I have a friend who is always going to garage sales. Leonora doesn’t need anything, but is always on the prowl for bargains. She has filled her home with treasures bought at garage sales in her area, including beautiful wool couches, ultrasuede chairs, lamps and even a wrought iron wine holder.

She says the prices are irresistible.

My friend learned her garage sale talents from her mother, Arlene, who has also found many bargains over the years. They have dragged me to various garage sales, calling me when a house seems particularly stocked with treasures but without hoards of people.

I go, and after poking around a bit, end up spending my time looking at the house itself – what needs to be done, what could be done. It’s an occupational hazard.

But when my husband and I decided to hold our first garage sale, I asked Leonora and Arlene for some advice. Here are some of the tips they shared:

Get organized. What do you have to sell? Are you selling old furniture, children’s clothing and toys, or a piano? Do you have clothing, old dishware, jewelry, antiques, or coins? Are you selling tools or equipment like a snow blower or lawn mower? Do you have a lot of things to sell or just a few?

It’s important to be organized about what you’re selling so that you don’t miss items that might attract attention.

Leonora and Arlene say children’s toys and clothes are typically a huge draw, because kids outgrow clothing and toys quickly. Garage sale regulars know they can find quality clothing and toys that are hardly used or maybe new, but for much less than buying it new from a store.

What are your selling goals? Are you trying to clean out your basement or garage or make money? Or, are you trying to do both?

Knowing your selling goals helps keep things simple. If you’re trying to clean out your basement or garage, and pocket a few bucks in the process, you may price item at fire sale prices. If you know you have items that will command a fair price, such as antiques, stained glass, a grandfather clock or a piano, you will price these items higher.

Advertising is key. Leonora and Arlene say writing a good ad is important. But it’s also important to run that ad in the right newspapers. Local, neighborhood newspapers may be a better choice than metro-area newspapers. If your local neighborhood newspaper is part of a chain, be sure to see how much it would cost to run a slightly wider ad.

But if you don’t run the right ad, you might as well not run one at all. Your ad should specifically detail your best items for sale, including a piano, children’s clothes and toys, antiques, jewelry, glassware, a grandfather clock, sterling silver or plated pieces, and building materials. These kinds of items will draw the widest variety of shoppers. The ad should also state the hours of the sale and your address.

If you’re running an estate sale, mention that. If you’re pricing items exceptionally low, you’ll want to put that in the ad as well. If you’re going to have a rain date, put that in. Look at other garage sale ads to see what words, bold lettering and other details catch your eye.

Can you get a few other families to join in? A multi-family sale is a feature that should be highlighted. Garage sale shoppers know that when several families join in, there’s generally much more merchandise from which to choose.

Price items to go. As hard as it may be to mark your winter cashmere coat to $15 (you paid over $300 for it 10 years ago), if you price it higher, it may not sell. It may not sell anyway, but the lower your prices, the more buying people will do.

Garage sales aren’t for everyone. Don’t hold a garage sale if you’re firmly attached to your stuff. As you lay out your items, you’ll be wallowing in memories and perhaps even self-pity. Be ready to say good-bye to your things, knowing that they will find another life in another home. After all, you probably had them packed away in a box in your basement.

So how did our garage sale turn out? Not too bad, considering we held it just a week after the terrorist attacks in September. We cleared about $100 in two hours after our expenses. The items that didn’t sell will be given away to charity and we’ll take the tax deduction.

September 17, 2001