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How I remembered how to negotiate

My wife found a dining room table she really liked on Craigslist. But the logistics of me picking it up just weren’t good because I’m going to be really busy the next few weeks. If I couldn’t get it done on Sunday the 29th, it wasn’t going to happen.

The deal ended up falling through because I couldn’t get enough cash on a Sunday, and they wouldn’t take $400 in cash and a check for the rest because everyone knows everyone on Craigslist is a scammer (I’m paraphrasing, but he pretty much told me that only scammers use checks). I won’t have time any other day this week, and next weekend I’m taking my boys to a train show (you gotta keep your priorities straight, you know). But as it turned out, it’s probably for the best anyway.
They were asking $775 for the table. She talked them down to $675. It’s similar to tables that places like Pottery Barn sell for $1,200. But digging around on Amazon, she found a number of tables that were also very similar in the $600-$650 range. The advantage to ordering off Amazon is that they’re shipped to your door, rather than you having to haul it, and you’ll have the instructions to put it together, rather than having to figure out how to disassemble it, get it home, and figure out how to put it back together. That matters to some people more than others, but as someone to puts furniture together less than once a year, it matters to me. I can do it, but I’d rather have instructions. And I really like having an 800 number I can call if something’s missing or damaged.

I completely believe that the table in question originally retailed for $1,200. Whether they paid $1,200 or something less is their business. But given that similar tables are available for $600-$700, $675 doesn’t seem like a great price on a 3-year-old table and $775 seems like madness.

I didn’t know any of this on Sunday afternoon. If you want to talk about fair market value for a used computer, I can probably do that off the top of my head, but furniture isn’t something I keep up with. We rushed into it too much, partly because I had other things on my mind, like a 250-question test that will either make or break my career at this point.

This serves as a reminder to me to shop around while in the market, even for used stuff. Especially when I’m out of my league.

And chances are nobody else is going to buy the table, so I fully expect a phone call on Thursday or so, asking if by any chance we’re still interested. In which case, I suppose either my wife or I could counter with what we found on Amazon and try to angle for a lower price. The table isn’t worth $675 to us if we have to rent a truck and haul it. It might be worth $400. $500 would be pushing it since the truck would probably end up costing us $50 by the time we pay for gas and mileage, and getting the truck, loading, hauling, unloading, and returning the truck will eat an entire afternoon. I think I’m willing to spend $600 total to have a new table delivered to my door (or at least to my curb) and not have to deal with that. Save me a hundred, and I’m more willing to sacrifice an afternoon.

There are at least a couple of lessons here. If you’re buying, shop around and don’t let yourself get convinced the best deal you’ll ever see is about to slip away. Once-in-a-lifetime buys are extremely rare, especially on recent-production furniture. Take some time to research the market. And if you’re selling, make it easy for someone to buy. If you’re nervous about taking a check for even part of the payment, have a workable alternative in mind and suggest it without calling the other guy a scammer. Most banks have limits on the amount of money you can withdraw in a day from an ATM, and it’s generally a good sign if someone doesn’t know how to get a few hundred dollars in cash in a hurry on a Sunday.

I don’t have a complete answer for the latter problem. His only suggestion was that I give him a down payment and he’d hold the table until I could get the rest of the cash. But all he was doing there was asking me to trust him when he wasn’t willing to trust me. An attitude like that isn’t conducive to closing a deal.

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