Yard sale ethics: Bargain or rip-off?
Getting a good deal at a yard sale is one thing. Taking advantage of the seller's ignorance is another.
This guest post comes from J. Money at Budgets are Sexy.
I woke up one recent morning feeling pretty bad about something. You're going to laugh when I tell you what it is, but I really can't help what pops in my head. You just never know what you're gonna get with that brain of mine sometimes.
OK, so here's what came to mind when I woke up:
"I think I ripped that girl off at the yard sale last year."
What? Why was I just NOW thinking about that? And why didn't it come to me during that yard sale last year? I have no idea, but let me give you the quick scoop so I can get your thoughts on it.
Last year when we were traveling around Seattle and parts of Victoria, B.C. (where I fell in love with my house boats!) we had a couple hours to kill so we decided to go to yard sales. We've been doing this since I was just a wee little kid, and any chance we have to do it together again as a family we jump on it.
At one of the sales I came across this little bag of weird-looking (fake) coins that had a sticker of 25 cents on it. I don't know why I picked it up in the first place, but the second I put it down I noticed that it had a much heavier, cooler-looking coin hanging out at the bottom of the bag.
So I took it out and, after a few seconds of looking it over, I realized that this was: a) not a fake coin at all, actually, and b) was most DEF worth more than 25 cents! I didn't know exactly how much at the time, but I knew I had my iPhone in the car and could find out in about 2.3 seconds.
And this is where my feeling bad comes in -- only to fester for eight months apparently, and then have me wake up in the morning to it.
Because these were the next few thoughts out of my head at the yard sale:
- Pretend you don't know you just came across something valuable (which would have been a lot easier had I not picked it out and yelled, "Mom! Look at this!")
- Hurry up and pay for it so you can hightail it outta there!
- And lastly, make sure to pay MORE than 25 cents for it.
That last part was me justifying the sale so I wouldn't feel *as* bad later. I think I ended up giving her a dollar. Which, interestingly enough, was exactly what I had found -- 1 troy ounce of silver, otherwise known as a silver dollar.
Now, it wasn't worth as much as I had thought it was going to be. (I was hoping for $50 to $80 since it was 25 years old and looked antique-like.) But it is valued anywhere from $13 to $20, depending on what silver’s going for that day. And either way, worth MUCH more than 25 cents.
So the question this brings up is: At what point does a "bargain" become "taking advantage of"? Is there a certain threshold that would change your mind one way or the other? (For example, the difference between the value of the coin and what I paid for it is roughly $14, or 1,400% more. But would it have made a difference if it was worth $1,000 instead?)
And does it really matter anyway since all parties agreed to the deal in the first place?
Obviously for me *something* mattered or else I wouldn't have woken up feeling bad about it. But I'm curious to see what you all think.
I don't know how I would have changed this looking back, other than offering more money since I knew it was worth a lot more, but then again that's why you go to yard sales to begin with, right? To get a steal? And I've been rockin' deals my entire life, so that's surely not going to change. I dunno.
I guess for me it has more to do with the fact that I KNEW it wasn't a silly little coin, and the seller did not -- even though we all walked away happier. Maybe I should have just told her that.
More on Budgets are Sexy and MSN Money:
I have been doing yard and estate sales for other people for over 30 years. I only charge a small set-up fee and then a SMALL 5% of the sales. This has been a second business that has worked out best for the people who hire us. We "make" very little - if anything - and more often than not - lose money for ourselves. Why do we do it? Because I got tired of seeing old folks - especially vet widows getting ripped off. Need and example? just watch what those thieves called American Pickers did to that WW2 vet and the swords. This goes on EVERYDAY.
When stopping at a sale I walk around and let people know if they are hurting themselves. Paper items are still especially hot right now. They are small and if in very good shape - VERY hard to come-by. NEVER sell jewelry unless you have had it looked at first - Gold is obvious - high value costume jewelry is not.
Yes, there is a code of ethics everyone should have. If the item is priced and you know it is priced too low, just pay the price you are asked to pay - or let them know and pay a little extra. Don't try to get them to come down! If you are not going to buy it why not let them know? Wouldn't you want someone to help your mom or dad? Am I saying pay retail or antique store price - NO. However 1/4 should be fine. If you own the store, you will have to spend time etc getting it in shape plus the cost of your gas. If you are going to take it somewhere and resell - odds are you will only get 1/2 the value IF your lucky. However, there is no excuse for paying 200 for something you KNOW to be easily worth 3000. (hint to "Am Pick".)
