Ethically, if you find something of great value at a garage sale, should you inform the seller or quietly pay and take the item?

I would tend to agree with this.

We always insert a “b” and call them garbage (garbahzh, rhymes with garage) sales. I anticipate things will be stained, broken, knockoffs, incomplete sets, etc. if I shop at one. There aren’t many things I would recognize as being super valuable. If it seems to be too good to be true (like the guy selling Rolexes for 20 euro when I was in Italy) it probably is, and greed makes people do stupid things. Caveat emptor.

But also caveat venditor. I used to watch “Pawn Stars.” A lot of people looking to sell things seem to have the wrong idea…

If someone brings in a valuable item—say, Abraham Lincoln’s cufflinks—they need to be able to prove that’s what they are. Supposing the Pawn Star’s expert confirms it, there’s a value. If that value is $5,000, some sellers think they should get that amount.

Uh no, the Pawn Star people aren’t going to pay that because they have to make money too. They’ll give the seller a fraction of it and the rest will be their profit. And the pawn guys know they may wait awhile for a buyer, so it takes up shelf space until then, and their money is tied up in it. Plus they have to insure their stuff. Hopefully the item will continue to grow in value if it takes some time.

If the seller wants full value, they can sell it themselves…promote it, prove it is what it is, go find a buyer, etc. That takes some smarts, work, and time.

My mom LOVES garage sales ( a trait she passed to me). She was once at a garage sale when, among a bunch of cheap costume jewelry, she found a small gold pendant with a real diamond and a real opal. It was priced at one dollar. Mom went to tell the woman who was selling it. The woman interrupted her “It’s a dollar! Either buy it or put it back!”. So mom bought it for a dollar.

Personally, as a sometime antique and collectable dealer I’ve ripped off a bunch of people. I often relate how I bought a KISS trashcan for $1 and sold it for $125. I’m not sure at what value and under what circumstances I’d feel I have to tell the seller they had something really valuable.

Here is a recent real-life story. Person bought a small bowl for $35 at a yard sale near New Haven. Turns out to be a fifteenth century Ming piece and sold at auction for over $700,000.

What interests me is that even at the yard sale, it sold for $35. That seems like a lot for something that could be a modern reproduction worth fifty cents; it looks like something you’d have your cornflakes in. So perhaps the seller recognized something of its value?

It’s not even a month ago that this picture by David Bowie, bought for a fiver at a garage sale, was sold at auction for 108,120.00 US-dollar. Still regret not having bid (but aution in Canada, customs duties, transport, insurance… too much hassle. But a pity nonetheless). Read about the seller finding the picture at a garage sale, never heard about sharing the 108,120.00 afterwards.
Anyway, a million dollar is no longer what it used to be. And strange things happen here when you use the symbol “$” more than once in plain text. At least in the preview.

I’m guessing that if you came back with an extra 10 thou, it wouldn’t be reflected in the books. Provided it’s cash, of course.

Maybe, but - how could they win? IANAL but that seems like a legal slam-dunk victory for the buyer.

I have spoken up at garage sales. Hey this item is really worth $100 and not $30. But that sometimes backfires and they suddenly want $150. I just walked away.

I’d have to think :thinking: about it today. I probably would pay the $30. People should check eBay before setting prices.

I wouldn’t pay a $100 for a $4,000 item. I couldn’t sleep afterwards.

There’s a difference in a great deal and taking advantage of somebody.

I feel no ethical obligation. They’re selling it. They should do their own research. Not my problem and, no, I’m not splitting the money should I see it because people can be assholes and there’s myriad ways that could backfire. (This is assuming someone of sound mind is selling the item, of course.)

My mother is an antique dealer. She makes a living by knowing what something is worth and buying it from people who do not. This is how the entire antique industry works. Someone has something from grandma’s attic that is junk that a collector would pay handsomely for to complete a set. It is the dealer in the middle who can connect the dots and make things happen.

My mom knows another dealer in her area who sold a cheap painting to a guy who took it home, removed the painting from the frame, and found an original copy of the Declaration of Independence which was later auctioned for $2.42 million. There was some unreported, and I must add unconfirmed, contention about just how the buyer actually acquired the painting. The New York Times reported, “Mr. Redden said the unidentified owner bought the painting […] for its gilded and ornately carved frame. He told Mr. Redden that he discarded the painting, which he disliked. When he realized the frame was crudely made and unsalvageable, he said he got rid of it also.” So he bought a painting he did not like in a frame that was unusable. Even at $4.00 one wonders why he would bother. The dealer claimed he was going through items she had not put out for sale and thinks he inspected the painting and covertly found the document, then offered to buy it from her. I don’t know what actually happened.

