Sunday, July 13, 2008


Just in time to coincide with the world's longest yard sale -- this year it runs from Aug. 7 to Aug. 10 and stretches from Gadsden, Ala., to Defiance, Ohio -- we have reader responses to a recent "Sound Off" question about yard-sale pricing.

The results of an unscientific poll on my column's blog have 43 percent of my readers voting that you should tell the owners if items offered at a yard sale are worth far more than they're charging, while 57 percent disagree, arguing that all's fair when it comes to getting a good deal.

"Ethics have no place at a yard sale!," writes Charlie Seng of Lancaster, S.C. "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 about valuable items that they are mistakenly or foolishly selling at bargain prices."

Bill of Somerville, Mass., works in an antiquarian bookstore.

"It is not uncommon for another dealer to buy something from us, turn around and sell it for much more," he says.

Recently, he adds, a dealer from the United Kingdom purchased a book for $100 and then pointed out that the book included an old map of California that was alone worth at least $1,000. All the same, Bill writes, the bookstore is ethically obligated to offer customers a fair price for any book they bring in to sell, which is generally 50 percent of the sale price in trade or 30 percent in cash.

Check out other opinions here, or post your own or post your own by clicking on "comments" or "post a comment" below.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, 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)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Several years ago I bought a very nice (and valuable) scientific instrument from a retired sailor who ran a little business in the corner of his wife's flower shop. I pointed out the value of the device and he said he knew it. He said that his price was set based on how much he had paid for it (plus cost of parts and labor for his fixing it up).

He explained his approach to me as one where he could continue to run a little part time business and not have it run away with him by causing him to start to worry about "making deals". Sensible.

I actually ran across a restaurant owner some years ago with the same attitude. He had a wine cellar that went back to the early 30s and he sold wines -- only to be consumed onsite with meals -- at a 100% markup of the price he'd paid for them. Not all his wines were on the regular wine list, and I came to find out about it by getting to know him. Then I got to enjoy several meals where I paid $30 or so for a bottle of wine that had a current value in the hundreds. Quite an experience.