Our Idea of a “Fair Price” Is Heavily Biased By Whether We’re Buyer or Seller

a table at a yard sale
Image by Mike Mozart / CC BY

Confession: I love yard sales. Always have, ever since I was a little kid. It was a great way to find things I needed when money was thin. Before the eBay or the Internet was a thing, you could get some real bargains and find interesting stuff.

And the prices were usually not only well below the price you’d find them in a shop now but also well below the price you’d find in a thrift store.

I say usually. Because a few times stick out in my mind where people throwing yard sales put price stickers on things that seemed like they were out of their damn minds.

If you’re a big yard sale junkie like me, you know I’m talking about.

Have you ever gone to a yard sale and discovered that the family getting rid of their possessions had priced them waaaaaay out of whack?

A person asking $100 for a heavily used appliance that would cost $50 new and has no collectible value.

A person who wants $10 for clearly used shirts that would be $5 (or less) to pick up new.

That sort of thing.

This used to puzzle me a lot. It was especially confusing after I had the opportunity to see this behavior in a friend’s family, who was throwing a yard sale. This same family was, to put it in common terms, pretty damn cheap. They routinely complained about the prices of things whenever they went shopping.

And yet their old crap they expected to fetch top dollar. And my friend seemed puzzled that so much went unsold.

The Endowment Effect

This phenomenon has a name. It’s a bias called endowment effect. Endowment effect is a tendency for people to be willing to pay less for the goods they buy and to simultaneously expect more for the goods they own when they sell them.

This effect has been noted many times in research (for example, this study).

It really does seem that there’s a subjective psychological component to how highly we value objects.

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See also: The IKEA Effect: We Love Things More That We Personally Built

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This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.

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Books by Page Turner:

Dealing with Difficult Metamours

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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1 Comment

  1. Definitely have seen this many times. Sometimes it’ll be just a few things in the yard sale that are priced far higher than they should be – sometimes it’ll be just about everything. “My stuff is treasures, your stuff is junk” is a common way of seeing it, too – especially about my stuff and my sister’s stuff, when we were kids.

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