- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 10, 2004

hree Bethesda mothers knew they had to get rid of the clutter in their homes so, a month ago, they came up with a plan: Organize a multifamily yard sale.

“We’re neighbors. Our kids play together, so we sold our stuff together,” Josette Skilling says.

Mrs. Skilling, Cristel Stanley and Stacy Krush live in the Wood Acres-Springfield subdivision, and their 4-year-olds are in the same play group.

The women and their husbands cleaned out their garages, attics, basements and playrooms looking for items they no longer used in preparation for the July 25 sale. The rule of thumb, they agreed, was to sell the things they have not used in the past one to two years.

They priced the items the week before the sale date and hauled them to Mrs. Skilling’s garage the night before to set out on the driveway early Saturday morning. They placed ads in the local papers and installed temporary signs in the neighborhood and along the main road.

The women and other sellers have come up with a few strategies for holding successful garage, yard and moving sales to remove the clutter from their homes and earn a few extra dollars beside.

“You have to make a decision whether you’re trying to make money or get rid of stuff,” Mrs. Skilling says.

Mrs. Skilling sought the latter. However, she priced the items she wanted to sell at a higher dollar amount than she expected to receive, since negotiating and haggling is a part of the selling experience, she says.

“What do you want to pay for it? That’s what I’ll take,” she says.

Mrs. Skilling tagged large items, such as furniture, lamps and exercise equipment, at half or a third of their original value, depending on the condition of the items. Smaller items, such as glassware, she tagged at $5 and less and books at $1 or less, since libraries do the same for used books. Any items that remained unsold at the end of the sale, she donated or took to a consignment store.

Linda Blythe of Arlington wanted to get rid of some of the items from her world travels, along with kitchen items, clothing and linens. She and one of her friends put on a yard sale July 24 in the Aurora Hills neighborhood.

“I was just tired of looking at all the stuff on the shelves, and it was time to have a weed out,” Ms. Blythe says. “I priced it very fairly, and some people were surprised that was all I asked, but I wanted to get rid of it. When you want to get rid of something, you almost give it away.”

One way to do so is to “tell people you will take all offers,” says Terri Bowman, who participated in a multifamily yard sale recently along a cul-de-sac in the Fox Mills Woods subdivision in Reston. “Let them negotiate with you.”

Mrs. Bowman suggests accepting any offer as the sale winds down if the goal is to get rid of the final items. She suggests donating the unsold items to charity.

“That’s the American way. Mark it up, and count on them asking,” says Richmond resident Beverly Dixon, who helped her parents, the Korbers of Sterling Park, participate in a multifamily moving sale on July 24. The Korbers’ moving van was scheduled to arrive the next morning.

In two hours, the Korbers sold a bedroom and dining room set to accommodate their move from a four-bedroom home with a basement to a three-bedroom, one-story rambler in Hanover, Va., near Richmond.

“All in all, it’s gone well. My house is about empty,” Carole Korber says.

Mrs. Korber’s neighbor Patricia Minshew plans to downsize in two years when she and her husband are both retired. Their move will be to a smaller home in the Northern Neck of Virginia, says Mrs. Minshew, who also participated in the Sterling Park yard sale.

“We all pitch in and help each other,” she says.

The Korbers and Minshews grouped the items they wanted to sell in categories, keeping seasonal and kitchen items together on a long table they set up on one side of the garage. The furniture was on the opposite side. The Bowmans and Sullivans did the same thing, grouping together children’s clothing and toys, books, appliances, and items for the dining room and kitchen.

“Start pricing the day before because it takes longer than you think,” says Julia Sullivan, Mrs. Bowman’s younger sister.

Prices can be marked on masking tape, stickers, dots or Post-it notes, or on a sign if several items are in a single category and priced the same. However, some items can be left unmarked, leaving them open for negotiation, Mrs. Bowman says.

The Skillings, Stanleys and Krushes used colored dots to price items, assigning a color to each family. They charted the items and assigned someone to check off the items as they were sold, sending any negotiations to the owners.

“Since we’re all here, we can do all the negotiating,” Mrs. Skilling says.

Sellers can attract buyers by placing large items behind the smaller items and keeping any “eye-catchers” up front, says Marcie Reinertson, community services coordinator for the Burke Center Conservancy, a homeowners association for 5,800 homes in Burke.

“If they see that, they will start looking at the other things you have,” Mrs. Reinertson says.

The Burke Center Conservancy holds an annual community yard sale in May and allows residents to rent out a space on the conservancy property where they can sell items. In late May, the conservancy holds a second community-wide yard sale held at the individual residences.

“It’s kind of a fun day. People can come in and shop in one stop,” Mrs. Reinertson says.

Sellers also can attract buyers by giving young shoppers something free with parental permission, providing shoppers with a free item if they purchase several other items and setting out a freebie box.

“People love going through that box,” Mrs. Reinertson says. “It will draw them to your booth or home, and they’ll start looking at the other stuff as well.”

Another suggestion is being prepared for shoppers to show up an hour or two before the start of the sale. Sellers can advertise the sale at a later time than they want to start and set up the sale earlier than the advertised time. Otherwise, the shoppers may wait around for the actual start time.

“They think they’re going to get the best buys,” Mrs. Reinertson says. “A lot of them are dealers. They’re out to find good buys because they have shops or something and want to sell.”

Shoppers may begin calling the day the sale ad appears, if a phone number is included, to ask if there will be collectibles, antiques, tools, jewelry and adult clothing, possible items for resale, Mrs. Skilling says.

Last, but not least, “You do need to advertise, because it does bring people in,” she says.

As Mrs. Reinertson says, “The more you advertise, the more people you bring in to shop, whether it’s signs, advertising with fliers or newspaper ads.”

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