29 Sep Yard Sale!

Once every year or two, Jill and I hold a yard sale. It’s a big deal, and a little embarrassing, because we always have a lot of stuff — so much stuff that passersby think that our offering represents everything from the entire neighborhood. We do like to shop for antiques, Jill and I. And we do like to go to auctions, where, if you want a single item you may have to buy a bunch of other stuff that is being sold with it. And we keep upgrading things in our house, getting better lights, chairs, etc. So, yeah, the stuff we don’t need piles up.

The night before the yard sale, we argue about what things should sell for. I want higher prices so we can give deeper discounts. Jill starts low and goes lower. “You want to get rid of the stuff or not?” she asks. Pricing is an art, I’ve decided. No matter what the price, you have to cut a deal. Buyers want to feel that they’ve worked for the sale. In fact, most refuse an item if you offer to give it to them. People want a bargain, not a freebie. Demand five dollars for a couch and they’ll try to talk you down to a buck.

Mind you, you’re never going to make your money back on all the stuff you’re selling — you’re just trying to cut your loses. Be grateful somebody’s willing to take that battered straw basket or that listing plant stand or that unraveling hooked rug off your hands.

Since we’ve done this before, we know not to advertise our address in the ads. We just give the street corner. Otherwise, the dealers show up the day before. Antique dealers are an edgy, desperate bunch. Jill used to be in the consignment business, so she’s seen it all — like the dealer who shows up the day before and tells the clueless sellers that he’s got cancer and is going into the hospital tomorrow (the day of the sale) and could he just look around at the stuff they’re selling?

I started hauling stuff to the sidewalk at 6:30. By 7:00, there were four dealers pawing at the items as soon as I set them down. The sale didn’t start until 8:00. The dealer’s strategy is to make a “lot” buy, that is, buy a bunch of stuff at a bundled discount. They may try to double talk you: “You said fifty for the brass andirons, which you’re selling for eighty, and seventy-five for the set of chairs, which you’ve priced at ninety-five. I’m offering you a hundred-thirty if you throw in the painting, which you’ve priced at sixty but really I thought it was thirty.” Then they lay the bills in your hand and you’re thinking, Wow, sure a hundred-thirty bucks and it’s only seven o’clock! You forget that the total for those items should be $235. So you’re selling it all — before the sale even starts — for half price on an already low yard sale price. Whatever.

The dealers bought a lot of our stuff. By nine o’clock we saw crowds and had nearly sold off all the big stuff, except our behemoth brocade Victorian couch. The crowd thinned. Then there was nobody. Then another crowd showed up. Odd the way that works. You think you’re done. It’s eleven o’clock, not a soul on the sidewalk, and suddenly one person appears and then, within ten minutes, the sidewalk is packed. During one of the waves, three children from a family across the street sat on our couch and refused to leave unless their father bought it. He hemmed and hawed. Originally we bought the couch for $400. We were hoping to get $100. I gave it to the guy for $75 and was elated to see it walk away.

One thing for sure about a Baltimore yard sale: you get a colorful bunch of buyers. At one point we had a Hopkins University security guard noodling through on his Segue. Later, some colorfully dressed women who’d “just gotten off work” played with the jewelry. Our blind neighbor negotiated the sidewalk crowd without hesitation. No one seemed to notice him. The most popular dogs in attendance were pit bulls rescued from local shelters (we counted 5). By the day’s end, we had gotten rid of everything except boxes of books, four eight-foot columns, a router table, a cast iron sink, and a few boxes of miscellaneous. I took the books to the Book Thing, a neighborhood charity that gives away old books to anybody who wants them. It’s an amazing place. Every neighborhood should have one.

Despite our success, Jill says she’ll never do another yard sale again. “It’s too much damned work.” She insists that we have to stop accumulating so much stuff. We’re impulsive buyers, too willing to take a gamble on something that only might work in our house. Problem is, we always tell ourselves we can sell it if it turns out to be a mistake. I agree, selling stuff — whether online or on the sidewalk — is a lot of work. Nonetheless, I came home today to find Jill online, browsing through the local auction listings. “Look that,” she said, pointing to a picture on the screen. ˜Isn’t that a great rug?”