Fan Expo is next weekend so this column will mentally prepare you to haggle.  That’s right, haggle.  There’s no reason you should look at the prices at a dealer’s booth as nothing more than a starting point in your negotiation.

I think collectors in general don’t haggle, or negotiate price, very well because the dealer knows you “need” that item to be part of your collection and your life will never be complete without that issue, action figure or video game.

Here are my simple convention rules for best price buying.

  1. Know what you’re looking for.
  2. Know what the item is worth.
  3. Don’t look like you “need” the item.
  4. Ask the price and then offer less, but not insulting.
  5. Don’t be afraid to walk away.

Most collectors know what they’re missing from their collection and most likely have a want list.  Along with that want list one should have a general idea of what the missing items are worth: eBay isn’t a bad starting point for this, but only by using completed listings of items that actually sold.  Another way is to circle the show floor looking for your desired items and see what things are selling for.  This works well for new to you collectibles you may not have known about but spot at various dealer booths.  I spotted an Alex Toth signed Zorro slipcase in Boston this year at two booths: one had it for $175 and the other $40.  I bought it for $40 but still tried to haggle down to $30.  I was happy because it was a steal and the dealer was happy because he received his full asking price.

If you know what you want and know your prices then you’re ready to pounce on any deals you know are truly amazing, without having to circle the show floor first.  Last Fan Expo I spotted a Hulk:Future Imperfect hardcover for $40 when I knew it was currently selling online for over $100.  For those moments it still doesn’t hurt to see if you can haggle a little.

What hurts the negotiation process is the tearful overjoyed collector who gushes about how happy they are to have found the item: at that point the dealer could probably up the price and you’d still buy it.  Put on your game face and haggle!

Which leads to the last and most important item: don’t be afraid to walk away.  I rarely meet people who want to pay more for something then they have to: my two exceptions are Marc who told me he “loves to pay full retail” and Shawn who I’ve seen buy toys and tell the dealer to “keep the change”.  These are people who obviously are out in the sun too long or suffer from excess money problems.  A dealer was offering 25% off hardcovers last year at his booth and I asked about 33% off if I bought two: he said that would be below his cost from Diamond.  Since I have a Diamond account and know these books were clearance items he was outright lying to me so I put the items down and walked away.

If you’re at the show at least two days then it doesn’t hurt to watch for items you want but are willing to go home without, then circle back the last day of the show in the final hours and see if it’s still available.  There was a Mark Shultz Xenozoic Tales signed print I really wanted but didn’t want to pay the $100 asking price.  Last hour of the show the dealer sold it for $50.  This strategy only works sometimes and shouldn’t be used for something you really want to leave with.

Finally at all times be polite and courteous.  Offering $5 for $100 items shows the dealer you’re a joke and not serious.  The same dealers set up every year at most shows and a healthy buyer seller relationship is good for both parties.

Where I won’t haggle at a convention is for sketches.  The artist has figured out his price and you’re agreeing to it.  That doesn’t mean you can’t reject the sketch once completed if it’s terrible or not at all what you agreed upon, although that requires you to be very specific in terms of what you want from the artist.  If buying already completed artwork then feel free to haggle, which is usually effective if buying more than one item.