Garage Sale Deals And The Art of Haggling

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Garage sales are a great place to hone your negotiation skills.

If the idea of quibbling over price makes you uncomfortable, you’re not alone. It doesn’t come easy for most.

I give credit to my dad for first exposing me to the art of making a deal.

Dad was a farmer, and I grew up in a farming community where negotiating was part of the culture. He was a child of the Great Depression, which I suspect also had a lot to do with his careful handling of money and anything of value.

Negotiating the price of seed wheat or farm equipment was expected, but he didn’t stop there.

When it was time to shop for new furniture, I watched as he charmed the shopkeeper, first talking the price down as far as possible.

Next, he worked to see what extras could be thrown in to sweeten the pot.

We eventually left the shop with not only a brand new sofa, but two of the biggest, ugliest, and reddest table lamps the 70s had ever seen, along with a matching red ceramic bull and matador.

What a deal!

Dad also helped me shop for my first car, a used 1972 Mazda. Three weeks later, he helped me shop for my second car. Oops!

Today, I take what I learned and do a lot of bargain shopping and negotiating myself – everything from dollar deals at garage sales to shopping for furniture on Craigslist to car shopping and home buying – and I like to think I’ve gotten pretty good at it.

Beyond the obvious dollar savings, as a woman, I enjoy knowing I played the game well and held my own. When car shopping in particular, because it’s deemed to be a man’s world, it’s a triumphant feeling to leave the lot knowing I wasn’t taken advantage of.

To get you started, I’m going to focus on tips for negotiating price at garage sales.

Garage sales are found all over the country and are a great place to learn and become comfortable with the art of haggling. They’re safe, easy to find, and you won’t be on the hook for a lot of money. The basics, once learned well, can be applied to many different situations throughout your life.

1.  Know the value of what you are trying to buy.

Before beginning price negotiations, it is important to know the item’s value. What was it’s original price? What is it worth used? And perhaps most important, what is it worth to me?

For most items found at a garage sale, I have only a rough idea of their original value and that’s enough to know what I’m willing to pay. For more expensive items such as cars and houses, you would, of course, want to do more complete research, possibly even seeking the advice of professionals.

At garage sales, my general rule of thumb is to pay no more than 1/10th the original price when the item was new. If the item in question is rarely found at garage sales and I really want it, I’ll offer more. On the other hand, some items are so common they’re found at nearly every sale. For those items I would be willing to pay less.

Even when prices are clearly marked on items, at a garage sale price is always considered negotiable. The main priority for most people who hold a garage sale, is to rid themselves of stuff they don’t use, don’t have room for, and don’t want. That, by it’s nature, puts the buyer in a great position to bargain.

2. Don’t rush to buy.

Assume you have just driven up to one more garage sale. Even before putting the car in park, you begin to survey the goods. Your eye is immediately drawn to … oh my gracious! It’s just what I need!!

Usually (and hopefully) at least once each Saturday morning I find the one, super special thing which makes getting up at dawn and running all over town worth the effort.

Before getting out of the car, I take a deep breath and remind myself to play it cool! Show any amount of excitement, and my power to negotiate plummets. I must act as if I don’t really want it all that bad.

I don’t want anyone else getting to it before me, but I also don’t want to make it obvious how excited I am. I head toward the item, stopping along the way to look at a few other things. When I finally pick up the special item, I casually give it a quick look, the same as I’ve given everything else, and nonchalantly tuck it under my arm.

Now I have time to think and plan a strategy.

3. Garage sale negotiation strategies.

When working to make a deal, first and most importantly, always play nice. The old saying “You’ll get more flies with honey than with vinegar.” is true here. Hostility or aggression is to be avoided at all costs. Negotiations often come to an abrupt end when one party or the other finds something the other did offensive.

Strike up a friendly conversation with the seller. Ask about the item’s history. If you can learn why they want to get rid of it, you may have a better idea of what price they’ll be willing to take.

Look the item over well. Is it scratched or dented? Are all pieces there? Any flaws you find, no matter how small, can be used to negotiate yourself a better deal.

If it’s an electronic item, ask to plug it in and test it. If it is battery operated, ask for batteries. Make sure it works. If unable to do either of these, buying is a risk and it changes the amount I’m willing to pay considerably, even if the seller guarantees it works.

If it’s an item of clothing and it’s not possible to try it on for fit (sometimes I’m buying for one of the kids who isn’t with me) I’ll say “I hate to spend too much without knowing it will fit, but for the right price, I’ll take a chance.”

Consider how motivated the seller might be to sell. Is it the first hour of the first day of their sale? Or is it the final day and 108 degrees in the shade and they just want everything gone so they can go inside?

Listen to other buyers making offers. How does the seller respond? Do they sound flexible on price?

When it comes time to make your offer, start lower than what you hope to pay. Sometimes the offer will be accepted immediately. Sometimes the seller will counter-offer with a price lower than original but higher than your offer.

You will sometimes need to go back and forth several times with offers and counter-offers to get to a price which is agreeable to all.

Sometimes the seller will be unwilling to negotiate at all.

4. Negotiate for something besides price.

Sometimes prices are firm. If attempts to get a lower price are getting you nowhere, think about what you might ask for beside a lower price.

Suggest that something else be thrown in for free with purchase. Or if you have multiple items, or better yet a bag full, offer one price for all instead of negotiating a price for each. Sellers ultimate goal is to get rid of as much as possible.

5. Be prepared to walk away.

Ultimately, if you and the seller can’t come to agreement, you must be willing to walk away and leave without purchasing.

Before you walk away permanently, walk away temporarily, item still in hand, and continue to casually look at the other items for sale.

Silence is a common tactic used in negotiation and can be just as useful at garage sales. This gives you as well as the seller time to think. Often it will strengthen your bargaining position.

6. Practice your negotiation skills.

The only real way to become better at negotiation is to do more of it. Lots more of it. I hope this post has convinced you to give it a try.

If you would like to learn more about negotiating and deal making, check out our other recent posts:  How to Negotiate The Price of a Vehicle Without Negotiating, Negotiation and Furniture Shopping, Haggling Your Way to a Better Paying Job.

Are you already a deal seeker? Is there any place you won’t haggle? Leave me a comment and let me know.

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