A Quick Note: This is an article I was asked to write for Station Guitars. It was first published about a year ago.
Recently I made the move to Los Angeles. For years the band has known that L.A. was the next step, but it’s a daunting one. And though it has been filled with creative opportunities, it has been rough financially. I haven’t yet resorted to shooting and eating the neighborhood squirrels, but I have had to sell off some extra gear. An SG, a rare circuit BlackFace Bassman, and a rare Orange – basically, I was attempting to start my own music store, except that I didn’t intend to let any of it go. But in my limited experience, I’d say that if there is one thing that L.A. does well, it’s separate the wheat from the chaff. My comfortable life had to go, and along with it, my extra amps and guitars that I used that one time in the studio.
In all this emergency gear selling, I decided to write about something I’ve been thinking for a while: not many people know how to negotiate. I [was] an admin for GearTalk: Classifieds, which means I babysit 12k+ members and their transactions every day. Luckily for me, most of these go smooth enough that I don’t hear about them. What I do hear about most often is how offended someone is that they received a “lowball” offer; or on the other end how unreasonable the seller is. Selling gear shouldn’t be a painful process. No matter how much I love my ‘65 Bassman, it’s for sale. I have decided that I need the cash more than I need the amp. Necessity or not, you should be happy when you make a sale, and the buyer should be happy when they make a purchase. The two of you need to come to an agreement, and it shouldn’t be painful for either party.
First things first. You are no longer allowed to be offended at lowball offers. Lowball offers are the first pitch of the game. It works like this: Seller starts high, Buyer starts low. You negotiate your way to the middle. Counter every offer. If your item is worth $1200, listed at $1400, and you receive an offer of $600, you respond with a small price drop and a list of positive attributes explaining why your item is worth what it’s worth. The buyer in turn should counter by raising his or her offer. If you are both honest about what you can do, you should be able to reach a mutually beneficial agreement. If you get offended and run off everyone who offers half what you are looking for, I guarantee that you are missing sales.
Secondly, used gear is not worth what it was when it was new. Some pieces appreciate; most do not. Your gear is only worth what it will sell for. A good way to determine a selling price is to watch what others are selling the same item for. Notice I didn’t say what others are listing their items for. Start your listing high and expect low offers. I try to stay flexible on my prices, but I keep in mind the cost of shipping and PayPal, as well as how much I have invested in the gear I’m selling. I work very hard to buy gear at a good price. I usually can at least sell a piece of gear for what I have in it. With my Bassman, I managed to get to $850 more than I had invested, as it had appreciated in value. But I had to work for that price, since most potential buyers wanted to pay what Bassman amps were going for two or three years ago. However, this isn’t always the case. You have be honest with yourself. The price you paid for an item has no effect on its current value. In the case of my Orange 40th Anniversary OR50, I had $1700 in it total. Good price for a rare amp… but Orange had since decided to release a production model. Bad news for me. Mine was a better-built amp, but really I doubt it sounded hundreds of dollars better than buying a brand new OR50 – and apparently, neither did potential buyers. I was offered considerably less than what I had originally paid. I knew I was going to have to take a loss, but I didn’t have to give my amp away. While negotiating with potential buyers, I was upfront about what the amp normally would cost, what I had in it, and what I felt was a fair price. Being willing to take a loss became my best bargaining chip, and I negotiated a deal that was several hundred dollars more than what I was afraid I would have to settle for.
I spent a lot of time with my grandfather growing up, and one of the things I learned was that buying a car was a process. My grandfather developed friendships with the salesmen and their bosses at the “Chevy house”. Every few years he bought a new pickup. He ordered it from the factory and selected exactly what he wanted. In general, this isn’t the wisest way to spend your money or even go about buying a vehicle, but it was important to him to have a nice truck. And he made money on everyone of those trucks when he sold them, so I can’t judge him too harshly for it. He knew the salesmen by their names; he knew about their families, and he understood how their jobs worked. In turn, they were inclined to offer him the best prices they could. My grandfather was good for a new truck every few years. That meant that if no one got greedy, everyone got what they wanted. The dealership sold a vehicle, the salesman made a commission, and my grandfather got a good deal on a new truck. As long as my grandfather drew breath and got a decent deal, he was going to go back to that same dealership to buy another pickup. Everyone was happy. Here is what I learned, and how I apply it to buying and selling gear.
Do Your Research
Before I buy something over a couple hundred bucks, new or used, I know everything about it:
What the dealer paid wholesale
What it is going for at every dealer I can buy it from
What the used price range is
In most cases the dealer gets a wholesale price. The manufacturer has a minimum price they will allow the dealer to sell that item for. Markup is where dealers make their money. I’m ok with the dealer making money, but I’m not ok with the dealer making all of his money off of me. Between cell phones and the internet, you can know exactly how much that three grand boutique amp is actually going for at every single store that sells it, and what is your negotiated price for that amp delivered to your door – if you’ll just put in the time.
Don’t Speak First
As a buyer, I never make the first offer. The seller has to be the first one to throw out a number. He might be willing to let it go for less than I was willing to pay. In general, probably not, but at least it gives you an idea of what it’s going to take to complete the purchase.
Don’t Talk About Money
Talk about everything but the money. On the buyer’s side, it’s important to remember that the price is usually based on the seller’s emotion, or other outside factors that aren’t related to set-in-stone actual value. In both cases, selling or buying, it’s important to look at the other party as a friend and not an adversary. Learn a little about them – why they bought the item, why they are selling, and what that money is going towards. Usually, if you can spend as much time as possible talking about something other than the price of the item, you’re more likely to get the item for the price you want. And as a seller, if you develop a rapport with the other party and skip the angrily tossing numbers at each other part, you can usually find yourself in a position to tell them how much money you actually need out of the item. You’ll be amazed to find that after the defenses come down, people will pay a fair price, especially if you have shown a willingness to work with them a bit.
Lastly, if you don’t like what you are being offered, let the other guy stew a bit. People hate awkward silence, and a seller who needs to move his item will start dropping the price to keep you on the line.
The only other thing to mention about negotiating is be willing to walk away. I won’t say much about that here because this article is more about working with another person to achieve a mutually beneficial agreement. I feel like you can hack turning down a bad deal without my advice.
Well, that’s it, boys and girls. Now you know all my secrets, so go out there and treat each other decently. Pack your items well, ship promptly, and enjoy your new gear and/or rent money.
Wade Burden is the guitar player & songwriter for Los Angeles-based band The Born To Kills, He grew up shooting squirrels for dinner and remembers it fondly. You can follow Wade on twitter & Instagram @Beardtone The Born to Kills are on Facebook right here.
What are your tips for selling gear? Leave a note in the comments.