Selling at Yard Sales vs Online Auctions

Kelly Ann Butterbaugh
August 24, 2011

Garage Sale sign laying over top of a black keyboardIf you've ever devoted an entire Saturday to a yard sale, but only earned a few dollars, you've probably questioned your selling technique. Yet, for every yard sale failure there's a person who sits in front of a computer screen wondering why she can't earn a profit selling her items online. Which is the better choice, yard sale or online auction? A mix of the two is your best bet.


Finding the Right Buyer

A good sale is made only if the perfect buyer finds your product. Could that happen at a yard sale? It certainly could, but it often doesn't.

An example would be a brand name youth leather baseball glove that remained at the end of my spring yard sale. I was asking a meager $3 for the lightly used glove. Reluctant to toss it in the donation bin afterwards, I posted it on eBay with a starting bid of $0.99. It caught the attention of more than a few viewers, and in the end sold for $13. What's the lesson learned? Somewhere a parent was looking for a glove for his son, and the new gloves were beyond his price limit. His browser found my auction, and everyone was happy in the end.

Online sales allow you to reach more viewers, creating the opportunity to find the best buyers. Evaluate your items and ask if there's a wide audience for your sale or if it is more limited to buyers. The same father could have come to my yard sale, but he didn't.


What Won't Sell on Your Yard

Unless you're very lucky, there are some items that will never earn you a profit at a yard sale. At yard sales, people demand that items work. Malfunctioning electronics are better aimed at online sales, and yes, you can sell broken electronics and earn some cash towards the replacement. People scroll through auction listings looking for parts or looking for cheap electronics that can be fixed and resold. When selling electronics, eBay even has a condition category called "parts not working."

When our Xbox flashed a red circle and refused to turn on, we replaced it. Yet, someone out there knew what to do with the malfunctioning system, and the broken machine sold online for $16. Would it have earned that amount at a yard sale? I'd bet the new system that it wouldn't have sold.


Other great products that you can list online are extra cables and adapters that are floating around your house. If you no longer have a need for certain audio cables and video adapters, list them online. These cables are pricey new, and people appreciate the discount earned by purchasing them used. However, this is a very select audience, so online auctions allow your item to find the person looking for it.

Keep It Hands On and Off Line

Just like the products that sell online for more than they're worth in your yard, certain products don't do well online. They get lost in the myriad of listings. Keep craft items and knickknacks for yard sales. The beauty of the yard sale is that people see the item; they touch it and fall in love with it. Online auctions don't offer this type of sale.

Did you ever buy a sweater because you couldn't get over how soft it was? There's little sensory impulse purchasing online. People look for particular items or categories. At a yard sale they're surprised; the fun of yard sale shopping is not knowing what you might find. Those are the things to keep in mind when you set up your yard sale.

The Best of Both Sales

Use this split sales option to your advantage. Start off by separating your items carefully, and list some online at a fair price. If the items don't sell, move them into your yard sale pile and reduce the price. This should allow you to put forth your best effort in finding the perfect buyer to create the perfect sale. After all, shouldn't you both be happy?

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Kelly Ann Butterbaugh
July 29, 2010

For the average person, selling used items is easy and generates a pleasing profit. Whether you opt to organize a yard sale, advertise in the newspaper, or sell online, you'll most likely earn enough money to go out to dinner but not enough to make a car payment.

A collection of items for sale at a garage sale.

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July 18, 2010

I had a booth in a small town antique store. I didn't really make any money, but as long as I made enough to cover my rent and expenses, I kept my booth open. As the economy worsened, my booth no longer paid for itself, so I brought everything home. Now, I would like to have a yard sale with all of my remaining items. Any suggestions?

By Mamie from Kingston, TN


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July 18, 20100 found this helpful

I don't have any advice, but in the area that I live in people expect to get everything at a yard sale, for next to nothing. It doesn't matter what the item is the customers just plain act like you should be giving it away.


It might be different in TN, but in SD people don't want to pay anything for items at a yard sale.

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July 20, 20100 found this helpful

That's how it is in the antique business too. Most of the time, I would buy something that needed some work on it, like a old bedroom dresser or rocking chair. I would touch it up (clean, sand, refinish, etc.) to make it nice to sell, but no one wanted to pay enough for an item to even cover my expenses. Goodwill may be the easiest way to get rid of my old stuff. Thanks!

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July 23, 20100 found this helpful

Try ebay or craigslist or take a loss and sell to another dealer.

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July 26, 20100 found this helpful

Sorry about your booth not bringing you income now. Just think about all of the time you spent having the booth, keeping up with the descriptions, displaying and etc. You are even loosing money if you just pay for your booth space. You are loosing lots of time, effort (which is money) and, the cost of the antiques when you purchased them. So, any money you would get elsewhere would have been in your hand quickly and allow you to do something else to make money with that money. However, you probably were making money at first and that encouraged you to do more.


Glad you are getting out before loosing more. Bartering might bring you something you like, instead of having what you do not need. Who knows, only one person needs to want what you have and there is that sale. Oh, what if you advertised estate sale or antique sale on your signs and put them out by Wed. since some dealers buy on Thur. and Fri. and sell on Saturdays, that is what a person told me once. Hope you get back something for your hard work.

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