Sunday, March 29, 2015

Yard sale sellers and 'pickers' should both play by the rules

As spring arrives, yard sale season can't be far behind. It's time for some people to clear out their unwanted "stuff" and others to go searching for bargains.

Several years ago, I wrote about my son-in-law finding a classic old fan made by Diehl at a yard sale in Somerville, Mass. He paid the owner 25 cents, took the fan home, cleaned it and fixed the motor. Years later, he sold the fan on eBay for $150.

My son-on-law had no idea what the fan was worth when he bought it; he just liked the look of it and figured a quarter was not too much to spend. Had he known the device was actually worth 600 times what he paid, was he obligated to tell the seller she'd woefully underpriced it?

A similar question arrived in my email this week from D.A., a reader in Ohio: "Occasionally, I come across a story about someone who found a treasure at a garage sale," D.A. writes. "If the person who's put an item up for sale doesn't have a clue as to the actual value, but the buyer knows it at a glance, what's the right thing (for the buyer) to do?"

For D.A., not saying something when you know an item is worth far more than what is being asked constitutes "stealing that treasure." It makes no difference, in his mind, if the seller is a child or adult, destitute or a millionaire.

My stance on yard sales remains the same as it's always been. The seller should try to get as much as possible for all items on sale, and the buyer should try to pay as little as possible. Generally, the seller and buyer meet somewhere in between.

Seasoned yard sale hunters have all sorts of bargain-hunting techniques. Some get to sales early in hopes of having first pick of the best items. Others like to wait until the sale is winding down and the seller might be willing to negotiate on price.

On television shows like American Pickers, buyers occasionally offer a few dollars more for an item than what a seller is asking. However, the responsibility of making sure the seller knows the real value of sale items doesn't fall on the buyer.

With easy access to online auction sites and other databases, it's simple enough for sellers to research what their items might have sold for elsewhere. Those concerned about underpricing should do the research.

If a seller asks a buyer if he or she knows what an item is worth, the buyer shouldn't lie. However, it's not a lie to simply suggest a price.

When it comes to yard sales, the right thing is to play by the rules. Sellers should try to get as much as they can, but price their merchandise well if their true objective is to sell everything. And buyers should go looking with a clear conscience for the best bargains they can find. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Crash test: Does driver deserve reimbursement for rental car costs?

"Thank goodness no one was hurt," was the first thing a reader said after reporting that her car was one of four vehicles hit by an oil truck earlier this month.

She learned of the accident after leaving work in the evening to walk to her car, parked on a city street. The car was gone. When she returning to the office, a receptionist told her about the accident. There were plenty of witnesses, so there was no question about who was at fault. No one was in any of the four cars when the oil truck slammed into them, causing varying levels of damage.

Instead of heading home, the reader walked to the closest police precinct to see where her car had been towed. Since it was after hours, she couldn't call her insurance company or local body shop until the following day. Police told her where her car had been taken, but their report wasn't ready yet, so she had to return for it the next day.

Because the reader's car had been hit by another insured vehicle, that vehicle's owner would be responsible for covering all the damage. Her insurance agent and body shop worker helped the reader figure out how to get the car from the tow lot to the body shop so it could be assessed and repaired. The body owner helped her arrange for a rental car.

The reader's insurance company agreed to cover up to $25 a day for a rental car. The rental company indicated this was adequate, but the reader later learned that the coverage would fall short by about $3 a day. Since her damaged car would be out of commission for 2-3 weeks, she would end paying between $50 and $75 out of pocket for the rental.

This was not a bad price for a rental car for that long, the reader figured, but then wondered why she should have to pay anything, given that the accident was not her fault. The oil truck company will be responsible for damage it caused, and because the reader wasn't at fault, she wouldn't have to pay the deductible on her insurance policy.

So what is the right thing to do? Should the reader let things lie, or see if the oil truck company will make up the difference on the cost of her rental car?

The right thing to do is first check with the rental car company to see if it will give her a break on the cost of the rental car, so she won't be out of pocket. The rental car company wasn't responsible for the accident, either, however, so it's reasonable to suspect it will hold to its price.

If there is a shortfall, the reader might not have any legal recourse after her insurance company and the oil truck company's insurance company settle on the cost of the repairs. But if she's out of pocket any cash at all, the right thing would be for the oil truck company to reimburse her for the difference, whether it's legally obligated to do so or not. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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Sunday, March 15, 2015

All workers should pull their weight

February was a good month for jobs. The U.S. reported that 295,000 jobs were added that month, and the national unemployment rate fell to 5.5 percent. That's the lowest it's been since the economic downturn hit in 2008.

But while more people continue to be added to payrolls, wages don't seem to be increasing quite as well. In February, wages rose just 0.1 percent, less than the 0.5 percent they'd risen in January. Many workers still find themselves challenged to make ends meet on salaries that might not have caught up to where they were before the economic downturn began.

One of these workers is a reader in California. The professional firm where she works suffered greatly during the recession, cutting roughly 75 percent of its staff. The reader considers herself one of "the lucky ones" who survived, but notes that she and other remaining staff suffered major cuts to their salaries and benefits.

She's grateful that things seem to be on the upswing now, with her company hiring three new employees recently. However, salaries and benefits have not been restored to their pre-recession levels.

The reader is working hard for less money, as are many of her colleagues -- except for one "junior" employee who also survived the layoffs but is now "slacking off," she claims. He seems "to be having a hard time getting back into production mode. ... Every time I pass his desk, he has his eyes down on his smart phone."

The problem became even more apparent when the reader and her low-performing colleague were assigned to work on a project together.

"His non-participation negatively affected my work load and my patience," she writes. She alerted the worker's supervisor, who talked to him, but nothing has changed.

"He continues to waste hours every day looking down at that phone," the reader wrote.

She figures that the less efficient they are on the project adversely impacts the bottom line. And the less money the company makes, the longer it will take for salaries to be restored.

"I'm tired of making less than I was when he was in diapers," she writes. "Should I talk to him myself? Write him an email expressing my opinion? Take it to Human Resources, or speak to his supervisor again?"

If the reader's colleague is not pulling his wait, the right thing is to let his supervisor know. The reader might have tried talking to the employee before she reported him, but if he doesn't report to her, then she was right to go to his supervisor first. If his performance is still affecting her own work, she'd be right to talk to the supervisor again.

It's one thing to turn a blind eye to coworkers who occasionally check personal email or social media on work time. But when those workers' actions result in loss of productivity for everyone, the right thing is for coworkers to make clear that theirs is a culture that does not accept such behavior. If the slacker feels slighted by the criticism, he should find work elsewhere. Until then, he should do his job. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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