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Planning Perfect Yard, Tag, Garage Sale

If you put unwanted stuff on a table and put a price on it, people will come.

Call them tag sales, yard sales, garage sales, basement sales, whatever: They've become one of America's favorite leisure activities.

Home and family expert Anne-Marie Barton visited The Early Show Friday with word on how to put on a good one.

Of course, she pointed out, a tag sale is also a great way to clean out the basement and attic, recycle perfectly good items your family can no longer use, and make a few dollars' profit in the process.

But why, you ask, in the age of e-Bay, would someone get up early on a weekend morning (by 7 a.m., if they really want the good stuff!), crawl out of their PJs, and prowl the streets trying to locate impossible addresses on a quest for hidden treasures?

Because the experience is personal. It's about the culture of deal-seeking. It's about human interaction. And it's about being able to hold, touch and personally assess what you're buying — something you just can't do on the Internet.

So, here are a few tips to help you take part in, and perhaps improve on, America's great tag-sale tradition.

It takes only a little extra time to help make your tag sale stand out from the rest. And remember, while making money may be an important goal (Barton says she's known neighbors to pocket close to $1,000 on a Saturday), tag sales also help you organize your household, meet some new neighbors, offer welcome neighborhood social exchange, and give new life to clothes and furniture that otherwise are gathering dust in a dark corner of your house.

PLAN AHEAD CAREFULLY

It's vital to pick your date and time, always keeping in mind that the best time of year for tag sales is sometime between early spring and early autumn. Holiday season, for obvious reasons, should be avoided. Once you choose a date, stick with it and work toward it.

  • Clean

    Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to clean any used clothing and polish up dirty appliances. The golden rule of tag sales is that people buy faster if things are cleaner; they needn't be in perfect working order, but they must be clean.

  • Borrow tables and shelves for display

    Chances are you'll need to borrow some tables from friends and neighbors on which to set things out. Do it well in advance, so you're not frantically scurrying around on sale day. Disorganized cardboard boxes on the ground filled with junk are a tag-sale don't: No one wants to scavenge through corrugated cartons for bric-a-brac bargains. Things should be pleasingly displayed and accessible. Separate clothing into men's, women's and children's. Don't throw kitchen things in with kids' toys. Buy, or borrow, wardrobe boxes from the local moving company to hang clothes in.

    SCAVENGE YOUR HOME

    Scour it ruthlessly to determine whether you're stocked with keepers or throwaways. Store ready-to-sell items in a separate location until you have enough items for a full, plentiful sale. There's nothing more disheartening than a skimpy tag sale with just a few ragged items on a table.

    Tag-sale aficionados will tell you: Just about anything will sell. It doesn't have to be perfect. Your old toaster is broken? Sell it. Old buttons? Spice bottles? At 20 cents each, they'll fly off the tag sale table. That old oil painting you meant to finish years ago? Someone else will take it to completion. A kitchen canister set, a bedroom nightstand, or a leather bomber jacket that, when you look at it now, you ask, "What was I thinking?" Let it go! What's old news to you may be someone else's complete delight; that's one of the fun discoveries of tag sales.

    TIP: To increase the number of items and broaden the selection at your tag sales, ask the grandparents if they have anything to contribute. Often, they have items they're simply too tired to sell themselves, but they'll happily part with.

    Also, consider sharing a tag sale with a neighbor. Combining inventories makes for a bigger event. Just be certain to decide, and agree, in advance on how you're dividing the proceeds.

    GET THE WORD OUT

    Advertising is critical. Don't adopt an, "If I hold it, they will come" philosophy; they won't. Building awareness in advance is crucial. List your tag sale in a local paper at least five days ahead of time, and BE READY: Even if your announcement reads, "No Early Birds," they're certain to show up.

