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Strategies for successful garage sales

So, your junk has taken over the garage, the attic, and every nook and cranny in between? Dust off your old card tables (or borrow some), rustle up some cardboard signs and follow the advice of garage sale veterans.


No, this isn't the Times engaging in shameless self-promotion. All the experts advise it. "You can get five times as many people if you advertise" in the newspaper, says Earl Holbrook of St. Petersburg. Be as specific as possible about what you're selling.

Cathy Pedigo, author of How to Have Big Money Garage Sales, says the larger the ad, the better the turnout.

"Most people cheat themselves. They get a smaller ad because it's cheaper. But you need to make it stand out. If you add three more lines (to an ad), you'll get three times more people," says Pedigo, who self-publishes her book from her Colorado Springs home. The book ($8.95) is available by calling (719) 598-9761 or through her Web site:

She also advises putting out road signs leading to your doorway, so there's no way people can help but find your house.

Be organized

Piling things randomly on tables and on the ground is a turn-off, experts say.

"You want it to look like a store instead of junky things thrown in a pile," Pedigo says.

It's a good idea to conduct the sale with more than one person so someone can watch the items while the other watches the money.

And always watch the money, insists Alice Tilton. The Raleigh, N.C., grandmother and frequent bay area visitor learned that lesson the hard way: Someone stole $250 from one of her yard sales several years ago. The cash was sitting in her open purse.

"Keep bringing your excess money into the house. Just keep enough on hand to make change," she said.

You might also wear one of those wallets that clip around your waist, the kind travelers use to keep hands free and ward off pickpockets.

And make sure you have plenty of change for those shoppers who arrive straight from the bank machine with $20 bills.

Check the laws

Neither state nor federal laws require you to keep financial records of your garage sales unless you have them often and they become a business. If you have more than two yard sales a year, the Florida Department of Revenue requires you to collect the state's 6 percent sales tax and any county surtax. If you have more than 10 yard sales a year, you need to register with the state and get a sales tax certificate number.

It's important to check with your city's regulations, because the rules vary. Most places allow you to conduct a limited number of yard sales a year without fees or permits: three a year in Clearwater and St. Petersburg, two a year in Tampa, two every six months in Hillsborough County, one each year in Pasco County and an unlimited number in Largo, for instance. New Port Richey allows one yard sale every six months and requires a $2 permit for each sale.

Price fairly

You can't avoid hagglers, garage sale veterans insist, but you can cut down on the practice by pricing fairly. Aunt Emma's cross-stitched napkins may be handmade, but they hold sentimental value only to you, not your customers.

If you think a piece is valuable, research its worth by using pricing guides. The Kovel's series is among the most popular and is updated regularly. Still, the guides list retail prices, and you probably won't be offered that amount _ especially by experienced dealers.

"I have to factor in the cost of my rent, gas, time and expenses," says Elin Fontana, an antiques dealer at Gas Plant Arcade in St. Petersburg.

Fellow dealer Jim Henderson sets limits on what he'll pay.

"I won't pay more than one-third of the book value" for an item, he says. Then he added with a smile: "Of course, there's always that one item that just sings to me, and I have to have it."