Growing up, flea markets, garage sales, and estate sales were a part of my family’s weekly routine. My mom always knew the best places to go, and she, my dad and I would get up early and have a fun morning of hunting for cool things. We’d always go to lunch at our favorite restaurant afterward and talk about our morning. Through this, I learned, from my parents, some great tips and tricks for finding sales, getting deals, and about the collecting world in general.
My mom is not only a collector, but she was actually one of the first eBay Power Sellers. I would watch her like a hawk and ask questions (like kids do), and then listen intently as she would explain. She recently got a text from me that read, “MOM! Tell me more about brass and bronze!” Sean and I were at a flea market, and we were questioning something that we found. She’s also received calls that go much the same, “MOM! What do you know about Maddux of California?!” Everything I’ve learned has come from her. I guess you could say I got it from my mama!
An important thing she taught me was to look at the quality vs. the cost to you. If something isn’t in the condition you’d want it to be in — should you buy it? Cost to you is when you find an item you want, but it has a ding or a knick, a torn page, or a missing rhinestone. Maybe there is a crack, or the box is damaged. Are you okay with it not being in mint (perfect) condition? Will you get it home and then regret buying it and not waiting for a better one to come along? Or do you love this item so much that you’ll take the “loved” look and own it proudly?
Quality vs. the Cost to You
This is a question we’ve had to answer countless times with Pokémon cards and some vintage Pokémon items. Cards are fragile, especially holo ones, and vintage items have usually been taken out of boxes and played with. We both enjoy the loved look; the item has a story to tell. That isn’t the case with everyone, and that is something you need to answer for yourself. If you have a sinking feeling that you won’t be happy with it when you get it home, reassess if you really want to buy it.
Ask yourself: how often is this item likely to show up? With Pokémon, for us, it largely depends on the card itself or what the item is. We’ve been offered cards in rough condition for high prices that we can acquire elsewhere in better shape. We’ve also bought things that we’ve never come across, in less than perfect condition, because we really loved them.
This Topps TV Animation Edition Alakazam has a bit of visible wear on it. For me, buying it was an easy choice as Alakazam is one of my favorite Pokémon. The seller, named Ryan, also had many, many cards in beautiful condition. I didn’t mind paying his asking price for this one. I have one regret, however. We should have bought more from him!
No matter where someone is selling something, it always stands that people can price anything in any way they want to. That doesn’t mean you have to pay that price. The option is always there to ask the seller if they’d take a lower price for the item. However, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about this. Often, you’ll see online, “no low-ball offers!” Which means, don’t offer them a considerable amount lower than the asking price. It’s like asking to pay $20 on an item listed for $50 (this low-balling will vary with the asking price). Whether it be online or in person, you don’t want to insult the seller.
Negotiating as a Garage Sale Collector
Sean and I aren’t fond of the terms “haggle” or “talk-down” when referring to settling on a price with a buyer. We prefer to use the term “negotiate” as that’s what we’re doing, and the seller is just as important as the buyer. At a flea market recently, we found a Japanese Maga Charizard X figure in its original packaging and plastic.
The seller had an asking price of $20. We chatted for a while, and I asked if they’d take $15 for it. They agreed, and Sean and I happily paid for it. We thanked them, chatted a bit longer, and moved on. I can’t stress that enough – be friendly in the market you’re in, regardless of what it is, and thank the seller, even if you don’t get a deal on something. You’ll make a friend and possibly a contact.
Ask the seller if they might have any other items you’re looking for. We always let people know we buy Pokémon and give our contact information. This has gotten a lot easier with our Gemr cards, but not everyone has those. There are great websites where you can make your own cards, or even just write your name and contact information on a nice piece of paper to hand to people.
There have been many times where we’ll mention Pokémon at a garage sale or flea market, and the seller will go inside and return with Pokémon items for us to look at. Sean and I have a separate email address just for Pokémon related things, and I recommend making one for yourself for your collection.
We live in an age where information is just a few taps away. If you see something and aren’t sure about it, look it up online. I recommend walking away or going to your vehicle to do this as it can be perceived as an insult to the seller. Do a few minutes of quick research and come back if you still want the item. If you use eBay as a research reference, only look at sold listings, not what people are trying to sell something for.