We have a several hundred member email list and make thousands of dollars for each of our clients. All of our members would tell you that we would be the first ones that they would ask to clear their house or store. (and some have) Why, because we can sleep at night.
Right now thousands of WW2 items are being sold - usually by desperate people or their children that MAY need the money to save their homes. There is never an excuse for being a vulture and "picking" the bones of a grieving or elderly person.
My dad was an auctioneer when I grew up, so I got to go to a number of estate sales. The other guys who worked with my dad would watch potential buyers looking over the items before they were sold. Most times they had combined what was know as bargain boxes of little odds & ends to clear things out. There would always be at least one person who would slyly move a more valuable item into the bottom of a real box of junk, trying to get a deal. The auctioneers would slip in & remove the valuable item & put it back where it came from & then run up the bid on the junk box against the value thief. So there was some entertainment at these things too.
If you really want a deal at an auction go when it rains, things move quickly & rich suburbanites looking for nic nacks stay home.
I have always wanted to hear of someone who bought a painting valued at several million dollars from some little old lady for a dollar who returned to her house to give her a large share of the final sale, to say thanks & help out a person who needed to sell off what they had.
People set their prices for their merchandise. So, when I buy, I don't try to make sure they get the market value. It's a yard sale. I picked up a very nice mink stole and asked the price. The guy said, "$1, it's not even real." Yes, it was. I took it to the car, got my dollar, and paid him. I feel no guilt.
I know antiques and prices. It is not my job to make sure people get more than they are asking. If I wanted to pay top dollar, I would only shop at antique stores.
Sometimes, when I see an item underpriced and I don't want it and the seller is poor, I take it to the homeowner and tell them what to price is more in line. If they have a vase for a quarter and it is worth $20, I tell them to put $5 on it. I refuse to pay antique store prices for merchandise at a yard sale. So do most people.
I bought a male urinal, green enamel with the manufacturer's sticker still on it for a quarter. Less than 24 hours later, I sold it for $8 at a friend's yard sale. I paid the price asked...nothing more and nothing less.
If I bought something and got $10K for it later, I would be inclined to go back and give the person a $100 gift.
I cannot be responsible for how people price their yard sale offerings.
Secondly, sellers are more likely to bargain with you or sell you an item that they have some emotional attachment to if they can identify with you. Be friendly, greet the seller when you walk up, respect their offerings no matter how old or dirty they appear (I'm talking about the items here) and let them know that you will take care of the item if you suspect an emotional attachment. THEN, make them a fair offer. In my experience this works about 90% of the time.
Third, you may find some of the best items early in the morning but you will get the best deals at the end of the sale especially if it is a very hot or cold day. Nobody wants to drag that stuff back in the garage or end up donating it if they can recover at least a few bucks for it now.
And last but not least, since most of the garage sales that I frequent are close to my neighborhood I found that some of the best treasures are the people that I meet. You get to see the books they have read, the music they've played, the places they've visited and much more without asking a single question. It is a very innocent way to feel people out and a friend may be the ultimate find!
I am an avid thrift store/ yard sale shopper and I have found some VERY good deals over the years. I do not feel guilty about my finds. To me, it depends on this: If the item is priced and I pay the price then it is a purchase. The seller had to pick it up and examine it in order to price it and should have known that it was of some greater value. However, if, for example, I bought a purse and got it home to find a diamond ring in the bottom of one of the pockets, I would then feel some obligation to take it back to the seller and offer to give it back. I look at it this way: If I paid top dollar to buy a painting that I thought was valuable and it turned out to be a copy of an original but the seller never claimed it was real, should they be obligated to return my money? No, it would be my fault, not theirs. Let the buyer beware. That goes for the seller, also!
The strangest, but not the most valuable, deal I ever made was when going through some junk jewelry priced at 25 cents per item I came across a $2 bill that had been folded to form a ring. I told the lady in charge but she said it was okay to take it for the 25 cent price. I could stand deals like that all day long!
I do not feel what the buyer bought was unethical. I have been doing flea markets, garage sales, thrift shops etc. turned items and made money. There is nothing wrong with it, if you gave the person what he wanted then the point of sale is over. If you find it worth a lot hurray for you. Is it not the idea to find a bargain? I have done it for 25 years selling and buying. Half the stuff on ebay/craiglist comes from someone who put his/her time in looking for things to resell and make money. Now twenty five years later, they have make TV programs for what I do. Pawn Stars, the pickers, auctions. I just did this my whole life, 65 now. I took my family one year on vacation to Europe from the money made selling junk/treasures one summer. Hey we all can't be CEO's. A buck is a buck selling and buying is not illegal.
