With the throngs of new gold-buying businesses popping up in the region, people may be wondering if it is worth it to dig through their jewelry boxes for a little quick cash.
Times staff writer Lauri Harvey Keagle tried it herself, and the benefit of comparison shopping was quickly evident. Today, she shares her findings.
I started my hunt by digging through an old jewelry box looking for potential loot. I gathered three rings and a necklace I knew were real gold, a charm in a box marked "14K" and a bracelet I thought was worth a shot.
I then looked through a box of my grandmother's labeled "good jewelry." I wasn't sure what that meant, so I took a bracelet, necklace, two charms and my grandfather's pocket watch.
On www.switchboard.com, I specifically searched for shops that exclusively buy gold, not jewelry stores. With a list of four locations in hand, I took off to see what kind of cash I could get for my bag of gold.
First stop: Gold Max, 19755 S. Halsted St., Chicago Heights: Offered $140 to $279
I walked in to a small shop in a strip mall near Prairie State College with one worker sitting behind a desk. A sign on the door told me Robin Leach, former host of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," is the celebrity spokesman.
The employee behind the desk explained the testing process as she examined the jewelry. A gold-colored pendant bearing what appeared to be a coin from the 1850s was tricky, she said. She checked a book to see if it was a real coin with any value before deeming it a replica. In the end, she determined it was 14 karat.
She then weighed the items by karat, writing the weights on a spreadsheet before offering me $140.
When I said I was going to shop around and asked for the sheet, she refused. She then offered me a first-time customer increase of 20 percent, bringing the offer to $168. When I said I still intended to shop around, she called a supervisor to see if the markets changed since earlier in the day.
In the end, she offered me $279, double the initial offer. The manager said they were behind on their obligation to the refineries because of the Thanksgiving holiday, she said.
I again asked for the sheet she was filling for the offers and she refused. I said I was still going to shop around, and she wrote down the $279 offer on a company postcard that included the company's price match guarantee, which states it will beat any competitor's quote by 10 percent of the difference between the two quotes.
Angel's Cash for Gold, 1546 Joliet St., Dyer: $304
Owner Alex Ziady was alone in a tiny, wood-paneled room in a building that looked like a converted home. On the wall was a sign pledging the highest payout of any of the large regional jewelers.
He, too, explained the process for testing the gold. Ziady spent quite a bit of time trying to determine if the coin pendant contained a real coin. He determined it was real, but not rare and worth the most for its gold content, 22K.
In the end, he offered me $304 for all of the jewelry. When I told him I wanted to get other estimates, he encouraged it and even told me of another new gold-buying shop that just opened nearby.
One of his employees, Melissa Marsh, came in and offered some tips for shopping elsewhere, including not to allow anyone to take the pieces I had into a back room or out of my sight.
Ziady said he knew I would be back, but that if anyone beat his offer — which he wrote on a business card without my asking — he would match it.
Cash for Gold and Silver, 2950 45th St., Highland: $220
I initially drove past this small store just east of Fifth Street. I walked in to find store manager Debra Sakovich sitting with her feet on a chair and a blanket on her lap watching TV.
When I told her I had some items I'd like her to look at, she took them under the overhang of the counter for testing, where it was difficult to see what she was doing.
Soon, a man came from a back room and started looking at my jewelry at another table farther behind the counter.
I remembered what Marsh said at the previous shop — don't let anyone take the jewelry out of your sight. It was hard watching both of them handling my gold at the same time.
I had to ask about the process they use to assess the jewelry, but Sakovich was friendly and helpful in explaining it once I asked.
They offered me $220 for the gold. When I asked for a written offer, Sakovich said she's not able to do that but gave me a card and a pen and said I could write it down myself.
She promised to beat any offers that came in higher.
Gold Pros, Westfield Southlake mall, Hobart: $256
I couldn't find the shop in the mall listed online, so I stopped here instead.
Two women worked quickly and efficiently to assess my jewelry. When I asked about the testing methods, they were knowledgeable and helpful.
One woman looked up the coin pendant to see if it was real and offered me money for its value, saying it did not hold value for its gold content.
They handed me a written offer for $256 without my asking and said they would beat any other offer.
In the end, there was a 74 percent difference in the lowest and highest offers. Also, every shop had a different karat determination for the jewelry, with some counting chains as 10K others discounted as gold-plated. Some said the coin pendant as worthless, but others counted as 22K.
When I called the shops to discuss my experiences, the reactions were mixed.
Gold Max, the largest of the businesses and the one with the lowest initial offer and the only one that tried to barter, emailed a corporate response.
"Although our prices are not flexible per se, we realize the value of each collection and therefore at times will chose to increase the price in those special situations when needed, as we realize that making something is better than making nothing," Jordan Sadoff wrote in the email.
Gold Pros, headquartered in Sarasota, Fla., has 22 stores across the country, most of which are in Florida. Their owner, Nancy Buchner, called me directly after I left a message at the store in the mall seeking comment.
Buchner, a Realtor-turned-gold-buyer, said the karat determination should be consistent between shops.
"There shouldn't be discrepancies," Buchner said, adding that she encourages customers to comparison shop.
Sakovich, manager of Cash for Gold and Silver in Highland, agreed, saying it is important for the business to be vigilant about their analysis but that it comes with experience.
"When I first started here, people came in with jewelry marked 14 karat that I bought and I had a $500 loss," she said. "I bought it because it was marked, but I learned you can't always trust that."
The owner of the shop, who did not leave his name, returned one of my repeated calls and did not want to be part of this story.
"I can't afford anything negative," he said. "It's tough. It's a really tough business. I see new places popping up every week. It's a lot of competition."
Alex Ziady, owner of Angel's Cash for Gold, said he has to pay more for gold to be competitive in an ever-increasing market.
"I'm the smallest guy out there," he said. "I can't out-advertise the big jewelry shops, so I have to pay the highest."
Ziady, who also used to be a Realtor, said he used to get nervous when new shops opened up nearby. Now, when other stores open up, he takes a piece of gold jewelry to them to see how they operate and what they offer.
"I shop them all," Ziady said. "People can do their research and figure out if you're getting the best price and they should. We encourage it."