The Ethics of Purchasing Armies

Editor’s Note (Which is funny because I wrote this piece, and I’m also the editor).  I found this in my drafts folder and it’s over 18 months old at this point, but it was almost complete, so I figured I’d write up an ending and throw it up on the blog.  I think I originally stopped writing because I was droning on without much point–which hasn’t changed in this edit–and because I felt I was coming off as an elitist prick.  After re-reading, I don’t think the latter to be true.  So, here it is, an unposted entry from the summer of 2012:

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve purchased/traded for four armies off other players, including two IG armies (here and here), a demon army, and a Tyranid force.  Well, this past week, I managed to double that amount by picking up another four forces: Skaven, Space Wolves, Blood Angels, & Demons.

500-CassiusSome might say I have an addiction, but I prefer to think of it as investing in opportunities.  People are always getting into/out of the game, and trying to unload their forces.  The local scene here doesn’t support a whole lot of gamers (I’d estimate there are about 50 total warhammer players in the area, although the actual game group I’m a part of is more like a dozen folks).  We have a small community website that’s frequented by a handful of people, and that is–for better or worse–the best place you can interact with the community at large.  As a result, this tends to be the best place to put up notices when you want to sell models (well, aside from eBay, of course).  Since the community is fairly sparse, and those that frequent the website are even more so, it means there’s not alot of available buyers.

Which is where I come in.

I tend to let lots sit up for days/weeks before I make an offer.  I’m not preying on them, mind you, I just want to make sure that they’ve expended their resources.  Honestly, I already own far too many figures, and I have no use for any more, other than to sell them.  Selling them, however, takes effort, and I know it’s very unlikely that I’m going to actually take pictures of them and post them all online, so the end result is usually another box of crap sitting in my garage.  I certainly take that into consideration when making an offer.

500-DropPodsPlainI think the second-hand market for models is generally around 40% off for models.  Well, that’s about what I tend to want to pay for something that I actually want and is in demand.  Likewise, when I sell (or at least used to sell) items on eBay and the like, 40% off retail was the goal that I would shoot for.  I’m not sure that’s any sort of standard, but generally speaking it seems like people are trying to get around 40-60% off for their models (depending upon condition, size of lot, etc.).   Practically speaking, those are perfectly reasonable expections (in most cases).

As I explained though, I don’t need the models, and they’ll at best be sitting around as fodder for resale.  As a result, offers that I make tend to be in the 75-90% off retail value.

You might think this is me taking advantage of people, or being insulting, or manipulative, but I feel that I handle this perfectly ethically.  I tell them up front that I know their models are worth more, and they can certainly get what they’re asking for if they’re content to wait it out.  I find out why they’re selling so that I don’t feel I’m exploiting them (most tend to be selling because they’re just tired of their army), and make sure that they’re content with the deal when we finally make it (sealing it with a handshake).  In short, I don’t lose any sleep over it, feeling that I’ve been more than fair and reasonable with them (even if my prices don’t show it).

This incident though, I had that tested.  With the previous purchases, it wasn’t a big deal.  A guy had an army for sale (approximate retail value was $400, he wanted $200).  I offered $150 (which was amazingly high for me), but we weren’t able to make the purchase work.  Eventually, we shifted into a trade, and I managed to pick them up (more on this in a future post–EDIT: Apparently this post never came).   The other three armies I’d picked up though were another story…

500-DropPodsRedThe guy had posted his armies online, and I waited a week or two before sending him a message.  He had a fairly detailed list of models (without pictures), but left some vague statements like “that’s all I can think of off the top of my head,” which lead me to believe there could be more that weren’t listed.  Honestly, at the price he was quoting, it looked to be around 60% off, and I wasn’t interested, but though I’d message him to see if I could get some pictures.  He didn’t have any available, but asked if I could swing by and take a look at them, which I did, but that’s where I started getting a little uneasy.

Hopefully I don’t come across as uppity in this, as it’s certainly not my intention.  I’ve been blessed with a loving and supportive set of parents, who helped put me through college.  As a result, I was able to find a good, stable job, and buy a house with a family of my own.  I owe an unending debt of grattitude to my family for everything they are and everything I have.  For sure, I’m truly blessed.  I understand that not everyone has had the same opportunities as me though.

Anywho, the guy lived in a hotel on the side of the highway.  When I was fresh out of high school, I’d had friends that lived in nearby appartment buildings, and had guns pulled on them and such.  When I walked into the building, it was dark, and dingy, with at least two dozen patched holes in the drywall between the entrance to the building, and his room.  Being a sheltered suburbanite most of my life, I felt more than a little uneasy.  When I’d knocked, he answered the door, full of zeal.

I’d actually purchased an army from him years earlier, and we remembered each other instantly.  At that time, he’d had a girlfriend, and a kid or two of his own, but he was living with a few other guys in a bachelor pad.  Now, he’d moved in with that girlfriend, and they’d had some more kids (four total).  We reminisced a bit, and then got into what he had available.  By and large, almost all of the models were assembled, and still bare plastic (with few exceptions), as we talked, he took out each squad lovingly, and explained in great detail what each one did, all of the while, his kids peeked around and looked at daddy’s toys.   I really got the impression that he was proud of his little plastic men.

