We've been here before, dear dedicated readers, but my last Memorial Day weekend examination of the “unofficial” start of summer and the first round of America's homegrown marketplace THE YARD SALE was directed at buyers. This time out, I'm bound to give sellers a few tips.
Most of us are well-heeled bargain hunters, anyway. We know how to haggle down that box of Danielle Steel paperbacks from fifty cents to an even dime each. And, if we're willing to risk it, we're savvy on how to go back later in the day and get 'em for a nickel.
But, conducting a successful yard sale takes nerves of Danielle Steel, a keen eye for composition, and a willingness to part with your prized collection of romance novel paperbacks for five cents per.
There are ten rules in the Yard Seller's Code of Conduct (come back at suppertime and I'll let you have 'em for seven, but if you offer five, I'll take six):
10. Check the extended weather forecast then ignore it completely. Count on the fact that it's going to rain (or as we call it here in a New Hampshire May: “snow”) and set up your sale for the worst weather. Be ready to move everything into your garage, barn, onto your porch or under an archipelago of beach umbrellas. Soggy paperbacks will have you PAYING your yard sailors a nickel apiece to take 'em away.
Will you have your sale come rain (snow) or shine? When you advertise, remember to mention it.
09. Advertise! Local papers, general store, laundromat bulletin boards, and, on the day of your sale, tack your signs on the requisite telephone poles. Balloons don't hurt, if you have a flair for the dramatic. If you're really daring, get your bikini-clad, college-age daughter & friends, and/or your gridiron son and his shirtless buddies to wave signs outside the Piggly Wiggly. Promise to pay her/his cell phone bill for a month.
08. Pay no attention to that last sentence in # 09. I don't know what possessed me. You're trying to make money.
07. When you advertise, include a SEARCHABLE address. Specific and clear directions, even satellite photos of every American neighborhood are available online (with the exception of Dick Cheney's house). Don't give “rural” directions, especially if you live in the country. Your fellow locals will know where “the faded blue house with the off-green mailbox, just past the rock that looks like a bear” is, but everyone else will end up in East Hooterville.
06. Set a starting time and STICK TO IT. Don't want “earlybirds”? Better say so, and unequivocally. Earlybirds will arrive hours or even days prior to your sale. This is fine, if you're prepared for it. But, they can also be notorious thumpers who will unearth and drag your lawn ornaments up on your front porch at 5 a.m., then pound on your door demanding pink flamingo discounts.
05. Be honest about what you're selling. I know, we all tend to embellish a little, but be careful. Your drop-leaf table is not an “antique” because its leafs have dropped off. And, don't overdo buzzwords. Wine is “vintage.” Old cars and airplanes can be “vintage,” but your husband's holey sweatshirts are not “vintage clothing.” Except to him.
Now, if you want to call those fake zebra skin beanbags “Safari Décor Pillows,” go for it.
04. Take time to stick asking prices on everything. Then, be prepared to get stuck with never being paid what you're asking, and try not to get that look on your face or that tone in your voice (the ones your husband gets when you throw out his vintage clothes) when a buyer makes what you consider an insulting offer.
Trust me, the next day it won't sound so insulting, when you have to drag that leafless table back into the kitchen. And, it will truly have no leafs tomorrow, because someone will buy just them, without the table, today, along with only one of those matching four chairs with the “vintage” legs.
03. No gimmicks. Don't call your event a “Giant 3-Family Blow-Out Yard Sale,” if you and your neighbors can only come up with two rickety card tables of knick-knack shelf breakables (pre-broken) and a box of soggy romance pulp fiction (pre-romanced).
Also, try to keep as thematic as possible. Don't put those headless Ninja Turtles in the box of canning jars. Cutesy is allowed, but be creative. That big matted one-armed stuffed toy bear will display nicely on your lawn in the permanently tilted seat of your three and a half-wheeled riding mower.
Oh, and if someone offers you 50 cents for that lone stuffed bear paw in the toybox corner of your garage, take it.
02. Be prepared to get offers on everything. I mean everything. As I mentioned last year, some guy will ask how much for that flying pig whirligig weathervane on your barn, AND your ladder that he'll need to put it on his.
01. Lastly, and most importantly, accept the fact that some of the things you sell today, you'll miraculously find a need for tomorrow. Not to worry.
You'll find them advertised next year in the yard sale Classifieds section. Look for “antique pig weathervane” and “vintage kitchen chair.”
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Syndicated humor columnist B. Elwin Sherman will have vintage columns for sale on his antique website this summer, at elwinshumor.com. They'll look like pink flamingoes and one-armed toy bears. Copyright 2008 B. Elwin Sherman. All rights reserved. Used here with permission.
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