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Tips for Selling Items at Garage Sales and Flea Markets

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By selling items at garage sales and flea markets, talking with other sellers, and reading articles on the internet, I've learned a lot.

Garage sale/flea market pricing guide

Garage sale/flea market pricing guide

Flea Market and Garage Sale Pricing Tips

Occasionally, I sell items at flea markets near my home. Usually, when I start gathering things I no longer want, I go and try to sell them at one of the local flea markets. Being a casual seller, I often sell different items. Along the way, through talking with other sellers and reading articles on the internet, I've learned a few things.

Be Patient Selling Large Ticket Items

I recently sold a stereo system at a flea market. It wasn't very high-end, but it was still high enough in price that it took a while and many "lookers" before I sold it. When selling big-ticket items, you run into several problems. One is that most people, in general, don't carry much cash, and most sellers at flea markets and garage sales don't take credit cards, so, oftentimes, people who are interested will tell you that they don't have the money on them, so they don't buy the item. Then, especially if it is a very large item in size, shoppers aren't prepared to handle the item at the moment. And, many people are there to look for low-priced items, usually under $10 or the equivalent, especially in a bad economy. Selling higher-priced items can be done, but it is tough to do, so try to sell items where you're willing to let go for $10 or less.

Never “Hold” an Item!

Never do this! The first time I sold items at a flea market, someone came up to the table and said they wanted this particular item I was selling but that they'd come back later to buy it, asking that I hold it for them. So, I agreed and turned down two other offers to buy the item. Well, the person never came back! Lesson learned: Never, I repeat, Never! Never Hold an item, especially if the potential customer hasn't bought it!

Since then, I've had many would-be buyers of my items claim to have interest and say they'd come back. Only one did! It's my belief that, within 10 seconds of saying they'll come back, a "looker" will completely forget all about the item! So, I never hold items, and I even let people know if they say they'll come back that I cannot hold an item. Also, even if they do pay you and say they'll pick up the item later, tell them they have to take it now. This way, if they don't show up, you won't feel like you have to find them to give them their item. They bought it; it's now their responsibility, so don't hold it for them, because then you'll feel responsible.

You Will Have to Sell Your Items for Much Less Than What You Paid for Them

You may feel that the small wooden chest or great radio that you're selling is like new and worth the money you paid for them. But to a shopper, these are still used items! After all, if you are buying a used car that was even just two years old to save money, no matter how good that car looked, you would probably still not be willing to pay what you would if the car were brand new! You shouldn't expect other shoppers to think differently, nor to have or understand the sentiment that you may have regarding your items.

Carefully Note the Item’s Condition and Compare Prices

Know the condition of your items. If an item is like new, you can charge a higher price. Likewise, if it is complete, as in a set, or items like stereo systems, which include speakers or other components. Then, if possible, do research, especially on higher-priced or big-ticket items. eBay, Amazon, and Craigslist are good places to see what items are selling for. Also, see if other sellers at the flea market are selling a similar item and note their price.

Try to Sell Complete Items, if Possible

Related to #4 above, try to sell complete items. This means that, in the example of the stereo system, you have all the components and the user's manual, too. The user's manual is very important when you're selling electronic items, particularly if the item is not very user-friendly! Also, incomplete tea sets, card collections, or sound systems will not sell as well.

Be Prepared to Haggle and Negotiate!

Sometimes shoppers will simply pay the price that you have marked for an item. But oftentimes, they will suggest a lower price. It's often best not to be too rigid but beware of dropping your price too low or too fast. For instance, I had my stereo priced at "$70 OBO." "OBO" stands for "Or best offer" This is good to price this way for items that may be hard to sell, as it invites potential buyers to make reasonable offers instead of turning them away out of hand because the price is too high.

Seeing that the stereo was hard to sell, I would tell prospective buyers that I'd consider $60 or even $50, which was the lowest I'd go. Well, finally, a couple showed much interest, then said they'd think about it after I told them $50. I'd arrived at this figure after doing research in which a pawn shop only offered me $30.

