You can listen to this story on The Iron and Steele Podcast, here:


I'm in this position a lot: A phone call from an unknown number, and when I answer, it's someone wanting to see if I have any interest in buying an old car that belonged to a friend or relative of theirs. 

It always starts the same way: A rave review and not so detailed description of the nicest car I've ever heard about. Why? Because for the last thirty years, their now deceased loved one has been telling them about how pristine, scarce, unique, and valuable their car is. Now they're gone and it's up to this clueless person to convey the totality of this auto's superbness to me. Every car I've ever heard a description of happens to be the nicest clunker to ever rattle it's way down the expressway, period.

Once we get past the sales pitch and it's time to finally have a look at this rolling Da Vinci, it's always the same dog and pony show. Here I am standing in the garage of a now deceased person, sifting through their stuff, attempting to not feel weird about that, and trying to be respectful of the fact that the reality is the car I've found in front of me is really just your average run of the mill tinkerer-bullshit backyard "restoration" and not deserving of any gigantic accolades, or a trophy for being particularly amazing, special, rare, or even nice. 

Nice or not, reality or fantasy, I often get this line just as it comes time to "level" with the guy in terms of value. Here it is:

"Well, it's not really about the money.. it's more just about clearing space."

Great. Now, you may be thinking that's an open invitation to make a low offer and that you'll steal this pile of shit you're looking at for a song. And if the guy weren't full of total bullshit when he made that statement, that may be true. In my younger days, I will admit that I likely fell for this line once or twice, letting it have an affect my offer. Here's the trouble though:

It's a lie. It's always somewhat about money. 

Think of it like this: It doesn't matter how much money someone has: If they're walking down the street and see a hundred-dollar bill sitting on the sidewalk, they are going to bend over and pick it up. Nobody is going to leave it sitting there, not even a wealthy person. And in the above-mentioned scenario of placing a value on this car, the same is true. They don't want to leave any money on the table either, no matter how cute they want to be about it by saying it's "not really about the money." It's always about the money.... And you'll discover that as soon as you make a low offer.. Funny how now all of the sudden they "think they could get a little more for it." And now it's time for you to leave.. Weird, almost as if it's about the money.

I have stood in the garages of every type of deceased person there is. From broke-ass poor, standing on a dirt floor covered in garbage and scrap metal, staring at the one thing in there that had any small value at all, attempting to give it a fair assessment of price without offending anyone, to pristine multiple-thousand square foot shops with air conditioning, heated checkered floors, surrounded by walls covered in neon signs, some of which worth more than my own collection of cars combined, and staring at a vast sea of restored collector autos, which the family is now liquidating. I've been to both ends of that spectrum and everywhere in between. The one thing they ALL have in common is that they want the most money possible for what they have. Almost without exception.


I can think of one time when I went to look at something for sale and the price was not about money. It was crazy. And it went like this:

A guy calls me and asks if I want to come look at a 1918 Dodge Brothers Touring car he had for sale. Now that normally isn't my thing, but I learned a long time ago, you always need to go look, no matter what. And I'm glad I did...

This guy lives just a few miles from me, so I hop in my truck and head over. I'm led to a gated property at the top of a rural two-lane road. The gate is open, so I drive in to find a tidy farmhouse with a gigantic shop below it and several other outbuildings. There are sprawling fields of Christmas trees all around the house, lots of trucks and equipment everywhere, along with several workers going about their daily routines. 

I get out and am greeted by a gentleman in his middle-60's shuffling off the back porch of the house. We make small talk, and eventually, we get around to looking at this very out of place antique car sitting in the driveway of what looks like a working tree farm. 

It's a nice car and not at all what I was expecting. It had been described to me on the phone as a project needing completion and it technically was. But what I was expecting was a rusty body sitting on a pallet alongside an equally sad looking chassis on four broken wooden wheels. Instead, this was a nice, painted and upholstered car that sat on a tidy, restored chassis with a rebuilt and never-fired motor. It had a new top and never driven-on tires on all four corners, plus a spare. It looked like I could drive the thing home honestly. It seemed like it was a wiring job and some fluids away from being able to do just that. 

After a little more back and forth, I finally ask the guy what he values it at. I'm expecting a number that will blow me out of the water on a car that is in reality, slightly out of my wheelhouse. And initially when he answered, that is what I exactly heard. With his hands on his hips and a sort of distracted look on his face, he blurted out "Fifteen...?" 

Make no mistake, this was not a $15k car in my opinion. I wasn't a Dodge Brothers expert, but my "gut" told me this was an $8500 - $9500 car after a little tidying up. 

At hearing that number, and through a wince, I began to formulate my rebuttal and make my case for not being interested at that price point. I figured I'd give him my little speech, thank him for his time and get back to what I had been doing before he'd called me about an hour before. As I began that little dance, this guy, sensing my displeasure with the number he'd spouted, promptly cut me off mid-sentence with this: 

"Ok, if you don't like fifteen, how about a thousand?" 


He hadn't meant $15k, he had meant $1500....... 

Now, I'd never been in this particular position before (or since for that matter) and will admit, I was taken a little off guard. I blurted out, "A thousand bucks?" as I turned back to this shiny black car that had looked like it came out of a museum to begin with, but was now starting to look even better. 

I didn't really know what to do other than accept his offer. I did that, but feeling a certain sense of guilt percolating that I knew would continue haunt me, I just had to inquire further. There was no way to do that without leaving myself open to losing the deal, but I couldn't help myself. "I don't want to shoot myself in the foot," I told him, "But I have to ask, why is this car so cheap?" 

As I waited for his response, in my mind flashed a scenario ala the movie "Christine," where I was about to buy some haunted-ass car that was hell-bent on destroying me and everything in its path.. and if he'd have pulled the keys from his pocket and said "She'll start..." I'd have been out of there faster than you could say "It ain't that good of a deal!" 

Instead, this is the speech he gave me:

"Look, I just sold this property and the business I operated here for the last thirty years for a LOT of money. I'm an old man and I just became a millionaire a dozen or so times over, overnight. That car doesn't mean shit to me and frankly, nothing on this property means shit to me anymore. I just need to get everything off of it in the next two weeks so the new owners can take over."


Putting together the totality of what he'd just said, my natural response was, "Ok. What else do you have for sale?"

And to make a very long story short, I ended up buying the car, a 1936 Mullins trailer, a truck load of misc parts, two John Deere Gators, a tractor and a whole bunch of other equipment that I needed for my own property. I think I spent $7k.... When I handed him the money, he didn't even count it, he just shoved it in his pocket and said, "I won't be here but I'll leave the gate open the next couple of days, take your time but it needs to be gone by the first or it belongs to the new owners." 

I had everything moved to my property by the end of that day...

That was the one and only time I have ever done a deal where it wasn't about the money. And in a way, it still was about money, it was just that so much of it had already fallen from the sky for this person that the car and equipment didn't mean anything. Like I mentioned before, a wealthy person won't pass up a $100 on the street, but to this guy at that point in his life, what I wanted represented a nickel on the ground that he didn't care to bend over and pick up. Had he not just received millions of dollars out of the clear blue sky, you bet that car deal would have gone a totally different way. 

So, what's my point? It is this: The story I just mentioned was a total anomaly and almost never happens. So don't fall for the "it's not really about the money" line. Let them speak first if possible, but if not, make your offers as strong as you can, within reason, and don't play games.

At the end of the day, one way or another, it IS about the money. 


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published