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hom Clean up with garage sales

We are part of The Trust Project.

By Mary Beth Breckenridge

Knight Ridder Newspapers

Big bucks may be lurking in your basement.

All that stuff you've packed away has profit potential as merchandise in a garage or yard sale. But before you toss your goodies on the lawn and slap up a sign, consider this: You'll make the most money if your sale is well-planned, well-organized and well-advertised.

Here are some tips to get you started, gathered from "Garage Sale Magic!" by Michael and Pam Williams, "How to Have High Dollar Garage Sales" by Jean Hines, "The Garage Sale Handbook" by Peggy Hitchcock, and Chris Heiska, creator of the Web site www.yardsalequeen.com.

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Start preparing several weeks in advance. Pick a date first, making sure to check a community calendar to avoid conflicts. Call your town hall to ask whether your community requires permits or has sign restrictions or other regulations.

Because bigger sales attract more customers, recruit one or two other families to go in on your sale, or offer to sell your neighbors' stuff for a commission.

Launder or clean all the items you're planning to sell. Polish the furniture. Repair things if you can; if you can't, mark them as broken.

Recruit at least one person to help on sale day. You'll appreciate the extra hands, not to mention the company.

A newspaper ad is a must. Advertise in the area paper that carries the most garage- or yard-sale ads, because that's undoubtedly the paper regulars check.

List big-ticket items in the ad as well as popular goods such as collectibles. If yours is a multifamily sale, a moving sale or an estate sale, mention that.

Be sure to include the days, times and location, along with directions if the house is hard to find. To deter early birds, you might give the general location -- for example, "the 200 block of Main Street" -- instead of your house number. Don't publish your phone number.

Take advantage of free advertising, too. Tack up index cards on community bulletin boards, and ask to put posters in store windows.

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Price everything with stickers, or post signs for groups of items that are the same price. If you want to save some effort, use different-color adhesive dots, and post a sign showing the price that corresponds with each color.

Expect to sell most good-quality items for 20 to 25 percent of their original value. Ask more than that for newer items, collectibles and antiques, and less for outdated or worn items. Price clothing, shoes and trinkets even lower.

A few days ahead of time, make signs to post at the ends of your street and on busy streets and intersections within several blocks of your home. Make one for in front of your house, and attach balloons to it.

Signs should be neat, easy to read from the street and not too involved. Use black lettering and arrows to point the way. Your sign can be as simple as a paper grocery bag with "yard sale" and an arrow on it. Weight the bag, staple it shut and set it by the curb.

Post the signs the night before the sale or early that morning, and be sure to take them down when the sale ends.

A clean, well-organized sale attracts customers. Make sure the garage is straightened and the floor clean, and wipe off or cover display tables.

Put the most desirable items out front, and organize the rest by category (toys, kitchen items, sporting goods, etc.). Place electrical items near an outlet or extension cord so customers can test them.

Spread items out as much as possible, using blankets on the lawn as display space if necessary. Hang clothes from a rack or clothesline.

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Set up a checkout station with a table and at least one chair, a cash box, a notebook to keep track of sales and a couple of pens. Other items that are nice to have at the table are a tape measure, wet wipes or tissues, scrap paper and pencils for customers' use, plastic grocery bags, newspaper for wrapping breakables and a calculator.

Have plenty of change on hand at the start of the day, in small denominations. A good amount is $28 in $1 bills, $5 in quarters, $5 in dimes and $2 in nickels. Include a few fives and tens if you have higher-priced items.

You can bet early birds will be there the instant your garage door opens. Prepare for them by setting your advertised starting time one hour later than you really want the sale to start.

Be firm with early birds. If you're not ready to sell, don't. If you are ready, sell only for the price on the sticker -- no negotiating. Or tell early birds the price is double before the sale's starting time.

Make sure one person staffs the cash box station at all times, and lock the doors to the house. If a customer asks to use your bathroom, direct him or her to a store, gas station or fast-food restaurant. If you do let a customer inside, make sure a helper accompanies the person.

Don't change big bills. If a customer has nothing smaller, ask him to get change at a bank or store.

Chances are no one's going to try to swindle you at your own garage sale, but it's always wise to be cautious. After all the work of preparing, you want to be able to enjoy your profits -- every cent of them.

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