Opinion: Art of the (garage sale) deal


Facebook has received some very negative financial reports lately. I have also been in the midst of some difficult business deals of my own. We had a big garage sale last weekend and a woman talked me down from a dollar to 50 cents for a Channel 8 coffee mug. I was disappointed in myself for succumbing to her cagey negotiations, but I kept it in perspective: I had a better week than Mark Zuckerberg by about $7 billion.

The first day of the sale was fun, but the second day put me on edge. I got impatient with some people. One man was asking me questions about an old portable CD player that I had marked a dollar.

“Does it work?” he asked.

“Of course, it doesn’t work. It’s a dollar. If it worked, it would be two dollars.”

I became annoyed when people whipped around the cul-de-sac, eyeballed our offerings from the street and then sped off when disappointed with the selection. How rude is that? Occasionally, the driver would shout out what they were searching for:

“Got any assault weapons?”

“Any toddler clothing?”

By the way, this was the same person.

Overall, we didn’t make much money. We needed to hire movers to get all the bookcases and other furniture up from the basement, which was a big expense. The firm is called College Hunks Hauling Junk. I got home that afternoon after they had left and told Mary Ellen I thought their price seemed a little high. “It was worth every penny,” she said. I didn’t like the smirk on her face when she said it.

Our friends the Haversticks helped us with the sale. Cathy and Bob are very savvy at knowing the true value of things like an old cable connector, a back-scratcher, blank VHS tapes, a dial phone and a box of assorted buttons. Never underestimate the value of people who know the true worth of an old six-pack of lawnmower oil. Friends like this don’t come cheap. But the Haversticks are cheap, so they know how to price things.

At the end of the second day, we were left with three bookshelves that we didn’t have room for in our new house. We priced them at five bucks each, but they didn’t move. Then, Mary Ellen put an ad on Craigslist to say that the bookshelves were free for anyone who wanted to come and pick them up. Two days later they were still on our driveway.

“Why doesn’t anyone want them?” she asked.

“Who wants something that we are admitting is worthless? Let’s post an ad and say the shelves are $495 and they are sitting on our driveway.”

“Do you think someone will buy them?”

“No, of course not,” I said, “but overnight someone will steal them.”

They were gone the next morning!

At the end of the garage sale, we still had hundreds of unsold books, which was OK because some of those old favorites were tough to part with.

I just wish I had a place to put them.

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