So you want to… organize garage sales on your farm?

Car boot sales can be a profitable diversification for farms in the right location, but it comes with multiple rules, regulations, and other considerations.

Just as charity shops have populated the high streets of the UK in recent years, the garage sale has become a ubiquitous feature in the countryside.

The British public can’t resist a bargain and it’s been a key factor in the proliferation of farm field sales.

Michael Mack of The Rural Consultant says it can be a relatively simple business to set up, but it can’t be done halfway.

See also: Farmers warned to check tax implications of on-site events

“You need to do it well, maximize the number of merchants and capture additional costs, like a revenue share from hotel providers,” he says.

“If you provide a good customer experience, they will come back.”

Organizing a garage sale requires careful thought and planning, both to comply with legislation and to ensure that local communities are not affected by traffic jams and litter.

Do I need a building permit?

Under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995, a landowner may use open land for a garage sale for up to 14 days without needing planning permission.

But the 14 days apply to each day that a field is used for other than agricultural purposes, so set-up and clean-up days need to be taken into account.

“The field must be completely cleared the day before and the day before a sale so that those days do not count. Even leaving items on the lot, like a portable toilet or shelter, could be construed as continued use,” Mack advises.

“It’s a good idea to keep evidence that this rule is followed because a local resident could very easily complain and this could result in a visit from an enforcement officer. Having a log or other proof of when a sale started and ended can help in this situation. »

If the 14-day threshold is exceeded, planning permission is required and this is also the case if permanent structures or new access walkways are created.

Should the event be licensed?

Even when sales last 14 days or less, the local authority must be notified that a market is taking place, as a business license is required.

Fees vary by council, with some charging an annual rate and others for each event.

The applicant must demonstrate that there is a strategy in place to control noise, litter and traffic.

Do I have to pay professional rates?

There is specific pricing advice regarding car boot sales, which should be checked with a local grading agent or tax advisor.

Is it better to outsource to a third party?

There are third-party car boot sales operators actively looking to lease land, says Simon Foster of Savills.

The advantage is that they assume the risk; in return, the farmer receives less income.

“There are some very good third-party operators out there, but there are also some that are less reputable,” says Foster.

“It’s your reputation at stake as a landowner, so you have to make sure you’re partnering with someone who’s going to do it well.”

If a third party is involved, make sure they have a plan in place for parking, staffing, and garbage collection.

traffic management

The setting up of garage sales is done most of the time very early in the day with some sellers arriving from 6am.

They also involve a lot of movement of people and cars, which can have a negative effect on the community.

“It’s important to be courteous and respectful of the local community,” says Mack.

“An operator needs to find a way to get cars off the road quickly so they line up on their lot and not on the main freeway.”

Site Suitability

Soil type is important – free-draining soil will mean fewer cancellations due to heavy rain or time spent towing vehicles off site if conditions deteriorate.

Separate entry and exit points will also be necessary unless a walkway is wide enough to allow cars to arrive and depart at the same time to avoid queues on the road and furious drivers who waiting in the field.

Some councils specify a minimum width of 4.5m for a walkway used for entry and exit.

Event staff

Marshals will be needed to direct traffic and manage on-site operations.

Make sure they are knowledgeable, can work efficiently, and are equipped with high visibility clothing.

“There can be conflicts on the pitch, so marshals need to be able to deal with situations like that,” Mack says.

Advertise the sale

Temporary traffic signs can be used, but there are specific planning laws regarding traffic signs, so check with the local authority what is permitted as they will be quick to detect police signs that break the rules.

“Charity events have certain exemptions for on-site advertising signs, but that won’t apply to a commercial event like a car boot sale,” says Mack.

He also recommends creating a business page on Facebook to promote the event.


Insurers offer tailor-made cover for occasional sales, including civil liability.

Mr Foster recommends third party liability insurance worth at least £20million for such events.

