American pawnshops appear poised to enter their prime. Rising gold and silver prices, home foreclosures and a recession are attracting more middle- and upper-class customers seeking to sell items or obtain a short-term loan.

That’s great for pawnshops, but not so great for potential customers who are new to the business and don’t know a thing about how to sell or pawn their items. Here are five tips to help you get the best price at a pawnshop.

1. Do you want to sell or get a loan?

You’ll get more money by selling something, but a pawnshop owner with a long-term view would prefer to make you a loan so that you’ll return for more business. Robbie Whitten, owner of Money Mizer Pawn and Jewelry, based in Columbus, Ga., says he typically pays 10 percent to 20 percent more to a seller because he doesn’t have to hold the item as long as he does for a loan.

Whitten says he sells the items he buys after 30 days, which gives police time to check on whether the item was stolen. Items held as loan collateral are kept for 60 days. About 75 percent of his customers reclaim their items after paying off the loan, he says.

At, an online pawnshop that buys high-end items, sellers are paid 75 percent to 80 percent of retail value, which can be up to 25 percent more than the 50 percent to 65 percent of retail value that Pawngo customers are paid for loans, says Pawngo CEO Todd Hills.

2. Know the loan terms

Because interest on loans is paid monthly, it can get expensive if you don’t pay back the loan in a timely manner. Terms vary by state, but Whitten’s business charges 6 percent to 25 percent interest. Pawngo charges 3 percent to 6 percent per month, holds items for at least 90 days and has a 30-day grace period.

3. Shop around and negotiate

Jewelry stores and pawnshops will pay top prices when gold prices are high, but you can still find better prices by shopping around. Check the value through an online search, and see if there is a buyer for the jewelry on eBay.

Go to a few jewelry stores to get your diamond ring appraised; or to an art dealer for an estimate of the worth of the painting on your wall. After getting an approximate worth, take that documentation to a pawnshop.

If it’s a historical item that’s certified or a piece of jewelry in its original box, it can only add value to have the original paperwork, boxing or certification, Hills says.

Finally, haggling is expected at pawnshops. “When you’re selling merchandise, don’t be afraid to haggle or negotiate,” Whitten says.

4. Offer quality items

Whether for sale or a loan, a pawnshop only wants high-quality items it can sell. Jewelry and tools sell quickly, says Whitten, who offers up to 75 percent of market value for these items. High-end items such as firearms and Rolex watches can get up to 85 percent, he says.

Common items that are inexpensive to buy retail, such as household appliances and microwave ovens, along with items that have lost value over the years such as fur coats, aren’t worth the effort, Whitten says.

5. Have a good story

Retailers rarely care about your bad-luck story when buying something, but it can be a plus at a pawnshop. Pawngo, which specializes in high-end goods such as watches worth $5,000 to $100,000, determines the amount of a loan partly on a customer’s personal and financial situation, Hills says.

“The main thing we’re looking for is the emotional attachment of the asset,” he says, such as if the item is a family heirloom.

Pawngo wants to encourage repeat business, and will sometimes loan 100 percent of the value to someone who can show the ability to repay the loan, he says. Someone with a job who expects a promotion or bonus soon is more likely to repay than someone who had their home foreclosed on and is moving out of town.

Whitten says he tries to stay out of the emotional side of a deal, but he might add value for repeat customers or to an expensive item if it increases the chance the customer will return.