How Pawn Shops Determine Value: Learn How To Get The Most For Your Money

How Pawn Shops Determine Value: Learn How To Get The Most For Your Money

Pawn shop valuation is part art and part science. Use our tips to maximize your offer.

Last updated December 2, 2022

Rolled US dollar bills on table

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Pawn Shop Valuation Is Part Art & Part Science

Many people believe that pawn shops have a secret methodology to calculate prices for your items. In reality, pawn shops determine value using part art and part science. There are often can be a large variance in pawn shop valuations. In this post, we will explain how pawn shops value your items and how you can maximize the amount of cash you get when you pawn or sell your items.

Pawn shops typically pay 20% to 60% of the item’s value. In some cases, the percentage can be closer to 75% to 90% for categories like gold and silver bullion. Pawn shops are open to negotiating your final offer, but be aware that most offers will not go above 60% of the value of your item.

The primary factors that influence pawn shop valuations include:

  • Category: Different categories such as jewelry, electronics, musical instruments, etc have different valuation metrics.
  • Condition: The item’s condition matters quite a lot. A like-new item will fetch a higher price than a visibly used item.
  • Market Dynamics: Regional markets can make a difference. For example, regions near ski resorts may have a higher demand for ski equipment.
  • Economic Conditions: Robust economic conditions can help boost overall prices because people have more money to spend. Economic conditions can oscillate between expansion and recession.
  • Pawnbroker Knowledge: Pawnbrokers who are accustomed to dealing with similar items will feel more comfortable with their ability to estimate a fair value for your item. Pawnbrokers may make a lower offer for items that they do not know so they have more of a margin of safety.
  • Random Luck: There exists a degree of randomness with offers. The same pawnbroker could give you different quotes for the same item at different hours of the day. This phenomenon exists for many professions - if you want to learn more we recommend reading To Get Parole, Have Your Case Heard Right After Lunch

How Retail Valuation Goes To Pawn Shop Valuation

Most new products are easy to price - they usually have a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) that is displayed at retail stores. Used goods are much more difficult to determine because used prices are not apples-to-apples with one another.

Let’s say you bought a Playstation 5 console for $499 (MSRP). The next day if you wanted to sell your Playstation 5 you would almost certainly get less than the retail price of $499 - this is because buyers would prefer to buy a brand new/unused gaming console. After one year of use, your Playstation value declines even more. After two years your used Playstation 5 might sell for $200 on websites like eBay.

Pawn shops would be in a position to offer $40-120 for the used Playstation 5 referenced above (20% to 60% of the $200 market price). The pawn shop might start with an offer of $60-80, and leave room to walk up to $120 depending on how much you negotiate. If there is a glut of supply of Playstation 5 consoles in the region, then the pawn shop may not want to buy the Playstation 5 or they might only offer $60-70.

Pawn shops have expenses - they have to pay workers, rent, utilities, insurance, taxes, and more. The difference between the price they offer you and the price they later sell it for pays for these expenses. Pawn shops offer value to customers by giving them a fast and easy way to exchange their items for cash.

Offers Can Vary... A Lot

Pawn shop offers can vary a lot from store to store. Given this dynamic, it makes sense to get quotes from many different pawn stores near you. Pawn Shop Map has created a helpful tool for you to find local pawn shops near you.

Finding the right stores to contact can be overwhelming in some regions. For example, there are several hundred pawn shops in Houston, TX. We recommend following these steps to create a list of pawn shops to target:

  1. Search Pawn Shop Map using the Category filter to find pawn shops that specialize in your item. Pawn shops that carry items similar to your item will give you a higher valuation.
  2. Call ahead to talk with the pawnbroker. Tell them about your item and see if they sound interested. You can save yourself some time and gas money by calling ahead.
  3. Read reviews written by other customers. Customer reviews are a great source of information to determine if the pawnbroker gives fair offers.
  4. Take your item to pawn shops and get quotes in person. Ask the pawnbroker if they will hold the offer for a couple of days while you get other quotes.