The couple came back and asked if I would accept $45. I thought about it, seeing that no one else had come back to buy the stereo, even at $50 and with one of my very low-priced items tossed in at no extra charge, and the couple's offer was only $5 below my minimum. So I took their offer and sold them the stereo for $45.

So, don't be rigid in your pricing, but do consider what your minimum is, what your research says, and what the potential buyer is offering. This will help you get a decent deal.

Be Honest!

Be honest! If the radio you're selling is missing a small antenna and its reception depends even more on how it's placed, tell the buyer before he or she buys it! If a game is missing a piece, or that power drill quits every so often, tell before receiving payment! This is just the honorable way to do things, period! Even if you're a casual seller and think a customer won't be seeing you again, they could still tell others about being given a raw deal. Down the road, when you're selling at the flea market again, someone may recognize you and quietly warn others to stay away. Then you'll wonder why you sold so little. You just never know. So be honest. Honesty is really the best policy!

I don't know everything about selling at flea markets and garage sales, and I do learn more each time. But I do hope that these tips will help you sell more next time.

Good luck, and thanks for reading!

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Questions & Answers

Question: How much cash should I bring as a seller at a flea market?

Answer: I usually bring $30 of which $20 should be in ones, and probably two $5 bills for the rest. If you are selling items under a dollar, then you may want to have $2 worth of coins as well. You may have to experiment with this, however, as it depends on what you're selling, how busy the market gets, and what the general culture of the flea market is like. However, as you do business, you probably won't need more money, but you may need to see if your fellow sellers can make change for you if you get too many larger bills from customers that you have to give change for. Actually, a nice problem to have! Usually, this isn't too much of a problem.

Please feel free to comment!

Dane on May 03, 2017:

Remember, people don't really "need " what you are selling, they want it.

myway720 (author) from Gresham, Oregon on July 31, 2016:

Hi Steves! Thanks for your comment! I can see where this may help, though I wouldn't consider it unless they actually pay for the item first. I do offer to take it to their car and also, the place where I do most of my selling is such that the customer's car is just a few steps away from where I am. However, if the customer insists on you holding the item but don't want to pay for it right then, I would have them at least give you some "earnest money" as a holding fee, so that if they don't actually buy the item right then and change their mind, at least you will have gotten something for having possibly passed on other offers while waiting for the customer to maybe buy said item. Just saying.

steves on July 31, 2016:

I agree 100% with the not holding items that aren't paid for but a lot of times if the items are big and bulky people don't want to drag them around or have to take them out to the car so they won't buy them right away and in most cases they won't come back. Offering to hold an item that has been paid for is a courtesy that has earned me many a sale. All you need to do is tell them what time you will be leaving and that they have to be back by that time or they risk not getting the item they paid for. No need to feel guilty about it. I know one vendor that has gone so far as to buy a cheap pre paid cell phone that he only uses for flea markets and he will get offer to take a customers number and call them after a few hours just to remind them to pick up their items. If a customer says they are interested in something you have but they don't want to carry it around if you don't offer to hold it 9 times out of 10 you won't make the sale because in reality they are just looking for an excuse not to buy it. By offering to hold it you are removing that excuse.

Russell Smith from North Attleboro, MA on April 02, 2015:

More and more vendors are catching on to the credit card thing now. Especially since you really only need a smart phone and a paypal (pay here

) account.

myway720 (author) from Gresham, Oregon on September 26, 2010:

Hi wicklesscandles! Thanks for your comment! It's extremely rare when someone actually comes back to buy something that they said they'd buy. The couple never said they'd buy the stereo at first, only that they would think on it. One woman, at an earlier flea market said she'd buy a globe I was selling for 5 dollars but wanted to look around first. I did let her know that I couldn't hold the globe for her and she understood. To my surprise, she came back and bought the globe for 5 dollars! This is the first and only time I've seen someone come back to buy something they'd said they'd buy earlier!

Again, thanks for reading and for your comment.

wicklesscandles on September 26, 2010:

Very good rules of thumb. I did the hold thing before and you are right. Do NOT do this. It never seems to work out.

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