How to negotiate the best deal at garage sales

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Even if you're shy, you can haggle over prices at a garage or yard sale. Here are the key tips from the king of the garage sale, author Bruce Littlefield, of Garage Sale America.

How to negotiate the best deal at garage sales Here are some tips for getting the best deals at a garage sale:
  • First, form a relationship/rapport with the seller. Have a good sense of humor; people want to sell to people that they like.
  • Dress down; you'll have a better chance of negotiating prices if you look like you can’t afford to spend a lot.
  • Ask the garage sale host if you can start a collection. This can help form a good relationship by making you seem like a big buyer and it may show that you like the seller's items. This sets you up to negotiate prices later.
  • Shop around, and once you have the items you want to purchase together, ask how much for the group. This way you may not have to negotiate on all of the individual items you are interested in.
  • Once you get a price from the seller, counter-offer at a price more acceptable to you. You may go back and forth a couple of times before you reach a middle ground. You also may have to start putting items back in order to get the seller to meet your price (the seller is likely to want to get rid of their items and doesn’t want to take them back).
  • The best price negotiating tactic is to be wiling to walk away if you don’t get the price you want. You’ll get the best deal if you don’t HAVE to have what they’re selling.
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LISA: I’m Lisa Birnbach for howdini.com. If you want to negotiate a good deal at a garage sale, do not wear your nice shoes, and do not drive a fancy car to the house. So says Bruce Littlefield, author of Garage Sale America. So don’t look like you have a lot of money.

BRUCE: Absolutely. The, the finer the stitch, the higher the price. That’s what you’re going to pay. If you’re wearing those shoes, I’m charging you a lot of money.

LISA: Wow, sneaky.  Okay, so everything counts. Appearance counts.

BRUCE: Appearance does count. But you know what else counts, and at the end of the day, people want to sell something to somebody that they like. So a good send of humor, and a, and a good relationship goes a long when. So when I go to buy something, whether it be a new house, a new car, or at a garage sale, I’m going to form a relationship with you, and I’m going to say, hey, how you doing? And then, I’m not just going to make it about one thing –

LISA:Mmhmm.

BRUCE: If it’s, if it’s a house, it’s not just about the one price, it’s, there’s chandeliers in there that you might want, there’s the fixtures. And at a garage sale, it’s a lot of things on the table, and I’m not going to ask specifically about each price of each thing.

LISA: Right.

BRUCE:  I’m instead going to go, hey, do you mind if I start a little collection over here? I’ve formed a relationship with the person, which you and I now have a great relationship, and you’ve seen that I’m a big buyer because I’m not going to just buy one thing, I’m going to put a pile together.

LISA: And I also feel, as a seller, you like my taste so I’m with you, right?

BRUCE: You got it.

LISA: Yeah. And we’re feeling good, right?

BRUCE: We’re feeling good.

LISA: So I get my pile together, and then I ask you, how much?

BRUCE: For all of it?

LISA: For all of it. Because I’m going to be generous now.

BRUCE:  You’re going to be generous because, first of all, I’ve moved a lot off your table, or off your tables.

LISA: Right.

BRUCE:  And you see that I like what you had, exactly what you said. So let’s say you say a hundred dollars. And I want to get it for about half that price, right?

LISA: Right.

BRUCE:  So let’s say I say, oh, I really only wanted to spend fifty dollars. And you’re like, I can’t, mmm… And I wouldn’t insult you and say ten dollars on a hundred, if you’ve named a hundred dollars.

LISA: Right.

BRUCE:  Because that’s suddenly our good relationship has gone south.

LISA: Now wait, we’re through.

BRUCE:  Exactly. Our relationship is over. But if I say fifty, we’ve, we’ve, we’re, we’re ,we’re in, we’re in the ground, we’re in the striking zone. So then you, you’ll come back to me with a number perhaps less than a hundred, and then I will might, I might come up to a number a little higher than fifty.

LISA: Right.

BRUCE:  And then we get to sort of the in-between zone, right.

LISA: This is what I think of as a dance, right?

BRUCE: It’s a dance. It is. A beautiful dance. So we’re at that zone where, where we’re wondering who’s going to say okay, I’ll take the deal. But if I’m the buyer, I start putting things back onto your table. I say, I really don’t want to spend that much, so I’m going to put this lamp back.

LISA: Right.

BRUCE:  And then I start putting another thing back.

LISA:But you drive a hard bargain.

BRUCE: And you are wanting me to –

LISA: Wait! Wait, Bruce, darling, I’ll throw in the lamp for eighty dollars.

BRUCE:  Exactly. And then we have a good deal. I walk away happy, and you walk away with money in your pocket, and you’ve gotten rid of things you no longer want.

LISA: So that is a successful transaction at a sale.

BRUCE: Absolutely. You don’t want to, first of all you don’t want to let it be the one that got away, and then second of all, it is a successful transaction if I’ve gotten the things that I want for a price that makes me happy.

LISA: Or if I want to buy stuff, but the seller is just not budging with the price, there is no dance. Should I just walk away, or should I start insulting the seller?

BRUCE: Well the best way to get any deal is that if you’re the one willing to walk away. You’ll get the best price. But then you’ll –

LISA: So just, but you may lose it.

BRUCE:  Exactly.

LISA: Do you think garage sales bring out the best in people?

BRUCE:  I do. You get to meet your neighbors, you get to have a little fun, and you get to find an unearthed treasures.

LISA: So, so it’s, you could end up being friends with somebody because you bought their old stuff.

BRUCE:  Well, yeah. You’re giving a good home to something that once meant something to them.

LISA: Okay and the shoes, really, you’re serious about that?

BRUCE:  Please don’t wear those shoes, Lisa.

LISA: For howdini.com, I’m Lisa Birnbach.

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meet theexpert
  • Bruce Littlefield

    Bruce Littlefield Design and Lifestyle Guru Bruce Littlefield is a New York-based designer, writer, and restaurateur. Hailed as a "design and lifestyle guru" by Publisher's Weekly, he is the author of the recently published Merry Christmas, America!: Megawatt Displays Across the U.S.A. (HarperCollins 2007), Garage Sale America and Airstream Living (HarperCollins 2007), and co-writer of the best-selling Use What You've Got and Other Business Lessons I learned from My Mom (Penguin Group) with real-estate magnate Barbara Corcoran. The Today more about this expert »

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