As a dealer of secondhand merchandise, I always deal fairly and honestly with my customers. If something has a defect or doesn't work right, I let them know. Not all secondhand sellers are as scrupulous as I am, though, and the buyer needs to beware when they are buying secondhand goods from a merchant, flea market, thrift shop, or just out of the classified ads. You need to use careful judgement and skill as a consumer to avoid getting ripped off, or at least spending more on a used item than it's worth. Here are some factors to consider when you are thinking about buying secondhand merchandise:
Is This Something You Need or Can Use?
We all love a bargain, but avoid buying a secondhand item just because the price seems right. Control your urge to buy it if you don't really need it. It's not a bargain if you don't use it.
If It's Not In Usable Condition, Is It Worth Fixing Up?
Most secondhand stuff shows signs of use and wear, and sometimes just a stitch or two will make clothing wearable, or a good cleaning may prove that a piece of furniture doesn't really need totally refinished. But if you take that dress with the torn seam home, are you really going to bother to sew it, or do you just think you will? If it just lays around the sewing room waiting to be repaired, you've wasted your money. Consider the additional costs you may incur to make the item usable, such as alterations, repairs, refinishing, or transportation. Is it going to be worth the expense?
Know Brand Names and Their Reputation For Quality
A secondhand refrigerator that is a brand well-known for quality and long service may outlast that new, cheaper brand of refrigerator you're thinking about buying. If you don't mind a few dents and scratches (if you have kids, they look that way eventually anyway) the high-quality secondhand appliance may be the better value.
Make a Counter Offer
Don't settle on the first price you are quoted by the seller, and don't be shy about haggling with them. This is a secondhand item they probably just want to get rid of. You might get a sob story about how they are only selling this beloved antique because they really need the money. Well, maybe they do, but that doesn't mean you have to go soft on them. Make at least one counter-offer, and hope the twain shall meet in the middle. If they stick to their price, then you can decide whether or not you want to pay that amount, or look elsewhere.
Deliberate on Major Investments
When it comes to buying secondhand cars, appliances, or other high-priced (when new) items, take time to get all the facts. Don't fall for lines like "this car was only driven to church on Sunday by my dear, sweet grandmother." It could have been, but how do you know that for sure? Before making any sort of agreement with the seller, get model numbers and check to see if that item was ever subject to recall. Ask about any repairs that have ever been made, or problems the owner may have experienced with the item. They may not give you all the straight facts, but by asking questions, you are letting the seller know you are a savvy consumer who isn't going to put up with get ripped off. If the seller doesn't appear to want to be straightforward with you, don't do business with them.
Where To Find Secondhand Merchandise
Thrift shops, consignment stores, and vintage clothing stores are popping up everywhere. But your best buys will probably be from individuals or families who have owned, used, and loved the item. There are a lot of other ways to find good used merchandise, too:
Radio station "swap shops"
Free weekly shopper newspapers
Newspaper classified ads
Auctions: estate, consignment, community, self-storage facilities
Online auction sites
Supermarket, laundry, or workplace community bulletin boards
Now, get out there and find those bargains!