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Host a garage sale, here's how

How would you like to make some extra cash without ever leaving your driveway? Hold a garage sale and liquidate those unwanted, outdated family treasures. Here are some pointers to get you going.

Timing is everything
Traditionally, the garage-sale season is fall through spring, depending on where you live. Avoid holiday weekends, says Chris Heiska, host of "You just don't get the people. They're going away or to family events."

Share a sale
If your street or driveway can't accommodate the extra cars, you may want to join forces with a neighbor to offer more parking. Plus, you can split costs of newspaper ads and signs. A bonus: more people may stop by, drawn by the crowd.

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However, holding huge neighborhood sales can backfire. "There's too much competition," says Cathy Pedigo, author of "How to Have Big Money Garage Sales," and president of Winning Edge, a self-publishing company in Colorado Springs, Colo. Customers don't buy as quickly, as they're always wondering what else is down the block.

Some communities limit the number of yard sales one household can have during a year. Others restrict the numbers and types of signs that can be used to advertise garage sales. Check first, so you don't run into problems later.

Get out the word -- advertise
Your neighborhood newspaper is a good way to let others know what you're up to. Don't skimp on the ad, says Pedigo. "It should be three to five times longer than the others." Let potential customers know what you're selling, and include directions to your street from the closest major intersection. If you have items that always are in demand, like infant paraphernalia, say so.

When it comes to signs, you can't have too many, according to Pedigo. Make the signs bright, readable and identical. She recommends posting them starting at about a mile away from your house. Like Dorothy on the yellow brick road to Oz, shoppers should be able to follow the signs to your house.

Gather your inventory
Several months before hold the sale, start identifying items you and your family can do without. Advance notice helps all members of your family get involved, so they can keep an eye out for potential garage-sale merchandise.

Price to sell
When setting prices, try to determine what you would pay at a garage sale for the item in question, and start with that. Keep in mind that you can always go lower, if need be. Trying to boost your posted price is almost impossible.

Typically, household goods and appliances that are in good, working condition and decent shape will fetch one-fourth to one-third of their original price, says Heiska. You'll have better luck reaching the top of that range if you've held onto the box and instruction manual.

Clothing, especially adult clothes, typically goes for less. People are wary of paying much money for clothes they can't try on. You'll should have better luck with kids' clothes, since they're usually outgrown before they're worn out, explains Sharon Huxford, editor of "Garage Sale and Flea Market Annual: Ninth Edition."

If you're wondering whether that set of dishes from your great aunt is worth anything, have it appraised before you set it out. You don't want to find out later that you let a treasure go for pennies.

Also, if you have some items that are showing their age, you may be best off not even trying to sell them. Otherwise, customers may assume that all the items are in similar condition. If you really want to get rid of them, consider placing them a "freebie" box.

Think like a retailer
Most of us like to shop in stores that are clean and feature attractive displays. Garage sale shoppers are no different. "You want to show that this is a store, not a garbage dump," Pedigo says.

Make sure clothes are clean. Organize things, putting like items and sizes together. Use enough card tables that you've got a place for everything. Hang dress clothes. Let shoppers know whether all pieces of a set (of dishes, for instance) are included. If you're selling electronic items, have extension cords so customers can see they're in working order. Stock up on grocery bags that customers can use to cart away their purchases. Use old newspaper to wrap any fragile items.

Make sure every item has a price tag that's easily visible and includes the size, if appropriate, says Pedigo. "People don't like to ask the price, and they don't like to search for the size." If the item is new or almost new, indicate that.

If several families are contributing goods to the sale, it's wise to make tags to identify which items are from each of the families.

Heiska recommends against using color-coded tags and telling shoppers that, for instance, all items with blue stickers are $1. It's confusing and too easy for people to switch tags.

Another tip: If you've got an item that still is a hot seller, such as a kid's toy, attach a picture of it from a recent catalog, advises Heiska. Customers can see that the price they're paying is a fraction of what it costs new.

Stay safe
Most garage sale shoppers are just looking for honest bargains. A few, however, would like more than that. Use a fanny pack or apron to collect money and make change. Just about every garage sale expert has heard stories of unattended money boxes that disappeared. Similarly, place small valuables, like jewelry or video games, where you can keep an eagle eye on them.

Don't let shoppers into your house. "They may be checking it to see if you have a dog or to find out where your exits are," says Heiska. If they need to use a restroom, provide directions to a nearby store or restaurant.

Finally, try to have at least two adults on hand throughout the sale. That makes it easier to handle any rushes and helps turn off would-be thieves.

Handling the money
To get your sale going, have on hand about $50 worth of change and small bills. Keep a calculator on the check-out table, so that you can quickly total customers' purchases.

After the sale, total up your take, and divvy up any money that goes to other families. Then, you can decide how best to save or spend your hard-earned money!

-- Updated: July 25, 2006

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