“Unfortunately, there have been deaths and serious injuries and the claims made have been substantial,” he says.

He advises that a risk assessment of the site should take place.

“As a landowner, you have a duty of care: vis-à-vis the event organizer if you rent the site for sale or vis-à-vis the public if you operate it. If a third party is involved, you must provide them with a copy of this risk assessment.

Location fees

Visiting other garage sales in the locality is the best way to gauge the level of fees to set, as you will be competing with them.

Tax implications

To qualify for Inheritance Tax (IHT) and Agricultural Land Relief (APR), the land must have been owned and occupied for agricultural purposes for at least seven years when occupied by someone else, or at least two years when owner occupied.

The legislation refers to the purpose of the occupation being primarily ranching, so occasional use for a car boot sale does not necessarily prevent the land from qualifying, says accountant Martyn Dobinson, of Saffery Champness .

However, if the use is not primarily ranching, or if the land is permanently taken out of agriculture, it will not qualify.

“Each case should be considered on its own merits as the position may not be conclusive,” Mr Dobinson says.

In terms of VAT, there have been several successful challenges by HMRC where it was held that VAT should have been applied to the presentation fee.

Mr Dobinson advises organizers to have evidence to back up their position if they need to defend an HMRC investigation.

“The implications will also depend on whether the event organizer is subject to VAT and whether, for those who are not, the additional taxable income pushes the organizer above the threshold for VAT registration. £85,000 VAT,” he says.

Case study: Tripe Farm, Orpington, Kent

Hartley, Charles and Claretta George © The George Family

The George family have been running 14 garage sales a year at Tripes Farm, Orpington, Kent, since 1988, after selling their dairy herd to develop agricultural diversifications.

Their land is on the urban outskirts of the densely populated London Borough of Bromley and is easily accessible.

They opted to handle the sales themselves and for the past few years brother and sister Hartley and Claretta George have handled everything from maintenance to license applications.

The first sales attracted around 30 sellers, but now there can be up to 250.

Mr. George says the sales have a good reputation and that is important. “We always try to be well managed and a lot of people who come here tell us how well behaved the marshals are.”

The site also has a block of five sealed toilets which are kept clean and well maintained.

While some operators will try to save money by not cutting the grass, the Georges always mow their field before a sale, although commissioning a contractor is another cost.

It sits on chalky ground, so even if there is heavy rain during the week, it will have drained before the weekend sale.

An occasional sales license is required for each event. Bromley Council charges £278 but offers a discount if 14 licenses are purchased at once, bringing the annual cost down to £3,503.

With each application, a plan of the layout of the land must be provided, showing details such as waste disposal points, as well as designated areas for parking and an estimate of the number of people who may attend.

The regulations Georges must comply with under the London Local Authorities Act 1996 state that registration cards must be given to each vendor displaying these details on their location for customers to see.

Sellers must pay a scale of fees – £12 per car, £15 for small vans and £18 for anything larger than a standard van. There is a £1 surcharge for trailers.

As other carriers increase their rates this year due to rising costs, the Georges are also considering an increase.

“I’m afraid for a small fee it might put people off, but all our costs go up, for example diesel to mow the grass,” says Mr George.

There is no entry fee for shoppers – some operators will charge 50p to navigate, but this may entail parking on local verges and parking areas.

One of the negatives of running a sale is cleaning up the junk that’s left.

“We used to have a dumpster full of trash at the end of every sale, but now we’re getting tougher on people, and we have marshals watching over that,” he says.

“We still have to rent a dumpster, but much smaller, and we keep it out of sight and it’s usually only half full after each sale.”

The company also pays waste pickers. “If you graze a field with sheep afterwards, you don’t want waste on the site,” says George.

He says hosting sales is profitable, but not as profitable as before, due to increased staff, administration, waste disposal and advertising costs, although the advertising budget has been reduced relying on reputation and social media.

There’s also a lot more competition from online sites, George adds.

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