Sunday, June 08, 2008


As summer approaches and yard sales pop up around the country, a frequent question from my readers is whether it's OK to take advantage of an unsuspecting seller who is offering what you know to be a valuable item for a fraction of its true worth.

I've previously written about specific instances of yard-sale finds in the column. (See Found Art and Knowing More than You're Telling.) In general, however, do you think it's right to take advantage of a yard-sale seller's ignorance of an item's value? Or should you point out to the sellers that they might want to do some quick research on their Faberge egg before putting it out with the shrimp-cocktail glasses at a nickel apiece?

Post your thoughts here by clicking on "comments" or "post a comment" below. Please include your name, hometown, and state, province, or country. Readers' comments may appear in an upcoming column. Or e-mail your comments to me at

You can also respond to the poll about this question that appears on the right-hand side of the blog.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of The Right Thing, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to or to "The Right Thing," The New York Times Syndicate, 500 Seventh Avenue, 8th floor, New York, NY 10018. Please remember to tell me who you are, where you're from, as well as where you read the column.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)


Anonymous said...

This one is too easy! There is an old saying, "Let The Buyer Beware". Perhaps we could amend that to say "There is no old saying called Let the Seller Beware". When someone has a yard sale, they have the responsibility of knowing the value of their sale items. It is not incumbent on the buyers who happen along to alert the seller as to valuable items they are mistakenly or foolishly selling at bargain prices. Yard sales are not places where ethics abound. We have all been to yard sales where a seller has priced items way too high. A seller who has priced items too high would not expect a buyer to advise him or her to put a more realistic price on a particular item. If a buyer thinks a price is too high, he can make a lower counter offer. This is the ultimate in the activity where buyer and seller interact to arrive at a price agreeable to both. Ethics have no place at a yard sale!


Jeffrey L. Seglin said...


Thanks for the comment. Could you tell me who you are and where you're from?

Bookseller Bill said...

I work in an antiquarian bookstore, and it is not uncommon for another dealer to buy something from us, turn around and sell it for much more. As one example, we had a book priced at $100. A dealer from the UK was in our shop, saw it, and bought it, then pointed out that it contained an old map of California which, on its own, was worth at least $1000.

It's not a perfect analogy (it's presumed that we have at least some expertise in pricing old books). But, I think the same principle applies.

What's interesting about the bookstore example is that, if you reverse the situation, the bookstore is ethically obligated to offer a fair price. That is, if a customer brings a book into the store to sell, and I know it's something I could sell for $100, I have to make a fair offer (which would be 50% in trade, or 30% in cash).

Somerville, MA