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If you are looking to sell some old gold
BY LARRY MACKE - CORRESPONDENT (Week of March 19, 2009)

It shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone to hear there was a gold buying event last week at the Holiday Inn on Ocean Drive. A week’s worth of full-page ads in the daily newspaper boldly announced that Florida Gold Buyers would pay “TOP CASH” for your gold, your jewelry, your silver, and your coins.

Vero Beach 32963 wanted to find out exactly what kind of deals are available at these gold buying events. Our conclusion: Don’t take the first offer. Don’t take the second offer. And even the third offer is not likely to match what you could get from established beachside jewelers.

Below, our correspondent’s account of his visit to the Florida Gold Buyers.

“Now is the time to sell,” advised the full-page ads, which also noted that “Precious Metals are at all time highs.” In terms of gold at least, that was true enough. The price for an ounce of gold reached its highest ever ($1,002.80) in March 2008, and over the past week it hovered in the range of $930 — more than three times what gold sold for a decade ago.

But if now is the time to sell, one might reasonably ask whether the Holiday Inn is the place to turn your unwanted or no longer used jewelry into cash?

To find out, I took two pieces of gold jewelry — a 19-inch anchor link chain in 18K yellow gold, and a pair of 18K white and yellow gold oval earrings with yellow gold knot tops – and set off to see the Florida Gold Buyers.

The newspaper ad included a coupon offering “10 percent more for scrap or broken gold,” but these pieces were intact, leading me to wonder if I should damage the jewelry to boost my earnings. Another coupon offered a referral bonus: If you bring in a friend, “you get 10 percent of the value of the scrap gold they sell” in cash. It seemed like an invitation to a debt obligation, so I went alone.

Saturday was on its way to becoming a beautiful day around lunchtime, and so parking in Sexton Plaza was at a premium. One spot near the entrance to the gold buying event was occupied by a Florida Highway Patrol car. The FHP, according to the ad, would be providing security, and sure enough a trooper was posted outside the door to the conference room where Florida Gold Buyers was plying its trade.

Inside the Holiday Inn, I was greeted warmly by a friendly woman who asked my name and what I was hoping to sell. She wrote my name on a piece of paper that she turned over to Jerry, who would be assisting me that morning.

Jerry was one of three appraisers waiting to help sellers, which seemed to be in short supply that morning. He went to work on my gold while I chatted with the next appraiser over, Tom, who confirmed that things were a little slow.

I asked if they were seeing more customers nowadays, considering the state of the economy, but Tom thought that people weren’t selling their gold so much out of need as they were getting rid of things they didn’t want anymore.

Jerry began by rubbing my gold chain on a piece of slate, which produced a small gold streak on the stone and left me somewhat unsettled. This can’t be good for the integrity of the piece, can it?

Any notion that Florida Gold Buyers would be buying based on beauty had been dashed, however, when Jerry handed me a copy of the “10 percent more for scrap or broken gold” coupon as I sat down. On the streak he placed droplets of acid from bottles marked 18K, 14K, and 10K, and correctly identified the chain as 18K before placing it in one of three similarly labeled circles in front of me.

When asked how long he’d been in this line of work, he said 22 years and indicated that his colleagues had been involved for 30 years and more. They all had been jewelers, he said. Jerry was from Orlando and the others hailed from Tampa.

He then started on one of the earrings and concluded after a few rubs on the slate that it wasn’t gold. I expressed my belief that it was, which caused him to reach for an electronic gold tester and, subsequently, revisit the slate. This time, he agreed that it too was 18K gold.

He then weighed all of the jewelry with a digital scale, using the result as a multiplier for some figure he extracted from his binder. He showed me the calculator readout, which he said he could round up to $700 with the coupon.

When I mentioned that I wanted to get the jewelry appraised someplace else, he upped the price he was willing to pay to $750. Asked how Florida Gold Buyers figures its price, Jerry said it was based on the current market price less 15 percent.

When I again demurred and suggested I wanted another opinion, Jerry approached his manager, who opened up his binder, punched his calculator, and sent back an offer of $950, which Jerry wrote down with the words, “Right now.”

I explained that I would need to get another party to agree to the sale, and that I still wanted to get the pieces appraised elsewhere.

What I subsequently discovered was that I could have gotten far more for my jewelry simply by walking across Ocean Drive to Leigh Jewelers. Nearly any jeweler, any time, will buy your gold from you.

Leigh, after examining the same two pieces and doing what presumably were similar calculations based on that day’s gold price, said they would pay $1,331.

Told that the Florida Gold Buyers across the street had made an initial offer of $700, Mark Leigh, owner of Leigh Jewelers, said: “I’m fond of making a profit, but what they are doing across the street is excessive.”

All of that advertising (they claim to be the second largest advertiser in the Press Journal) plus a conference room at the Holiday Inn plus the Florida Highway Patrol can’t come cheaply, I thought.

“Most people do not know what old jewelry that they may have had lying around in a drawer is worth,” Leigh continued. “They are relying on the purchaser to know its value, and treat them fairly.”

Donna Buck Wilcox of the Harry L. Buck Jewelers and Roberto Coin Boutique, just off of Ocean Drive on Bougainvillea Lane, said her shop also buys gold jewelry. Although her offer was slightly lower than Leigh’s, it far exceeded the Florida Gold Buyers initial offer.

“My guess is that nine times out of ten, probably ten out of ten, people take that first offer,” she said. “They don’t know what the jewelry is worth, frequently it is broken —which doesn’t matter, since the purchase price is based on weight — and they just want to get out of there before someone sees them.

“The shame of the matter is that people who want to sell gold jewelry could simply go to a local jewelry store and get paid more,” Buck added.

In the interest of full disclosure, Vero Beach 32963 back in the fall ran one ad for the Florida Gold Buyers. It subsequently decided to decline future ads of this kind.