Frankly, a lot of it will also come down to whether I like the seller or not. If the seller is nice or just average/ordinary, I’ll share the wealth with them. If he/she is a jerk, no.

May or may not be ethical, but it’s what would happen.

I can’t help but think that, if this were a TV show, Guy #2 would’ve then pressed his business card into the seller’s hand and begged him to call for a hundred-thousand-dollar payoff if the sale fell through — in hopes that, when Guy #1 ambled back over with a dopey look on his face, the perspiring seller would quickly offer Guy #1 ten thousand and then twenty thousand just to buy back his own table.

(Followed, of course, by Guy #2 never actually swinging by to make the agreed-upon purchase, since he and his business partner have simply split the money.)

I don’t think you’re making the point you think you are. Just because it’s how something has always been done doesn’t make it right.

And even within a strictly capitalist framework, there’s a world if difference between making a profit (even an extremely handsome one) because you are providing a service by uniting a seller and a collector; and making a lotto sized windfall based on insider knowledge and keeping the seller intentionally in the dark. There are laws against investment trading based on inside knowledge, and against profiteering over captive or vulnerable consumers. Why should a garage sale be any different.

Arguments based on " well, the seller should’ve done their research" or “it’s not my responsibility to educate anyone else” is just justification for theft. It’s no different than if I just go into your house and take the undervalued article in question. How do you think me saying “you should’ve done more research on how to protect your possessions” or “it’s not my job to point out the flaws in your home security to prevent me from entering and taking whatever I want” would go over in court?

A take on the old violin scam. I like it.

Comparing a knowledge mismatch to theft is ridiculous. In the specific case of the OP’s question, if you want to share your profit with the original owner, you’ve earned your halo. But in general, commerce works by a willing seller and a willing buyer negotiating a mutually agreeable price. And a buyer and seller rarely have all the same information. If you see an item at Walmart that is priced at $9 and you just saw it at Target for $19, are you going to buy it at Walmart then pull out an extra $10 and just hand it to them?

And I’m saying that if (as per the op) you know that an item is ridiculously undervalued and you don’t share that information ahead of time, then you’ve stolen that profit and even if you share some of your ill-gotten gain with the seller afterwards, it’s just a misguided attempt to assuage your conscience but in no way relieves your guilt.

If you want to make money off of the seller’s ignorance; you can offer to act a an intermediary (for a sizable fee, no doubt) but, the windfall profit is theirs to decide how to split it with you. Not yours to decide how to split it with them.

That is not the same thing at all. It’s not “theft” to purchase something at the price someone is willingly offering, even if it is undervalued. People sell things below market value for all sorts of reasons all the time.

Also, I think the chances of someone having an old Picasso or issue #1 of Action Comics lying around their basement to be sold at a yard sale is vanishingly small.

That’s not the scenario in the op.
You can make up whatever story you like, but the op did ask about that “unknown Picasso.”

not a big garage sale fan, but as as understand it, most people are having a garage sale to declutter/get rid of unused items (outgrown baby/kid products). I’ve known people who held garage sales & whatever didn’t sell was at the curb on the next trash collection day.

I’ve also heard of the scenario of wife finds out he’s cheating; sells off his expensive collection of ___ for pennies on the dollar at a garage sale when he goes away some weekend as a form of revenge.

I also know people who sell on ebay & can look at something in their genre & say that’s worth $x; I’m not one of those people.

IOW, I’m not interviewing the seller to get their life story, I’m there to browse & possibly make an offer on something I might want. I’ll take it for the offered price & go on w/ my life. If I can resell if for more than I paid for it - windfall!

Re The Law

Caveat Lector- Let the seller beware. I cannot remember all the details of the case. A man saw a painting. He offered the owners a few thousand for it. They accepted. He turned around and resold it for about $700,000. The orginal owners sued. The court found that he had offered. They had accepted. The sale was legal and final.

I’m open to debating the morality of this kind of thing. But legally, the precedent has been set.