Summer is usually garage sale season, but the coronavirus may have you thinking twice. Even if communities start opening up, many people won’t feel safe visiting your yard or garage to check out your wares.
But that doesn’t mean the idea of a garage sale can’t happen at all. It may just mean that it’s time to host a virtual garage sale instead!
“For most families, quarantine presents the perfect opportunity to double down on efforts to declutter, with an online yard or garage sale,” says Deb Colameta.
As author of the bestselling guide “Best Offer, Best Life!” Colameta has made thousands of dollars reselling hundreds of household items.
You may be pleasantly surprised how profitable such ventures can be, since online sales have a few advantages over real-life ones.
For one thing, you can attract a much broader pool of potential customers online. Since most sales sites come with a search option, you can attract educated and eager buyers who are looking for the particular items you have for sale.
“A person who needs seating can search for ‘Chairs’ and find your product,” says Colameta.
Online sales also have competition going for them.
“During in-person yard sales, you’re dependent on impulse purchases by strangers to make money, and the buyer sees the other competition, if any,” says Colameta.
“So the buyer has a huge negotiation advantage with price. With online yard sales, the buyer is potentially competing with thousands of other members for the same item, so it’s a mystery and a motivator!”
Ready to declutter and make some money from the safety of your own home? This step-by-step virtual garage sale guide will have you purging fast, no garage required.
Identify what you have to sell
Think you don’t have anything worth selling? Think again! A quick tour of your garage, basement, or closets will probably have you stumbling across items that you’ve forgotten you even owned.
“My advice to sellers is to aim for the low-hanging fruit: Choose a few items in great condition that will have wide appeal and a resale price that’s worth your time,” says Colameta.
For instance, that Nintendo Switch console your kids never use that’s in perfect condition could sell for hundreds of dollars. You can also bundle items that fall into one category and sell those together.
“I’ve had much success selling a group of kitchen items, for example, to a recent graduate outfitting her first apartment, and I’ve sold bundles of 10 to 12 baby toys for $40,” says Colameta.
“It works for both sides, as it’s a convenient way to disperse multiple items that are generally lower in value.”
Take pictures of your products
This is a step that you wouldn’t usually have to take with a real-time garage sale, but when moving sales to a virtual platform, visuals matter.
“Use your smartphone, to make the process of uploading as easy as possible,” says Colameta.
“Take lots of well-lit pictures. In most local selling platforms, you are allowed to post several pictures from different angles. You might also include a ruler to indicate size.”
You want to post enticing photos, but make sure to provide closeups of any flaws, like scratches on wood furniture. You want the photos to be representative of the item, so that people feel you’re being transparent and informing them exactly what they’re purchasing.
Sellers will also pay close attention to the background in your images. Colameta says buyers generally like to purchase items from a clean home, so kick any laundry out of view, and crop unsightly items from the final picture.
Include your COVID-19 precautions and requirements
In a post-coronavirus world, you need to assure buyers in your product description that the item will be disinfected and also handled in a way that will minimize their risk of exposure to infection.
You should clean and disinfect all the items you’re selling, wearing fresh gloves and a mask. Of course, this is largely predicated on what the item is. Obviously, you don’t want to ruin couch cushions by cleaning them with bleach, for example, but you get the idea.
The CDC website has further guidelines for cleaning household items. Taking these steps will increase the salability of your items and help keep you and your purchasers safe.
Decide where you’re going to list your items
“Those sites typically have safeguards in place to protect both parties in a sale. For example, when I sold a special pan, Amazon collected payment from the buyer on my behalf and released the funds to me when the buyer took receipt of the item.”
Another great resource is social media, especially Facebook. If you have a neighborhood or meet-up group that you interact with on this social media platform, it’s a great place to post.
This way, you may know the interested buyers, which could be a bonus for safety. For a broader reach, you could also try Facebook Marketplace.
However, keep in mind that “shipping items complicates a sale, and generally involves a hassle when selling a pile of things,” says Colameta.
“I have only mailed one or two items in my online yard sale selling journey,” she notes, “and the shipping costs almost entirely erased my earnings.”
Figure out fair pricing
With a classic garage sale, you’d probably be walking around with stickers and a pen slapping random prices on things. But with an online garage sale, it pays to do a little research.
“Search online selling platforms for similar items and check out the competition,” says Colameta. “You might be surprised to find that the average asking price may be higher than you thought.”
This is especially true right now, when some items can be hard to find during lockdown.
“You can inspire buyers to act fast with a ‘Bargain Price’ if you want to ensure the sale,” she says.
Pinpoint your preferred cash alternative
In our current world, with concerns about the pandemic, cash is losing its allure (because passing money can be a source of germs).
Says Colameta, “It’s convenient, it allows you to avoid direct contact with cash and the buyer.”
Another perk is that some online payment sites, like PayPal, can put money “on hold.”
This allows a buyer to input the transaction and wait until they have received the item before the funds are released. Buyers can then move forward with the transaction confident that they won’t get swindled.
Set a time frame
While a classic garage sale would have you sitting outside with a bunch of items spread around for a whole day or weekend, the luxury of an online garage sale is that you can post your items all at once or sell a few items every week all summer.
“In-person yard sales are tough to schedule ahead, due to unpredictable weather,” says Colameta. “Online yard sales can be done in any season and do not depend on good weather conditions.”
Some people may feel more comfortable giving themselves a deadline, deciding on a date when their items will go on sale virtually. The flexibility of online selling, though, allows you to post items as you move through the purging process, which can be helpful.
“Purging your whole house is a challenging enough task in itself,” says Colameta.
Selling one item at a time, by contrast, can feel manageable.
As for when to post your items, “Midweek is often a good time,” says Colameta. “Over the weekend, your post might get lost among all the others.”
Respond to questions
Once your listings are live, check in to see how your items are doing or if any inquiries have come in.
“Be a responsive seller,” says Colameta. “If someone shows interest in any of your items, answer their questions promptly.”
You will also want to make sure that potential buyers have a way to contact you easily (either through an app or online messenger).
One thing not to post, however, is personal info. The safer route? If you must post your address for pickup, send it to buyers individually rather than blasting it on a site for all to see.
“Some police stations offer labeled parking spots specifically for online sales,” says Colameta. “Always put your safety first.”
Transfer your garage sale items safely
If you’ve sold an item that requires that you mail it, this is the time to see whether your USPS carrier will do pickups at your home. If not, you may have to carefully package the disinfected item, using gloves, and then take it to the post office yourself to mail.
For something that requires an in-person exchange, don’t release the item until you have confirmation of a payment.
Consider setting it up like the transfer of a hostage—you put the item down between you two at a safe social distance, the buyers Venmo you the money, and then, once it’s received, you can move away from the item and they can come to retrieve it. It sounds a bit dramatic, but it works.
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