Saturday, October 12, 2013

what not to buy

This is a matter more of taste than strategy, I grant.  But just as I've developed certain ideas of what to look for and how to buy it, I've also developed strong ideas of what not to buy.  Sure, craigslist sellers are capricious, and vague, and can't spell (also true, no doubt, of most craigslist buyers - I think my spelling is pretty good, but I can't claim not to be capricious).  For great deals on cool stuff, I can put up with a lot.  But there is always a limit.  And here it is.

(5) I don't care how much you paid for it.  Sometimes that information is interesting, and as the buyer I certainly wouldn't mind knowing where the thing came from.  But when your ad contains elaborate information on the seller's cost basis, it's in there to justify the asking price, isn't it?  (Doubly so if it flaunts the brand name of the furniture's manufacturer or the name of the overpriced antique mart where the thing was found.)  And you wouldn't be going to lengths to justify the asking price unless you thought that, without the justification, it would be laughable.  But here's the bottom line.  You paid $1200 for what appears to be a very pretty piece of furniture at an antique shop that, yes, I have definitely heard of.  But you should probably realize that I never shop there (because - heh - I can't afford it  That's why I shop - on craigslist!).  And I get that, in your mind, $800 is a serious discount, because you couldn't have gotten the antique shop to sell you the item for so little.  But you're not renting a storefront and paying a clerk to sell furniture, so it's not really comparable anyway.  Here's the bottom line: someone else is selling an item comparable to yours for $300 today, and someone else is selling a slightly different one of similar age and quality for $150.  No, of course you don't want to take a $1000 loss; neither would I.  But that problem happened when you overpaid for the thing, and it can't be fixed now.  You can offer it for $200 and sell it, or you can offer it for $800, and it will never sell.  Your call.  

(4) I will burn you and all your Annie Sloan Chalk Paint in a fiery holocaust.  I have said this before, and I will repeat it as many times as I have to.  Things that are attractive, or nice, or just entirely neutral, can become ugly - even hateful - from overuse.  Such as - every valley girl expression that sounded, well, expressive when you first heard it.  And which, now, seems like a fair provocation for beheading (picture one of your peers saying "As if!" unironically).  Similarly - you might not hate an avocado-green refrigerator if it were the first one you'd ever seen.  You might think it was ingenious, even.  But if you've lived through the 70s (or the period, ever after, when dated 70s appliances hung on like grim death), you see that particular shade and recoil.  Ditto lacquered fake brass.  See what I mean?  Massive oversaturation.  Perhaps because of the age of the internet, the saturation and then oversaturation process seems to be happening a lot faster these days.  I think the first time I saw a blog post about using a chevron pattern in decor and the time I had seen seventy million chevron-patterned items and they hurt my eyes and I desperately wanted never to hear about the idea again happened in the same week.  There was no time between "huh, that's new" and "for the love of all that's holy, NOT ANOTHER ONE" when I had a chance to think, "would I like to do something like that?"  There wasn't time.  It went from "she has one" to "every human being in America has twelve" so fast it made me dizzy.  And queasy.  And very uninterested in chevron.  The same pattern (heh) held with sunburst mirrors (among many other trends, of course).  And the really head-spinning part was when I would see blog posts about how to create this new, happening look for yourself long after I had reached the point of nausea with it.  Am I much more cynical than the average bear?  Do I consume a lot more of the internet at a time than the average person (definitely possible)?  Or am I just super-resistant to anything that seems overly trendy (gosh, I hope that's it)?  

All of that goes quintuple for the Annie Sloan Chalk Paint.  It's caught on like wildfire, making it extremely annoyingly trendy.  What's worse, each person who unveils her acquaintance with it on her blog does so in tones indicating that she just discovered something most people don't know about, whereas I started reading the post knowing not only what product she would be discussing but what annoyingly-named shade was depicted in her thumbnail image (this, despite the fact that I never have and never will buy a can of the wretched stuff).  If I don't use it, and I know all about it, how can it also be a big secret?  I would appreciate any light anyone can shed on this point.  The oversaturation makes this Annie Sloan garbage extremely irritating, but of course it cannot, by itself, take it into burning in a fiery holocaust levels of hatefulness.  Several factors had to converge for that to happen.  First of these is that it's not just overly popular, it is also overrated.  One of the praises that its users sing to the skies is that it's so easy to use.  Then they explain to you exactly what methods they used to paint a dresser with the stuff.  I tell you what, I am not any great painter, of furniture or anything else, but I have yet to read a tutorial on this chalk paint that doesn't involve a lot more labor than my method - with latex paint and water-based varnish.  I speculate that the users go on about the ease of use because they need some way to justify the small fortune they just spent on a single quart.  