There was a case I saw some years ago where a man purchased a rock at an amateur rock show from a young boy for a few dollars.....turns out it was one of the largest star sapphires ever found valued at something like 2.3 million at the time. The man knew it was quite valuable at the time of the purchase.....maybe not quite that valuable. There ended up being a lawsuit over the rock. Not sure what happened in the end but i would think that ignorance of something's value would make no difference. Tough cookie, but the milks still warm.....Something's value is determined by what someone is willing to pay for it, nothing more. Once a legitimate transaction has occurred, that's it.
I believe there is a woman truck driver that bought a picture at a garage sale that later was believed to be a Jackson Pollack original....she was trying to get the art world to acknowledge the painting without much luck....do you think she was worried about giving more money to the person that sold it to her?
Antiques road show is full of people who paid next to nothing for items that turn out to be worth a lot more...........
How a bout the guy who bought an old blanket for a few bucks only to find out it was a chiefs blanket and was described by the show as a "national treasure" worth many hundreds of thousands?
I yard sale for a living, not only yard sales but flea markets, auctions, thrift stores and estate sales. I invest my time studing and researching items to buy. If I see something which I know is valuable I will give a "hint" about it. I recently purchased three boxes of Stangl Pottery Colonial Green, about 50 pieces for $35.00. I told the lady selling them they were Stangl Pottery and pointed out the name on the back, she couldn't care less. If there people are not interested in researching the items they have for sale it is not my problem.
Just a Question? - If you purchase something at a yard sale and find out it was not worth what you paid for it, is the seller ripping you off?
My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.
News paper ads can be bargains too.
A few years ago I was running a business selling new & used canoes. One spring a little old lady had listed a new canoe for the $50 her late husband had told her it cost. Unfortunately every person who came out that spring had seen the add on a canoe that should have sold for $850, so it was much harder to bring them into reality.
It is the seller's responsibility to know the price and value of an item. I have spent a lot of time and money to learn what I know and if someone else does not take the time to look up the value, that is not my problem. Please realize that about 90% of the garage sales I go to have nothing but junk! I have to make up for the time and gasoline I spend looking at all the crap before I find something good.
Finally, I do not get up at 0600, or earlier, on a Saturday, to pay full value. If I wanted to do that, I would go to an antique store.
In other words, if you get a good deal, be happy, take it and don't worry about it.
Since when is it unethical for one's knowledge to be anything other than added value?
Pity the poor antique dealer, They have a very tough lot -
- Most businesses have regular distributors. You can order more shoes for a shoe store, more lettuce for a supermarket or more cars for a dealership with a phone call. Antique dealers most put in hundreds of man-hours acquiring inventory from disparate source, many of which are one-shot deals. Few businesses require as much time buying merchandise as they do selling. Not to mention big expenses for travel.
- Most modern businesses have some form of financing from suppliers, and may also have credit lines. For antique dealers, this is almost unheard of. When you walk into an atique store, you aren't looking at merchandise that is in float, financed of floor-planned by somebody else. You are looking at the dealer's own money tied up in merchandise. A car dealership or a convenience store wouldn't survive a week on this basis.
- An antique dealer generally has to make pruchase decisions on a short cycle, if not on the spot. Dealers have to take risks on things that might have value, only to find out that the piece they bought is more common than they thought, is a fake, has been damaged, has had parts replaced or lack some essential feature for which they didn't account. Ethical dealers will take the loss on such items rather than passing on their mistakes to someone else.
- The range of expertise among antique dealers, especially the small ones that handle the widest variety of items, requires considerable time and expense in research. Ask most dealers what is themost valuable thing they own, and they are likely to respond, "My library."
- The sales volume fo rmost antique shops is quite low. When was the lasdt itme you had to wait in line at an antique store? How many times have you wandered into the same store and recognized unsold merchandise?
Put all that together and tell a dealer who wants to run a legitimate business that is placed where customers can find it and will come regularly (read - "High rent expense"), then a dealer needs to see an average mark-up of 150% in order to make ends meet.
This isn't to say that people buying at yard sales have complete ethical license. An honest dealer, if asked to make an offer for an item, should offer a fair price based on his need for a reasonable mark-up, or should ask the seller to set their own price themselves. If the seller isn't willing to do the very same research that is required of the buyer to put a price on the item, then that is their own choice.
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