Why Garage Sales Are a Bad Idea

Your sellers should focus their energies on more important matters in preparing a home for sale than holding a garage sale to clear up clutter.

April 1, 2004

You're trying to get your sellers to get rid of clutter before putting the house on the market. The last thing you should do is suggest a garage sale. Here's why.

If cleaning and decluttering were fun and easy, and didn't take any time or require organizational skills and commitment to a higher standard of living, everyone's home would be spotless.

In the real world, people let clutter accumulate. Unless they are ill, they're busy, lazy, or don't care. Any of those traits in your seller are going to be difficult to mobilize in a positive direction.

To get a home in shape to sell, you are going to need every bit of your seller's energy, focus, and attention on selling the home, not on secondary goals like garage sales.

Here are some reasons why suggesting garage sales to your sellers is a bad idea:

A garage sale is an unnecessary diversion.

You think a garage sale will give your seller a focus to get rid of clutter, but what it really does is double your seller's responsibilities in areas they may not be good at, like advertising, marketing, merchandising, and more. If they were good at all that, they wouldn't need you so much, would they? They could sell their own home.

Most clutter can be simply thrown away, so the problem is effort. To get the home ready for market, you are going to need all your seller's limited energy and enthusiasm to simply get the house clean and clear of clutter, not to mention any make-ready or repairs that need to be done.

Garage sales are too time-consuming.

If you've ever cleaned out a closet, found that old box of pictures, baby shoes, or high school albums, and unwittingly frittered away the rest of the day poring over old times instead of ruthlessly cleaning and sorting, it's a sure bet your seller will do the same.

For some reason, selling things seems a little more final than giving them away. Your seller can't help but luxuriate in some time-consuming angst over their personal clutter.

That garage sale scheduled for two weeks away might not happen for two months as your sellers agonize over what to keep and what to sell and for how much. What is the least they will take for that item? Tick, tock, tick, tock.

Your sellers have to learn to merchandise, negotiate, and police their garage sale.

It will quickly dawn on the seller that s/he has to merchandise the items, which includes pricing and advertising. This raises a Hydra's head of questions. How do you make junk look good? Who's got enough card tables to group all the breakables into vignettes? How do you price items for sale?

To have a good garage sale requires a lot of inventory, which means your seller could bring other neighbors into the sale. This could delay things further as they have to get ready, too, and then their inventory has to be merchandised. If your seller has turned over the marketing of his/her home to you, why would they want to spend their time marketing their own cast-offs?

Your seller has to wait for the right weekend to hold a garage sale.

The seller has to select a weekend for the sale—that means waiting for warmer, sunnier weather. These are weeks that the home could have been on the market.

The garage sale has to be advertised.

Ads are a lose-lose for you. If the garage sale is successful, then the seller might conclude that s/he can just put an ad in the paper and sell the home! If the garage sale isn't successful, then the seller has done all that pricing, agonizing over sentimental stuff, and organizing simply to face doing it all again.

Ads are expensive, compared to the 'take.' What does an ad in the local paper cost? How long does it run? If all the junk doesn't sell, it has to be packed up again and put back in the house or the garage. Then it has to be advertised all over again.

The worst part is that an ad might contribute to cutting you out of the deal. What better way to signal that you might be selling a home than with a garage sale ad or flier? Buyers who are looking for homes to buy might stop by the sale. If your seller isn't under contract, any buyer could make an offer for the home, and your seller could sell the home without you.

Just like buyers, there are plenty of other real estate practitioners who read ads and scour telephone poles looking for garage sale sellers. If you don't have your seller under contract yet, and are waiting for the home to get in selling condition, you are risking that your seller will meet another practitioner who could romance the seller away from you—at the very garage sale you suggested.

The truth is, most clutter has little value. That's why nobody expects to make much or pay much for items at a garage sale.

When you examine the time, effort, and money it takes to have a garage sale to net only pennies on the dollar, it is simply more profitable and humane to give away or to donate unwanted items. If something isn't fit to donate, then it's appropriate to throw it away.

If your seller is worried about how much they are losing, remind them that charitable deductions will net them far more than nickels and quarters at a garage sale.

Get your sellers organized by having them store items in boxes marked "keep," "donate," or "trash." "Keep" boxes should be marked with the destination where it will be moved, such as "Master bedroom," "Pantry," or "Attic."

With this philosophy, your seller disposes of items once and for all, quickly, and easily. Clutter is now boxed—ready to be moved, or moved out, and you've got a clutter-free home to market.

(c) Copyright 2004 Realty Times. Reprinted with permission.

Blanche Evans is a writer/editor and CEO of evansEmedia. Formerly, she was a senior editor with Realty Times, where she was named by REALTOR® Magazine as one of the most influential people in the real estate industry.

Notice: The information on this page may not be current. The archive is a collection of content previously published on one or more NAR web properties. Archive pages are not updated and may no longer be accurate. Users must independently verify the accuracy and currency of the information found here. The National Association of REALTORS® disclaims all liability for any loss or injury resulting from the use of the information or data found on this page.