Heading into a pawn shop comes with a number of pros and cons. On the plus side, you may be able to find high-ticket items at a major discount or even stumble upon a rare collectible. But on the downside, you might not be able to confirm the authenticity or working condition of an item before you buy it.
Start by reading online reviews of your local pawn shops to choose the ones with the best reputation. Before you buy anything, clarify with the owner whether or not it’s a final sale and if store credit is available for returns (though this might not be attractive if you’re making a major purchase).
In order to lower your risk and maximize your upside at the pawnshop, focus your search on certain types of items. We’ve gathered the best and worst things to buy at pawn shops so you can walk in and out the door with confidence.
Best Things to Buy at a Pawn Shop
Check out these shopping categories to discover the best finds at your local pawn shop. While you might not have success with every visit, stop by regularly to see if any new treasures have appeared. If you get to know the shop owner or manager, you can also give them your contact information if you’re looking for something specific.
You can find major discounts on musical instruments at pawn shops, especially from higher-end brands like Gibson guitars. If you’re already musically inclined, you should be able to evaluate the instrument’s condition pretty easily. Check for wear and tear of each component and do some research to make sure the price makes sense based on the age and condition.
If you’re shopping for a first instrument for one of your kids, for example, you might not want to buy a brand new one. Instead, looking at a pawn shop could help you find a cheap one. Even with some cosmetic scuffs, it could be a smart option for a beginner who might not even stick with their initial instrument of choice.
You need to tread carefully when it comes to purchasing jewelry at a pawn shop. Some experts warn against it because there’s the potential to purchase an inauthentic piece at a high price point.
But there’s also the potential to score a great deal, particularly if the shop offers appraisal documentation or a written guarantee that you can return the jewelry if it doesn’t appraise well after you buy it.
Another tip for browsing jewelry at a pawn shop: don’t just look at the style, look at the quality of the material. You could potentially source diamonds and other precious stones at a lower price point, then have them repurposed in the style you want by a jeweler.
Just like jewelry, buying a watch at a pawn shop requires that you verify the quality before buying. You also need to check that it works and not just assume that putting in a new watch battery is all it needs. When buying a luxury brand, ask for a certificate of authenticity, otherwise, you run the risk of overpaying for a knock off.
Looking for antiques at a pawn shop comes with a number of benefits, assuming you know the market in terms of value and authenticity. When you find a good deal, not only can you save by negotiating with the shop owner, you can also avoid fees that often come with antiques when you purchase through a dealer or auction house.
The selection may be more hit and miss at a pawn shop compared to a traditional antique market, but if you do find a gem, you might also be able to find out more information about its history and provenance.
Finding memorabilia at a pawn shop can lead to good results. Part of that is due to the fact that many pawnshop owners aren’t specialists, so there’s a chance you can find a good bargain. As with any valuable item, the more documentation you see on its history, the better. Sports memorabilia is especially popular at pawn shops and offers a good chance to come across something truly unique.
Frequenting your local pawn shop to outfit your tool shed is an excellent way to find like-new items at a fraction of the original retail price. As with anything, you’ll never know what kind of tools you’ll find when you walk into the store, so it could be worth putting in a visit regularly.
If you find multiple tools you’d like to buy, also consider bargaining for a package deal to get a steeper discount. Eventually, you might even be able to strike up an ongoing relationship if you’re in the market for specific items.
Whether you’re looking for a specific high-quality bicycle or just something that works, pawn shops typically carry a wide selection at good prices. Here’s what to look for when testing the quality of the bike. First, check to see if the frame is bent. If it is, take a pass so you don’t have to worry about balance issues. Also take a look at the gears and chain to make sure everything moves smoothly. Bad tires might not be a deal breaker, but if the bike needs new ones you should factor that expense into your negotiation.
Instead of scouring Craigslist or Facebook groups for sports equipment, check out some pawn shops instead. You don’t have to worry about fakes and you typically don’t need to be an expert to check the condition. Expect to find anything from golf clubs to snowboards at a much better price than anywhere else.
Video Games and Consoles
Video game consoles (and the games themselves) are popular items to pawn, so it’s likely you’ll find a good selection on a regular basis, even with popular titles for the PS4 and Xbox. If you’re looking for older titles or consoles, you might also have more luck finding them at pawn shops compared to other retailers like GameStop.
DVDs and BluRays
With more and more people opting to watch media on streaming services, you can typically find cheap DVDs and BluRays at pawn shops. Obviously you should check each disc for scratches (especially DVDs), but you can easily find good titles for just a few dollars.
What to Avoid Buying at a Pawn Shop
No matter how attractive the price tag looks, definitely tread carefully when considering these three types of items at a pawn shop.
Electronics and Cell Phones
It’s hard to test the quality of any electronic items sold at a pawn shop so definitely exercise caution, if not total restraint. The condition of the exterior doesn’t speak to the functionality of the software within. And in many cases, electronics are sold as-is, so you don’t have any recourse if you take a product home and it doesn’t work. Even if it does, there’s no way to estimate its remaining life span to tell if you’re paying the right price or not.
Gold and Other Precious Metals
Counterfeit gold is a major concern when you don’t purchase from an authorized dealer. Not only that, you may be more likely to pay an inflated price compared to the current value of gold. Since prices fluctuate just as stocks do, it’s important to know the value before buying gold anywhere, especially at a pawn shop.
The same holds true if you’re thinking about buying a collectible coin. Understand how rare it truly is to avoid being duped into thinking it’s more unique than it actually is. Keep your smartphone on hand to check the going price before you buy.
Buying a vehicle at a pawn shop comes with the same risk as buying at an auction — you might not be entirely sure of the working condition of the car. If you’re a hobby mechanic, you may have a better chance of discovering any hidden problems. Otherwise, you’re rolling the dice to see just how much work a pawned vehicle needs in order to provide you with reliable transportation.
The Bottom Line
When shopping at a pawn shop, it’s smart to do research ahead of time if you’re looking for big-ticket items. Understand what goes into determining the value of the category in which you’re shopping so you know when you’ve come across a good deal.
It’s easier to find pawn shop bargains for some items, while other items should be avoided. Once you learn how to spot the right bargains, a pawn shop could potentially help you save big on specialty items you otherwise might not be able to find or afford. For many people, it becomes a hobby to find great deals on interesting items you can’t find at a major big-box retailer.