Come back to your seller and let them know you have been thinking (not that you looked it up) and you would like to buy the item. This is the time to negotiate and ask if they’d take a lower offer. Instead of saying, “I’ll give you X for it!” try asking, “Will you take X for this?” This strategy gives them an equal hand in the negotiation — and will make them more likely to work with you.
Prices are Going to be Different at Flea Markets vs. Garage Sales vs. Estate Sales.
Garage sales are generally the best priced, as people just want that stuff out of their house. Weekly flea markets are
Estate sales are often made by professional sellers. A person passes away, and the family hires an expert to go through unwanted items, price them, and sell them. This usually takes up an entire house and garage. There are times when an estate is so big it will be moved to a warehouse. These professionals know prices, as it’s their job, and often price things at the top going rate. It can be challenging to negotiate at an estate sale.
Estate sales often do a next day markdown, and on the last day, most things are 50% off. While this is great for your wallet, it may not be great for your collection. Other collectors will be looking for things too, and might be willing to pay full price. It goes back to cost to yourself.
Have a Plan of Attack
Sean and I get up early, he bribes me with a McMuffin, and off we go. For flea markets, we get there around 7
Round two is coming back when they’re done setting up. Often, the seller will set something aside for us. For garage sales, we go by neighborhood. If we’re staying in town, we start at the opposite end of the city and slowly work our way back. Estates sales often have lines with numbers. There should be information on what time you can get in line. If it’s an actual line, we get there an hour early and hang out in our truck while we wait. If it’s a number line, we’ll go stand and wait until numbers are handed out, if allowed.
There is also the online world of sales. Sites like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace work as online garage sales. The same rules apply – don’t insult the seller, negotiate fairly, and know your item and what you’re willing to pay for it. Online is the main place that you want to remember that people can price any item in any way they want. When using eBay, always look at “sold listings” and the seller’s feedback. If you are unhappy with the price, there may be a “make an offer” option. If there isn’t, it may be best to wait for the next auction to appear.
Sellers Can Become Your Friends and May Help You in the Future
I’ve had many successes with Facebook Marketplace. Recently, I was browsing and came across an original 1999 Charizard Plush with tags. I wanted it, so I immediately contacted the seller. Was it still available? He had just listed it, but it’s Charizard, and they go fast. His name is Trystan, known as youngninja96 on Gemr.
I was in luck! Trystan still had the Charizard and was okay with shipping it across the state for me. I let him know that Sean and I are looking for vintage Pokémon items, and he appeared back with that coveted Pokémon Tamagotchi. Trystan and I have now become friends, and he shows me anything Pokémon related that he’s selling. He is someone that I am comfortable paying his asking price as he is very fair and friendly.
Craigslist is where Sean and I found that 6,500 Pokémon card collection that we bought back in March. I asked the seller if he’d take $25 off the price and then I changed my mind. I ended up texting him to not worry about it, I’ll pay full price for the collection if Sean and I were happy with what we found. We were delighted and indeed did pay full price. The seller knows to contact us if they have anything in the future to sell.
Recently on eBay, I won an auction for a birthday present for Sean. I waited and waited for it to be shipped, and nothing happened. Eventually I emailed the seller a friendly note asking if everything was okay as they had 100% feedback. I wasn’t worried about being swindled. It turned out that the seller had a snafu and couldn’t ship right away. I let them know that I understand that life happens and that it’s okay as Sean’s birthday is in June, so we had time. The present arrived with a surprise – two presents for the price of one! I sent the seller a grateful email and made another friend.
It pays to be friendly and understanding with sellers, no matter which avenue you’re taking. I made a friend with Trystan, who I have complete trust in as a seller and in the quality of his items. The 6,500 seller knows to contact us if they have anything else to sell. I will buy from the eBay seller again as they worked with me and were friendly and understanding.
Your Reputation as a Buyer Matters.
You want sellers to know you as easy to work with, as well as someone they’d want to work with again in the future. I let everyone know that I am always looking for Buizel as he’s not an easy Pokémon to find in something that I don’t have already (but it’s out there). You never know what people will come across and they may remember you and what you are looking for!