500-SoulgrinderIt was an unusually hot day in Anchorage (around 72 degrees–and yes, that’s hot for Alaska), and the little apartment was stuffy.  Per my typical transaction, I asked why he was selling, and he said they were trying to move out of the two bedroom place, into a 3/4 bedroom place for more room for the kids.

We talked a bit about how much he wanted, and he requested $500.  Now, I normally would’ve haggled him down, as it was higher than I generally pay for stuff that I have no interest in keeping (though–in hindsight, I did wind up keeping three drop pods), but based upon his financial situation, I decided to agree to his price.  I didn’t bring any money to the original meeting–for safety purposes–so we decided to meet up the following day.

That’s where my ethical dilemma came in.  I went home that evening and told my wife the story, and asked if it would be acceptable if I wound up paying even more for the army.  Frankly speaking, I’m an old fart now, and have a comfortable life, so I could’ve thrown another $100 in the deal to sweeten the pot, but that raised questions about whether such charity would be considered insulting.  My wife thought that the potential harm outweighed the potential good and advised against it.  I took the same story to several others (including my mom and a co-worker), both of whom seemed to share my wife’s opinion.

I really thought of ignoring the advice, but ultimately I came up with a compromise.  The next day I showed up with a case of ice cream from Costco.  I figured that way I could wind up throwing something extra into the deal.  Once the kids saw the ice cream, he would be obligated to accept it, right?  Turns out, that was exactly what happened.  It was another scorcher, so the ice cream was really well received.  The thing is though, that he didn’t think it was for him.  He seemed to originally think that I just happened to be carrying a box of ice cream bars & cones around with me.  When I asked if I could give it to the kids, he seemed overwhelmed with my generosity–but even then, he thought I was only offering them a single bar each.  It took a while to figure out I was referring to the entire box–of course, the kids gladly accepted and dad was ok with it.

We eventually shook hands and I picked up the models at the agreed upon price, and I’ve yet to see/hear from him again.

For those that are interested, the armies that I did buy were listed in detail in this post.  The bulk of those models sold in ebay auctions later, but I haven’t bothered to break it down to determine how much I made off this particular sale (As I lumped it in with other auctions and also wound up selling parts to other people locally).  The pictures in this post are the models that I kept from the original purchase–and yes, they’re still in that same condition. Man, I really have to get off my duff and paint something…

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5 comments on “The Ethics of Purchasing Armies

  1. Interesting article.
    I did something sort of similar a few years ago. I used to trade on Bartertown a lot, and often traded for lots of broken or accused metal models and scrap to feed my pewter casting experiments.
    I ended up working a deal with a guy who sent me a huge box of models as scrap purely for the cost of shipping. When it arrived, I opened it up to find lots of random blisters of old, small fry model makers from the 80s and 90s. But I kept digging (it was a HUGE box) and the further down I went, the better the models got. Old, very rare and collectible Citadel and Ral Partha stuff, plus various other old school box sets. There was no way I could melt all that down into scrap knowing it was valuable.
    I took a week or two to decide what to do. Sell it and not say anything, since it was given freely with the intent to save it from the guy’s dumpster? Send it all back? In the end, I decided that it would be poor form to sell something someone had given me for free when I told them out was for scrap, despite having never seen the items (the deal was for “a big box of stuff”). I contacted him and told him that I would sell as much as I could, and send him a percentage. He replied that that was fine, whatever I wanted to send him was fine.
    I ended up sending him about forty percent, and we both made out like bandits.

    • That’s a good story–though I’m not sure it parallels. I wasn’t buying them under the pretense of them being scrap–both he and I knew they were worth far more than I was paying (something I think that is crucial to a fair trade). I’m sure I wound up making money off it (which was the entire reason I bought them in the first place), but I didn’t go back and give him any extra.

      I’ve done that though. I wound up buying a friend’s magic cards off him for $1000, and then I went and sold just some of the cards for $1800. I felt bad–despite us coming to an agreement in advance, I don’t want to be seen as taking advantage of anyone–especially a friend. In that case, I did the same as you, I gave him half of the cash. He was pleasantly surprised, but when we’ve made deals since, he’s explicitly told me that if I make any extra money, that’s mine to keep–no need to give him a cut of the proceeds. We’ll see if I ever get around to selling the stuff, if I honor that or not…

      On Mon, Jun 29, 2015 at 5:07 PM, Warhammer 39,9999 wrote:

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  2. Definitely an interesting article to think about! The first time I ever bought an army off craigslist. It was my orks. Guy gave me a stellar deal because I was so excited to play with them. I haven’t yet sold any mini’s yet, though thinking about dropping the sisters.

    • I think I refrained from posting this originally partly because I wasn’t sure if he would read the blog and see the post, and then potentially be offended. I tried not to make it offensive in any way, but people get really sensitive when it comes to matters of money.

      On Wed, Jul 15, 2015 at 10:24 PM, Warhammer 39,9999 wrote:

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