Buying secondhand is a great option for the thrifty shopper. If you have a thriving online buy-sell community like VarageSale nearby, it can make picking up previously loved furniture, toys, sports equipment, electronics and appliances enticingly easy.
And while buying used items has clear fiscal advantages (who couldn’t use a little more room in their budget?), it carries some caveats that the savvy shopper should be aware of. When purchasing used items from private sellers, consumers don’t have any specific rights under the law. Putting a few common-sense tips into practice can protect you from making a poor decision and ensure that the items you purchase are actually a bargain—and not a bust.
Do your research
Before you even consider buying a gently used item, sit down and determine exactly what you want. Doing a little market research can go a long way, especially if you’re looking to buy a big-ticket item like a major appliance, piece of furniture or high-end sporting equipment. Check out websites like Consumer Reports or Amazon to discover ratings and reviews, and determine which brand and model best suits your needs.
Next, do some price comparisons to hone in on exactly what the item you want is worth. Begin by looking at what it retails for new, then do a little digging online (try poking around in your VarageSale community) to determine the average resale value. When it comes to electronics or appliances, you might discover that it’s cheaper to simply buy refurbished items.
Once you’ve determined exactly what you want, get online and start scouring your local buy-and sell feed. When you come across items that are a good match, review them carefully. Look at pictures closely and read the ad description several times to make sure you’ve caught all the details. It also helps to make notes prior to contacting the seller about any information that wasn’t included in the listing—ensure you have all the info you need to make an informed decision.
Begin by asking about the history of the item, why the seller put it up for sale, how old it is and exactly what’s included. Get a clear idea what condition it’s in and ask about any cosmetic or structural damage. If available, ask the seller to provide the model number. You can then search through the manufacturer’s website and discover exactly how old the item is and usually find reviews about the quality and durability of the product. If you are concerned about inadvertently purchasing stolen goods, this is also a helpful tactic. If the seller seems wary of providing detailed information, it’s a sign you should consider looking elsewhere.
If you intend to haggle with the seller on the price, it’s also advisable to do so during your initial contact via phone, text or email.
And don’t forget that you aren’t alone in your buy-sell experience. Should you have any unanswered questions or concerns about an item or a seller, you can always post in the “Discussion” section to seek the advice of other experienced sellers. If all else fails, you can also also contact your VarageSale admin or community manager for guidance.
Kick the tires
You’ve found the perfect item! You’re alive with the thrill of discovery and excited to have tracked down a great bargain. It’s tempting to simply grab it and run, but resist the urge. You’ll regret it if you get home and find your amazing KitchenAid mixer smells like it has a burnt-out motor, or that beautiful designer ball gown has a huge stain near the hemline that wasn’t shown in the pictures.
Pump the brakes and check out your item before paying and leaving. Open the box, confirm that all the accessories are there and that it’s the model you wanted. If it’s an electronic or appliance, ask to plug it in and ensure it functions. Measure furniture to ensure it’ll fit in your space, then sit and stand and turn over every cushion. Inspect the item with a meticulous eye.
If you find fault, don’t despair. Cosmetic damage is, in some cases, easily repaired. If you think you can still use the item as is (or repair it first), point out the flaw to the seller and ask if they would accept a reduced price for the item. Don’t pull your money out of your pocket until you’re satisfied that the price is fair given the item’s quality.
These are just a few handy tips to aid thrifty shoppers when they’re prowling for a great bargain. Taking these extra steps can help ensure the item you’re eyeing is a true diamond in the rough rather than an overpriced dud.
Have other tips to ensure you’re getting your money’s worth? Share your advice in the comments below.