go."

Price to sell

Remember, you don't use the stuff anymore and the whole idea is to get rid of it. So price to sell. Callum and Terri McGraw, author of Mrs. Fixit Easy Home Repair and a nationally syndicated television and radio show host of home repair segments, offer some tips on more popular items.

Books, Callum said, can go for 25 cents for paperbacks and up to $2 for hardback. McGraw suggests 25 cents to $1 for baby clothes, while Callum says some of the nicer baby outfits can probably go for $3. But, remember, they need to be in good condition - not torn or stained.

Toys, unless they're big items, should go for no more than $1, McGraw suggests.

If you have nicer items, like a good suit or jacket, you may want to consider finding a resale shop where you can get a better price for it.

Be clean, organized

Selling old baby clothes? Make sure the stains are out.

Getting rid of some pots and pans? Be sure there isn't any greasy residue on them when you set them out at your sale.

The extra time it takes to get an item clean could mean the difference between selling it or giving it to Goodwill.

"Make everything look nice," McGraw writes. "You'll sell a lot more merchandise if the display is attractive."

It's also a good idea to organize items in like categories at your sale. That way, if someone is looking for a particular kitchen gadget it is easier to find. If you have a lot of clothes you are trying to sell, consider hanging some of them up or neatly piling them on a table. If it's easier to sift through, it's easier for people to find what they want.

"A lot of people will not bend down to dig in boxes that are just full of stuff," said St. Charles resident Linda Maxwell, who has held garage sales for the last seven years. "You need to be organized and neat."

Prepare early

While many garage sale hosts wait until just before the sale to go through closets and drawers, it's probably better to get things ready throughout the year as you clean. Maxell says she puts unwanted items she finds in a box and sets them aside for her next sale.

Not that organized? Then at least prepare a couple of weeks ahead of your sale. Set aside some time to sort through clothes, housewares and other items. If you haven't used it in a couple of years, it's probably time to get rid of it.

Shop around

You may not be in the market for a toaster oven or books, but if you're having a garage sale it's best to shop at other sales to see what the going rate is for a paperback or kitchen appliance.

Maxwell and Callum also suggest checking out Goodwill stores or the clearance racks at department stores. You don't want to price your items more than what someone would pay at a store. I Definitely did not say that - Goodwill prices are nowhere near Garagesale prices in many instances

It's not a garbage sale

That old puzzle with missing pieces or broken toy shouldn't make the garage sale cut. Remember, the goal is to sell items, and if your garage sale is full of broken items, people will walk on by.

"This is not a garbage sale, it's a garage sale," writes Callum, who is putting together a book about garage sales. "Everything you offer is a reflection on you."

Callum also suggests there are some things that should never make it to a garage sale. Baby bottle nipples, teething rings, pacifiers and personal grooming items should go to the trash.

Power in numbers

Neighborhood or citywide garage sales usually bring more shoppers and give those shopping a break from driving all around town.

Though most usually charge a fee, garage sale hosts benefit from maps and ads listing all the garage sales. And in the case of the citywide sales in St. Charles and Batavia, hosts also help out a good cause with their fee.

"People like to go to lots (of garage sales) at one time," said Maxwell, who will participate in St. Charles' citywide sale this weekend.

"I look for neighborhoods or a whole street of garage sales. You can walk from house to house or go up and down the block and there are 20 garage sales."

Rain dance

Nothing kills a garage sale faster than bad weather. While you have no control over a downpour or a heat wave, you can adapt.

If it starts to rain, move all items into your garage. Maxwell makes sure she has a few tarps ready to cover any items she can't fit in her garage.

Weather too hot? Break out the pitcher and let your kids set up a lemonade stand, or stock up on some bottled water and sell it.

Watch the money

Never leave your cash box unattended. Some sales can bring in a hefty amount of change. It is a good idea to empty the cash box out every once in a while if it's getting full.

For shoppers, McGraw suggests carrying several small bills and placing them in different pockets. That way, if you're trying to haggle on a price, it doesn't look like you have a ton of cash to spend.

Buyer beware

You can bring home some real treasures - or lemons - when shopping at sales, so it's best to be educated about what you're buying.

Be sure to check items to make sure they are in good working order. Maxwell knows of people who bring a bottle of water with them so they can clean up those dirty pieces of crystal or china to make sure they aren't chipped or cracked. Ask to plug in electrical items to see if they work.

If you're buying children's items, just remember things may have been recalled for safety issues. Callum says items like car seats should be bought new, not at a garage sale.

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