Obviously, therefore, the second major strike against it is that it is overpriced.  This is probably implicit in my craigslist theme, but - I have a major, visceral objection to overspending on things.  I grew up poor.  There are still plenty of starving people in the world.  This doesn't mean I never spend money I oughtn't or that I never spend $2 on a soda, but setting out to waste money on purpose just because I know someone else who did is something else again.  

It's the third strike where things start to get really serious.  The problem is that this chalk paint garbage seems to be marketed - targeted - at painting over original finishes on antique stained furniture.  Granted, if the marketing is accurate, it could just as easily be used on a 1970s buffet with a questionable finish, but its sales are based on riding the Restoration Hardware wave and the attendant popularity of finishes whose appeal is their "antique" appearance - of wear and age - that manages to look as no actual worn and aged article has ever looked.  It's achieved by taking cheap wood (pine), painting it, and then using glazes, stains, paint, sandpaper, and other artificial means to create some sort of wood grain or wear pattern.  And it has caused people to be tempted to take furniture well over a century old, paint it in stupid colors ("old white"?  Really?  How about some furniture that was originally white and is now just old?  How would that be instead?), physically abuse it, and then put some sort of wax crap on it.  Wax is not for protecting paint.  Wax is for protecting stained wood.  The stained wood these lunatics are destroying with paint.  

And then people put ads on craigslist.  Advertising little hard-worn antiques that are fairly common (a wee Duncan Phyfe style side table, say), or more recent pieces with relatively traditional lines - the sort of thing that sells for around $25 usually.  And which the seller undoubtedly bought for that price.  And which she (not the gender-neutral pronoun, but rather the invariable gender of people who do this sort of thing.  Women, you can be more) has painted "duck egg blue."  And now is advertising for sale for $200.  Because there's no way I could take a $25 night table and paint it myself, in an actual color, with a finish that hasn't been pre-damaged for me (or, if it's an antique, restore the original finish).  But it gets better: she's going to tell me in the ad that she used Annie Sloan Chalk Paint to accomplish this monstrosity.  She'll even specify each of the colors she used.  And that she chose the dark wax!  That way I'll definitely know it's worth $200, right?  

Fiery holocaust.  It's the only way.  

(3) I do not bid against myself.  No matter how attractive the item (or how conveniently located), I immediately close any ad that says, "Make an offer."  If the seller doesn't know how much something is worth to him, he has no business selling it (via craigslist or anywhere else).  Moreover, I don't believe for a second that the seller doesn't know how much the thing is worth.  On the contrary - he knows exactly what he will and won't take, and by making you guess what that number is instead of telling you, he is playing games and wasting your time.  Other people wasting my time is one of the things I find most offensive in all the world.  Life has so little time and there are so many good things to do.  I will not do business with someone who behaves in this way, no matter what treasure I have to pass up.  (I feel very strongly about this, in case you can't tell.)  

(2) I do not come to see anything that lacks pictures or descriptive information.  Regardless of how good the description, I don't even consider items without a photo.  Probably like most buyers, I exclude them from my searches right off the bat.  (See "wasting my time," above.)  And even if the picture is good - or the description is otherwise great - if I need information (such as - how long is the item?) and the seller won't provide it, then I'm done dealing with that person.  (Generally people don't refuse to tell you how large something is.  They just make a great to-do about the difficulty of getting a human and a tape measure into the vicinity of the object; to which I say - grow up! - or they simply fail to notice the question every time you ask.)  I could just drive out there and measure the thing myself, but then, again, I am wasting my time because someone else couldn't spend a few minutes to make himself some money.  

