The Art Of The Yard Sale

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On many Friday and Saturday mornings, Loren Johnson is a man with a mission. Rarely, however, does he know what that mission is. That's the fun of yard sale shopping.

Before he hit the road one recent Friday morning, for example, the Payson retiree had absolutely no idea that he would come home with a chimney sweep brush ($1.00), cable for towing cars ($5.00), a box of gift wrap ($2.00) and a shovel ($1.)

"It's funny," he said. "You buy things you didn't know you needed or wanted until you see how cheap you can get it. Then all of a sudden, you want a couple of 'em."

Johnson laughs when you ask if he's a professional "yard saler" the kind of folks that commonly show up to 8 a.m. yard sales at 7 a.m. to buy whatever they think they can sell elsewhere for two or three times the money.

"When I moved here, I didn't bring much with me, so I started going to yard sales to buy the stuff I needed," he said. "I ain't no rich person. I have to buy used stuff. But now I've got a shed full, and no place to put any more."

Obviously, that's not reason enough for him to stop taking advantage of bargains.

What's the oddest thing he's ever purchased at a yard sale? "What do you call odd?," he asked with a grin. "One man's odd is another man's treasure.

"One time I bought a brand-new toilet for five bucks. Another time I picked up a motor home at a yard sale. Paid $6,500. A Toyota. First trip I made, the wheel bearings went out. Cost me almost $400 to fix it. I guess it was still a deal. But that's not what I was thinking when I was on the side of the road in Utah, about 40 miles from the next town."

That, Johnson added, is one of the few but sizable drawbacks of yard sale shopping: "If it don't work, you can't take it back for a refund."

It has been his experience that the greatest risks are taken when purchasing an electronic device. Any electronic device.

"They only work about half the time. So what I do, if they're cheap enough, is buy two. I bought a couple of battery chargers one time, and I was lucky. One of 'em worked. You gotta gamble a little."

Johnson's first rule of successful yard saleing, though, could be termed, "The early bird gets the best and least expensive worms."

"If you want to get the bargains, you gotta hit the road early," he said, driving to his first sale of the day at 7 a.m. "Otherwise, other people will snap them up."

Rule Number Two: "Bring a pocketful of change and $1 bills." How much? "All you got! Bring your checkbook, too. You might find something you can't refuse."

What Johnson finds most difficult to refuse are ... bolts?

"Yep, bolts," he said. "I used to live in Wyoming, about 25 miles from Jackson. If you needed something, you had to drive clear to town to get it. That's why I started picking up old bolts. Living on a farm, you never knew when you'd need one."

When he finds a bolt or anything else to his liking, Johnson does not barter over the sale price.

"If the price is too high, I walk off. What the heck. I don't like to bargain with people, and I don't like them bargaining with me. It makes me mad when they do it."

Rule Number Three: There are some things one should never purchase at a yard sale.

"Like shoes," he said. "It's hard to buy shoes that will actually fit anybody, or that they'll want to wear. And Mattresses. Those are at the top of the list."

(Although Johnson doesn't mention them, other items one might want to ignore include used toothbrushes, dentures, underwear and heart-lung machines.)

Something else he doesn't search for anymore are gifts for his wife, Vanessa.

"I used to do that, but whenever I got them home, she'd say, 'Why did you buy that? I didn't want that! It ain't the right color! It ain't the right size!'" (Note to Mrs. Johnson: your husband was almost certainly kidding.)

"In fact, my wife tries to keep me from going to yard sales anymore. She won't go herself. Well, she does once in a great while. One time she bought a whole bunch of Reader's Digest books. And a bunch of chairs. We don't have a lot of room to walk around our house anymore because of those chairs. So the tables have turned. I don't want her going anymore," Johnson said. (Note to Mrs. Johnson: your husband was almost certainly kidding.)

15 Tips for Holding a Successful Yard Sale

1. Plan ahead. What is for sale, what isn't? What will you do if the weather is bad? How will you handle early arrivals? (There are always early arrivals.)

2. Advertise. If you can afford it, advertise your sale in a local newspaper. You can also put up advertisements on bulletin boards in your community (grocery stores, community center, etc).

In Payson, it is against the law to affix signs to utility poles, street signs, or to put them anywhere on town property, such as sidewalks and street corners. They are only allowed to be placed on private land with the permission of the owner. And nailing signs to trees is a big no-no, too.

3. Have $100 to $150 in change on hand. You will need lots of $1 bills and quarters. Also, never let the money box out of your sight. The best place to keep money is in an apron with deep pockets.

4. Post rules and notices. If you will not accept checks, post signs stating that. If you have items for sale that are located elsewhere, make signs with prices.

5. Mark everything with a legible price. Some folks will not ask for a price, so you could lose sales if all your items aren't marked.

6. Price high enough to allow for bargaining ... but not so high that you scare off prospective buyers. Be prepared to bargain, even if you don't like to. Many folks enjoy this part of yard sales and even if your price is fair, they'll still want a discount.

7. Price in 25-cent increments. You won't want to hassle with anything smaller when making change.

8. Have enough help on hand. For large sales, you'll need more than two people. If you are having a whole house sale, plan to have a person for each room with small items and a floater. If you are having a whole house sale, move all small items into one or two rooms. This will help keep pilfering down. Yes, it does happen.

9. Arrange items conveniently so they can be seen. Spread them on tables rather than down low where they are difficult to get at; put similar items together, such as tools, holiday decorations or linens. And straighten things up whenever there's a break.

10. Have grocery bags available to put sold items in. It's also a good idea to have some newspaper available to wrap breakable items. Having a calculator can come in handy totaling up purchases, especially if you have a math phobia.

11. If you are selling any electrical appliances, have an electrical outlet handy or a long extension cord. Don't allow strangers in your house, either to test appliances or try on clothes, etc. If they need to use a restroom, give them directions to the nearest fast-food restaurant.

12. Create a comfortable browsing atmosphere. Chat and be available for questions. You may get your ear talked off, but that nice old man who wants to talk about his milk glass collection may send over his friends and relatives.

13. Clean, original or clear plastic packaging will increase sales.

14. If the weather is unusually hot or cold, offer lemonade, iced tea and soda, or coffee, hot chocolate and hot cider. For large, busy sales, selling these beverages could generate extra dollars. For smaller sales, offering them free of charge brings good will and, perhaps, extra sales.

15. Good luck and have fun!

compiled from various Internet sources

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