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Selling Your Stuff? Don’t Fall for These 5 Negotiating Tricks



People shopping at a garage or yard sale
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You can almost smell it in the air. Selling season is here. This time of year, people start to liquidate piles of stuff that have accumulated in their basements, garages and storage spaces.

Selling season means negotiating season. After nearly three decades of buying and selling vintage goods, I’ve seen every bargaining strategy in the book — some innocent, some insidious.

If you’ll be selling at a yard sale, estate sale or in person through Facebook Marketplace, take a minute to brush up on the latest methods of deceptive dickering. Don’t fall for these negotiating tricks.

1. Feigning disappointment

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It’s inevitable. In spite of your detailed item description and clear photos, some buyers will arrive and act surprised and slightly disappointed.

Listen for reactions like, “Oh, it looked much larger (or smaller, or newer) in the photos.” Or, “I just don’t think that color will work in my space.”

These statements are usually followed by a low-ball offer that starts, “I guess I could take it off your hands for …”

Sure, some shoppers may be authentically disappointed at times. But, as a negotiating trick, feigning disappointment can be an effective way to turn confident sellers into apologetic deal-makers.

My advice? If you know the value of what you’re selling, don’t be fooled by psychological games.

2. Sticker shock

Man upset by high prices
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Sticker shock negotiators know just the right level of theatrics to deliver without tipping their hand. They may appear confused when looking at the price of an item, as if the tag can’t possibly be accurate.

Turning to you for clarification, they may mix in a little indignation or even pity (you, dear seller, are hopelessly misinformed about your item’s value).

Ignore sticker shock. Or counter with information:

3. False competition

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You know that your barely used John Deere riding lawn mower is a smokin’ hot deal. But then, a buyer points out that there’s one for sale across town for $100 less.

This well-worn negotiating tactic — suggesting that a similar item is available nearby for a lower price — is yet another attempt meant to throw sellers off.

Don’t get pulled into a price war with a ghost. If there was a better deal somewhere else, the buyer wouldn’t be wasting time with you.

4. Inexact cash

Man with cash in his pocket
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Some buyers try to get a back-end discount by coming with cash in large denominations, and no change. It’s another effort to get a discount.

Imagine, for example, that you have a vintage bicycle for sale on Facebook Marketplace. You and the buyer have agreed on a price of $175. But the buyer arrives with only four $50 bills.

This tactic assumes three things:

  • The seller isn’t likely to have change.
  • The seller would never raise the price of the bike to accommodate the denominations available.
  • To avoid awkwardness and inconvenience, the seller may lower the price from $175 to $150.

Don’t fall for it. Have small denominations available for just such occasions. Or turn to a mobile payment service, like Venmo. Or embrace the awkwardness and wait while the buyer makes an ATM run.

5. Quick double-count

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The quick double-count is less a negotiating trick and more of an outright hustle. I include it because, when performed successfully, buyers walk away with a hefty discount.

Here’s how it works:

  1. You and a buyer agree on a sale price. Let’s say $100.
  2. With a stack of $20 bills ready, the buyer begins counting aloud quickly, “20, 40, 60,” and so on. But — and this is important — he keeps the cash in his hand.
  3. In the process of counting, and without skipping a beat, the buyer counts one of the twenties twice, perhaps even running his fingers across one bill twice, for the sound effect.
  4. He then hands the stack of just four twenties to the buyer and leaves with the item.

This hustle relies on two assumptions: first, that sellers are usually distracted, especially when there are multiple buyers milling around (think busy estate sales); second, that the seller won’t recount the cash for fear of offending the buyer.

Unfortunately, I’ve been on the receiving end of this trick. It worked flawlessly. You can learn from my mistake: Always recount the cash yourself.

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