A Lesson on Managing Your Expectations

Posted 02.16.2015

brad-carMy son Brad and I spent a couple of hours at CarMax yesterday afternoon. After moving to a new apartment building without enough parking spaces for his car, he decided to sell it. He strongly prefers public transportation over driving in Los Angeles anyway so the decision to sell it was pretty easy. He had to move pretty quickly, though, because finding parking on the street around where we live is a very hit or miss proposition. The process of a private sale would have taken too long so he decided to sell it to a dealer. I went to a local CarMax with him to start the process and, within a couple of hours, got a great lesson from Brad on managing your expectations and not getting too attached to outcomes.

Brad was selling a 2005 Volkswagen Golf with pretty low miles for a car that old. He had bought it from his older brother a few years ago when Andy moved to San Francisco and concluded that having a car in the city there was going to be an expensive hassle. When he decided to sell it this weekend, Brad cleaned up the car and did the research on Kelly Blue Book’s web site to determine what the range should be on selling it to a dealer. It was somewhere between $2,500 and $3,000.

So, off to CarMax we went. After waiting around for a while, a nice guy named Duncan came over and introduced himself as the coordinator for the appraisal process. While his colleague, Joe, was actually outside doing the appraisal, Duncan walked Brad through the process, entered some key info in the computer and kept things moving along with a few questions. The last of those questions was if he had done any research. Brad said that he had looked up the price on Kelly Blue Book. Duncan said that at CarMax they have found that Edmunds.com is usually a little more accurate and asked if Brad would like to see what Edmunds had to say. Sure, why not? They entered all the specs into the page on Edmunds and the valuation that came back was around $3,500. This was shaping up to be a pretty great day for Brad. He had walked in with the expectation of getting a check for $2,500 and was now looking at the prospect of $1,000 more than that.

Duncan went off to check on how Joe was doing and came back a few minutes later with the big reveal on the no haggle offer from CarMax. He explained that because of its age the car would likely be sold at auction by CarMax and not on their sales lot. Their offer was only $2,500.

So, Brad responded as any 21 year old would when you don’t get what you thought you’d get – “I’m good with that.” I asked him if he was sure. He told me that while the expectations raised by the Edmunds estimate stung a little bit, he was good because he had walked in expecting around $2,500 and that’s what he was walking out with.

Here’s what I learned from Brad yesterday. Don’t waste a lot of energy on what might have been. Focus instead on what is. Thanks for the lesson Brad.