Garage Sale Gaming

With the weather warming up, a new world of used games awaits.

By Joshua A. Johnston. Posted 04/18/2014 12:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

Wario bathing in treasure

Some seven years ago, in my earliest days writing for the Dojo, I wrote about my then-recent discovery of the bountiful lands of garage sales. For the uninitiated, garage sales– or yard sales as some call them– are the time-honored practice of dragging your unwanted items out onto your driveway to sell them for a fraction of their purchase price to a wild variety of normal folks. (Garage sales also have close cousins in the forms of flea markets, church sales, and estate sales.) Suburbia is probably host to the most plentiful garage sale pickings, although I’ve also found midsized small towns and urban areas can have offerings if you know where to look.

Many people view garage sales as the domain of kitschy 1960s glassware or used women’s sweat pants, but the truth is that the wares of garage sales can be incredibly diverse. In my years hitting them up I’ve acquired all manner of interesting items: TVs, printers, cables, Wi-Fi routers, DVDs of all kinds, cordless phones, books, and countless other items of varying use. Most of it I got at tremendously cheap prices, like a phenomenal TV antenna that my wife found still in the box for about 10 percent of what it cost new.

I’ve also seen plenty of video games. In the Saturday before I wrote this, for example, I ventured out to perhaps half a dozen garage sales on a pleasant April morning. At least half of them had video games. One sale had an eclectic collection of old games, ranging from some SNES and Game Boy titles to a few PlayStation 2 and Xbox offerings. (Oh, Knights of the Old Republic, how good it was to see you again.) Another sale had a Guitar Hero set and game for PS2, something I see fairly often at yard sales. The most interesting find of the morning, however, was a sale serving up fifteen or so games of the PS3, DS, and Wii variety, including nearly the entire Assassin’s Creed franchise. They also were selling the DS version of Deal or No Deal, whose counterpart on Game Boy Advance got the full review broadside from me many years ago.

Should you decide to explore this brave world, here are some tips to optimize your experience:

Scout ahead. Many sellers advertise their sales on Craigslist or in the local newspaper, and some will even be specific about what will be on the menu. Craigslist is particularly popular, and the site has recently improved its garage sale search experience to make it easier to select a day and then find exactly what you want in your area. Searches for things like “games,” “video games,” and “tech” or “technology” are good places to start, although do not automatically dismiss sales that don’t mention these in their listings; if a sale is along your reconnaissance path, drop by just to be sure.

Be willing to be a (first thing in the) morning person. Garage sales always contain an element of uncertainty. Sales that advertise the world can turn out to be more disappointing than Nintendo’s 2014 earnings outlook. Sales that barely look passable can reveal hidden gems buried in the bottom of a box of cheap trinkets. That makes the decision of whether or not to get out early to the sales a tricky one, because one can come away empty-handed for the hassle. That said, sales that advertise games can get hit quickly, and those that don’t will usually get pilfered eventually, so if you’re serious about scouting out the goods, especially the advertised ones, getting out earlier rather than later is worth considering.

Beware of trash. I mean this on a couple of levels. One, be sure to check discs to make sure they are in working order; don’t get so excited about a game that you buy something that won’t play because the kid of the seller’s house doesn’t know how to handle a Wii game properly. Two, ask yourself if you really want this game. I myself have fallen trap to getting games I never play. If you never cared (or maybe even heard about) about a game before you saw it listed for $5 on someone’s driveway, there might be a good reason.

Haggle when appropriate. Sellers are highly variable in their level of understanding of the market value of video games. I’ve seen some sellers who have a pretty sharp knowledge of what they’re selling, but a fair number do not. In some cases, for example, people who are otherwise experts on Christmas ornaments think that a copy of Madden 2004 for GameCube is worth $25. In those situations, you will have to decide whether to negotiate a price. Now, yard sale etiquette generally discourages offering less than half of the list price for an item. You certainly can if you want– it’s a free country, after all– but it can come off as rude and is not always worth the hassle. If I see something that’s flagrantly overpriced I usually just leave it where I found it.

Let’s say, though, that you see a relatively recent game for $10 and you think it might be interesting but it is also a bit on the high side for your tastes. What then? The most effective tactic, in my experience is to do the following:

  1. Determine ahead of time what you will pay. This may be higher than you will offer, of course, but will guide your next few minutes. If you are so equipped, it’s not always a bad idea to jump on eBay to see what the game goes for in the open market; on a couple of occasions I’ve discovered that what I was planning to offer was actually higher than I could get online.
  2. Approach the person with the game in hand as well as, if at all possible, the exact amount of cash you would like to pay. For example, if I saw a game marked for $10 that I wanted to buy for $5, I would make sure that five dollar bill was in my hand and clearly visible when I made my pitch. Trust me, this part can be your best ally in scoring your game at the price you want.
  3. Hold the game out with the money and in your best I’m-here-to-achieve-world-peace-voice, ask, “Would you be willing to take ___ dollars for this?”

How they respond at this point depends on a variety of factors, including their temperament and the time of day. (Sellers can get more desperate later in the day to sell, although, as said earlier, later can also reduce the chances of finding stuff.) At this point they may say “yes,” “no,” or make a counteroffer. “Yes” can be a magical moment. Sometimes, though, I’ve received a firm “no” and it was clear from their demeanor they had no interest in negotiating, and I simply thanked them and left. Other times we haggled a bit before settling on a mutually agreeable price.

One final note: not everyone will agree, but I don’t mind paying fair market value for a game. If they want $10 and I know it goes for $15 or $20 on eBay, I might decide that $10 is fair and simply shell out the cash without hassling them. Also, you may occasionally find people who ridiculously underprice their games. Years ago, for example, I purchased a copy of Pokémon Yellow for GBC for a dime. In those instances, I advise not getting too greedy– simply pay them what they ask and be glad you got it.

Happy garage sailing.

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