(1) I'm not paying you for me to do hard labor.  That sounds bizarrely obvious, but stay with me.  Generally, people who have an item they know is reasonably valuable (not crazy valuable, though), and that they really need to get rid of, but that is extremely difficult to deal with, will address all these points by offering it for sale at a really low price.  If you want to sell a cool antique that weights 200 pounds and is in an attic and oh, by the way, you can't offer any assistance with moving it, then $25 is a fair price.  Even if you could get $500 at a flea market.  Because guess what - you haven't gotten it over to a flea market.  It's still in your attic.  The problems come in when the same antique is $500 and in the attic.  Then you don't get a buyer, because even people who are totally capable of moving the thing just think you're a jerk.  That would be the standard example of someone I won't buy from.  The insane one is here.  It's an ad for this fence: 

The sellers claim that it's "original iron fencing installed in the 1950's."  I am skeptical.  I think it's aluminum, painted black.  Remember what I said about distrusting labels, and squinting at pictures?  I see some reddish areas on the top of the lower cross-piece (where water would settle) that could be rust, which would indicate that it's iron.  But the shape of the pieces (particularly the posts) screams hollow aluminum, not solid wrought iron, to me.  And the 1950s is late enough for aluminum fencing to have become common.  Why do I care?  Because the sellers won't be giving any kind of reliable clarification via phone or email, and wrought iron fencing is much more valuable than aluminum.  Actually, the sellers seem to have taken that point to heart, since they say, "Make an offer - very rare."  (Obviously, this post checks more than one of my "hate" boxes.)  

But - that's not what makes this ad so special.  I think you can see at the bottom of those posts that they're set in concrete.  Do you have any idea how difficult it is to break concrete post footings and get the fencing out?  Let me put it this way.  If there were a thousand feet of this fence, and it were 100 years old, and definitely wrought iron, and in pristine condition, and so beautifully decorated as to make onlookers weep, I, crazy person that I am, would not go and get it if it were FREE.  Even though I would use about 100 feet and would then be able to sell 900 feet of it for a small fortune (assuming I could free it).  Because even though I am unreasonably energetic, I am literally not strong enough to break concrete with a weighted hammer - I have tried (with a four-pound maul).  If I had a ten-pound sledgehammer, I could maybe do a little, but not much, and not before I destroyed all the fence posts and both my feet in the process.  This is not work a woman can do at all.  Given the fence these lunatics have advertised has 32 sections, it's not work a man could do, either.  I would guess this would take a team of four strong, experienced construction guys at least an entire workday to do.  And they would need some sort of power equipment to remove the broken concrete when they were done.  So I would guess that (at DC-area prices) you would spend somewhere around $2000 or more to have this fence removed if you owned it and didn't want it any more.  That's for unskilled labor - not counting a guy with a license to use an earth mover or anything like that.  Actually, you could save a lot in labor if you brought in someone with a jackhammer, but then you'd probably need someone licensed and bonded (jackhammers are dangerous, and not every low-rent lawn service has one), and by the way, that would probably destroy the fence posts.  

The bottom line: if you want someone to move an armoire out of your attic and then have them pay you, you're asking someone to do something extremely difficult and unpleasant, with some possibility of injury - but something that a couple of ordinary healthy adults can do.  If the thing is cool and the price is right, you may eventually find takers.  The fence removal is something that average healthy adults could not do.  They'd have to be exceptionally fit adults, with special tools, and it would take them more than a day.  

But the sellers of this fence don't want to pay $2000 for that difficult-to-perform service.  They don't want to pay for it at all.  Which is kind of laughable, and explains why this has been advertised for so long.  But it gets better - they want the team of laborers who take out the fence to pay them.  And not $25, either.  Because they are under the impression that the fence is rare and valuable.  Somehow, they don't get it that it was rare and valuable - before it was installed in their yard.  Now, it is a demolition project, and that's it.  

And we still haven't gotten to my favorite part of this ad: "Would have to be removed from site at private home and post holes refilled."  

So it's not just a matter of the homeowners not wanting to pay for a day's worth of backbreaking labor by a hardworking crew.  They also can't be bothered to kick dirt into the holes in their own yard.  Created by the removal of their fence - that they want removed.  

That about sums up all the traits in the world with which I will never do business.  


  1. This is awesome. My mind just can't wrap itself around... what in the world are people thinking?

  2. Ahhh-post holes refilled! I clicked over to the ad and that is what stood out to me as particularly absurd!