We recommend reading more about negotiating tips so you can get a higher offer. Remember: always use respect and keep calm. Sometimes people can become offended if they receive an offer that they perceive to be a lowball offer.

Valuation Data

Pawn shops often use different databases and price sources to determine the value of items. The valuation data varies based on the item category. For example, many people reference the Kelley Blue Book to determine the value of used cars. Pawn shops use similar resources for many categories such as diamonds, watches, electronics, antiques, rare coins, and more.

Common valuation resources include:

  • eBay - eBay features a wide spread of data for most categories. One can filter data to look at completed sales and Buy It Now price offers to get an idea of sales comps and market offers. eBay is a good resource for electronics, musical instruments, jewelry, watches, laptops, computers, tablets, video games, televisions, phones, tools & equipment, handbags, cars, and antiques.
  • Craigslist - Craigslist often contains many household items that can be found in a specific region. Craigslist is less organized than other resources like eBay. Craigslist is a good reference for tools & equipment, electronics, and cars.
  • Nextdoor - Nextdoor is similar to Craiglist in the sense that it features household items for sale in the region. Nextdoor is a good reference for tools & equipment, electronics, and cars.
  • Christie’s and Sotheby’s - Christie’s and Sotheby’s sites tend to feature items that go for several thousand to several million dollars. Christie’s and Sotheby’s are good references for fine art, antiques, collectibles, and classic cars.
  • Kitco - Kitco is one of the largest precious metals sites for Gold, Silver, Platinum, Palladium, and more. The market prices at Kitco tend to be very close to the global spot price pawnbrokers use.
  • PCGS - PCGS is the industry standard for US Coin Values.
  • - is helpful for sports cards - the site features millions of sales comps.
  • Poshmark - Poshmark features many gently used luxury designer goods such as handbags and shoes.
  • - features data for used musical instruments, mobile phones, computers, guns, audio equipment, televisions, power tools, and more.
  • - features data for auctions across a large spectrum of categories.

Pawnbrokers will typically reference resources similar to these sites to get an idea of how much a similar item might fetch. Keep in mind that prices advertised on these sites are asking prices, not sales prices. Pawnbrokers will typically estimate the sales price, then reduce that amount for profit and some uncertainty.

As an example, let's say Roger brings a used Hublot watch into a pawn shop. The watch might have cost $8,000 new, and current sales comps on eBay are $3,000-4,000. Pawn broker offers might range from $1,000-2,500. Pawnbrokers typically have to make an offer lower than market prices so they can make a profit and keep some room for uncertainty.

Prices Can Change

The Only Constant in Life Is Change.

- Heraclitus

Markets are always changing. The Dow Jones Industrial Average oscillates minute-to-minute and year-to-year. The prices for used items change, too. The chart below shows the price change for an index of 30 Rolex watches over five years. Prices more than doubled from ~$15,000 in January 2018 to ~$38,000 in mid-2022. Prices then fell to ~$28,000 in late 2022.

Rolex watch prices over the last 5 years

Rolex watch price index over last 5 years

Prices for many other items go through up-and-down cycles. Rare coins, fine art, antiques, sports cars, diamonds, and more all have price cycles.

It pays to check market prices before going into a pawn shop. You should be aware of recent price trends for your item so you get a good price.

Different Categories Have Different Trends

Long-term price trends vary by category. For example, the long-term price trend for gold is up, and the long-term price trend for consumer electronics and automobiles is down. In other words, if you're planning on selling something like a computer or car it is better to do it sooner rather than later.

Long-Term Gold Price

Long-term gold price over 100 years

Tesla Model 3 Depreciation Forecast

Tesla Model 3 Depreciation Forecast

Do You Get More If You Sell Or Pawn?

You almost always get more when you sell your item. Pawning your item is a loan transaction, and it incurs interest. Selling your item to the pawn shop does not incur interest. Read more about pawning vs selling at pawn shops.

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