    Meanwhile, neighborhood signage needs to be oversized, clear and enticing. Set the tone for your tag sale with the look and feel of your signs, and try to improve on an old black marker and brown cardboard. Clearly state address, date, and time. Tying helium-filled balloons to your sign increases noticeability and draws attention. And if your neighborhood tends to be a bit confusing, be sure to mark the way clearly with too many, rather than too few, signs. Don't risk losing your customers along the way because of a hidden street sign or blind curve.

    Important: Be sure to check to see on the morning of the sale that your signs are still up!

    CREATE ORDER OUT OF CHAOS

    Making organization out of disorganization will pay off. Tag-sale goods that are nicely presented, in an orderly fashion, send out a subtle message of value. If you want to make more money, take the time to categorize and group items appropriately — think of your tag sale as a mini-department store. Put "like" items on the same table — dishes, glasses, and silverware on one, tools and appliances on another. More expensive items — a "luxury table" — can be grouped together in a premium area, to create a higher perceived value and garner higher prices, while a white-elephant table of inexpensive things out front will assure visitors they can afford your sale.

    Provide extension cords and batteries. Have extension cords running from the house and batteries available to demonstrate to customers that electrical or battery-run appliances work. Better yet, if you're selling an old boom-box radio or TV, have it plugged in and playing. Being open like this — demonstrating that you're not hiding anything — adds integrity to your sale.

    If weather permits, spend the night before the sale getting ready. Chances are, if you've done your advertising and promoting correctly, you won't have time in the morning: Tag-sale "junkies" tend to arrive as early as 7 a.m. And while the actual sale is in process, plan to bring a few new things out during the morning or afternoon, such as larger pieces of furniture or boxes of children's toys. You're constantly "refreshing" your inventory this way, and piquing people's interest in what's just been added.

    CREATE ATMOSPHERE AND INSPIRATION

    One of the most common reasons people come to tag sales is that they enjoy giving value to something old. So why not let them see you in the middle of doing just that? Plan a project that you could be working on during the sale itself. With your apron on and a paint brush or hammer in hand, you are demonstrating how easy it is to make something old into something new. Pick something like painting an old bench or picture frame. Any project will help keep you busy during the waning afternoon hours, and provide inspiration to your customers. And if it's a real, worthwhile project, it won't seem staged. Pick out nostalgic music, playing on a CD player, to set the tone of your sale. Make the occasion fun and social. And if you're holding your sale in a garage or basement, disguise the typical musty smell of such spaces with a scented candle, or tie up a few bunches of eucalyptus.

    GET YOUR CHILDREN INVOLVED

    It's not just a valuable learning experience — kids can actually be a big help! Let them select toys that they've outgrown and are willing to sell; great used toys include stuffed animals, action figures, blocks and Legos, books, and videos.

    Let kids help with affixing prices, which can be a particularly arduous task. (Warning: supervise this carefully — my daughter once priced her plastic high heels at $25!) any tag-sale merchants allow kids to set up their own "Kids' Table" and act as their own salespeople. The children are allowed to keep the proceeds, and put the money toward a new toy or a family dessert night. Kids can also help create an inviting setting for the tag sale by manning a lemonade stand, with cookies, set on a table with a cute, vintage tablecloth.

    PRICE REALISTICALLY

    As with other sale details, plan your pricing ahead of time. Don't "wing it" or ad lib prices as customers arrive. Prepare readable tags for all items before the sale begins. With goods already priced and marked, you'll have more time to answer questions when things get crowded. Choose "round numbers" when pricing, so making change isn't a problem. Always have a cash box with appropriate change on hand. For the most expensive items, hold off on pricing: Give hagglers room to haggle, and you room to make more money. But only do this with the most valuable things; negotiating can be time-consuming and tiring.

    Perhaps most important, be realistic. Don't price yourself out of sales by trying to make a killing. As the day wears on, if a particular item simply isn't moving, mark it down: It might just be overpriced. And always keep in mind that, especially for the larger items, it may be worth it to let things go at a lower price just for the convenience of having them lugged off your property.