The Best Price is Never the Best Price

Here are a few things you should never say when attempting to talk an antique dealer down in price: “What is the lowest price you will take for this piece of junk,” “Give me a good price and I will send lots of business your way,” “This has been in your shop for a long time are you ready to get realistic about the price,” “How about ten dollars for this. That’s more than it’s worth,” and when I took a poll of antique dealers the most disliked phrase was, “I’ll give yah.”

Another suggestion, do not start pointing out defects in the piece. These observations fall into two categories. The first being the obvious defects that the dealer will be well aware of and assumedly has already factored into the price. To point out obvious defects suggests that the dealer is either incompetent or trying to sell something damaged and hoping the buyer won’t notice.

“This table is missing a leg what are you willing to take off the price for the missing leg,” asks the man wearing a deerstalker cap and smoking a Meerschaum.

“Well sir, I’m so glad you pointed this out. It completely got by me. Perhaps that is why my cup keeps slipping to the floor. Well under the circumstances, the two dollars on the tag is clearly inappropriate. How about, I give you fifty cents to take it away.”

The second category of defect are those that are not really defects but things about the piece that only the potential buyer considers defects. “I prefer blue, red and I have never gotten along, what can you do on the price, considering I have to change the color?”

“Well Madam, I sympathize with your concern and I certainly see how it might be a problem for you considering that fire engines by enlarge tend to be red. However, given your preference I think we can work something out.”

I recently experienced one of the clumsiest attempts at negotiation ever. A couple came into my shop on a busy Saturday. As I dealt with other customers, the wife called me over several times and by way of asking the price asked, “What is the very lowest you will take for this,” every time. I noticed she never looked at the price tag before asking, giving the impression that she thought the prices on the tags were merely suggested donations. This reminded me of a sign I once saw in a shop that read, “Just because I have something marked $100 does not mean I will take $50 because I never really expected to get more than $25 for it.”

Finally, she asked the “very lowest price” on a set of three sconces marked $1850. I came back with $1600 roughly fifteen percent. She asked if I would send a photo of them to her email. I reluctantly said yes knowing that ninety-nine percent of the people who ask for photos never buy.

Two days after sending the photos, I receive this email:

“We still love them -- but only at half the price. Let us know if you decide to reduce. Thanks.”

Most of the dealers I know would consider this offer at best unrealistic, at worst rude.

I sent this email: “If you are serious about purchasing something, please feel free to make a reasonable offer.”

Perhaps a little pointed but her approach was annoying.

This email arrived from her: “I was quite serious when offering half of what you quoted. My husband and I both think the quote was extremely high. At half, the price would still be above reasonable. We own a significant collection of antique lighting fixtures so are familiar with prices. Please let us know if you should decide to reduce the price.”

I am sure that most people know that the best way to talk someone down is not to be rude and the majority of people I have dealt with are polite. I should also say that with a different approach this woman could have talked me down. Half was out of the question, but I would have come down another twenty percent if she offered it.

There are several commonly used phrases, which are good openers to negotiation, all though most people don’t go beyond them. These are questions such as, “Is that your best price?” and all its variations, “What is the lowest you will take?”, “Can you do any better?”, and my favorite, “Is that the best you can do?” In response to this question, I am always tempted to quote a higher price as more money would be the best I could do. “Oh, I’m sorry; you meant the best for you.”

The above are questions that most dealers do not take very seriously as there is little incentive to give the lowest price since, in most cases, the dealer can tell if the person is really committed to buy.

When the customer asks, “Is that your lowest price?” the dealer will probably take off around ten percent. The next step is for you to make an offer. This tells the dealer that you are prepared to buy and that if they want the item to go away, there is an amount of money that will achieve this. The offer has to be in line with the new quote and original price anything greater than a twenty- five percent reduction is pushing it, particularly if the first reduction given by the dealer is greater than ten percent. Apologizing for a low offer or asking permission to make one, shows respect and goes a long way to softening the blow.

This would sound something like, “Thank you for the discount. The desk is very beautiful, but, if you don’t mind me making an offer, the most I can afford is”

Once you have made your offer, be prepared for the dealer to come back with a price at the midpoint between your offer and his. This is a typical. An example would be the object is $500, the dealer discounts it to $450, you offer $350, and the dealer magnanimously offers to split the difference and sell it for $400. Think about what you will do if that is the answer. You may have picked an offer precisely expecting to pay the midpoint, in which case you have won your objective and buy the piece. You can counter offer with another midpoint offer, which in the above example would be $375. This may or may not be accepted. Whatever you do; it is rarely a good tactic to stick to your offer, it appears arrogant, the dealer is being flexible you should be as well. If you make an offer, always be prepared to pay a bit more. If you decide to stick to you offer, once again, do it apologetically. “Thank you very much I can see you are trying to work with me but that is really the most I can pay.”

You can sweeten the deal with, “How about if I offer to pay you in cash?” Cash is king and for some dealers will go a long way to getting them to accept your offer. By cash, I mean greenbacks. In this age of credit cards, a check is sometimes considered cash, but not in the antiques business. If you negotiate a good price, you should pay with check anyway, as a credit card has fees attached to it. A check will save the dealer money and is a nice thing to do.

To improve your chances of getting a better price there are other things you can do. If possible, put several things into a lot and negotiate them together. If you are lucky, there will be something in the lot the dealer is dying to be rid of and they can transfer most of the discount to it. Do not however start taking things out and putting other things in, creating several different versions of the deal and asking a price on each one. This is annoying.

To sum it up, be respectful, ask the lowest price, make an offer, budge some, and offer cash.

Finally, and this is a huge no-no, never make an offer and then back out. When you make an offer, it is a verbal contract and the assumption is that you will honor it. To those who have made an offer that was accepted and then said, “I will think about it and get back to you,” I hope all your beneficiaries put your antiques on the sidewalk with a sign saying, “Please take away this junk.”

There you have it, so go-forth dear buyer and seek your best deal.

By Christopher Osborne

Ruby Lane Shop: City Lights