Quoted from pinzrfun:
I've had good luck w dirty playfields, but you are missing a lot if you're concentrating on estate sales and auctions, people with no knowledge of the games and generally think they are worth more than they really are.
Your best deals will come thru networking/word of mouth and being first (or not a tire kicker) to the occasional Craigslist deal.
I appreciate the advice. I did a pretty good job buying my first pin at an auction and I have had a couple of close misses at estate sales (last good deal there was a guy first in line at 4:30AM for 9:00AM start). My wife runs a resale business and she knows which local estate sale companies have good prices. I don't waste my time on the sales where they price their stuff based on the market value of fully restored machines (at least not until they run 25 or 50% discounts)
Craigslist here is a combination of people buying at estate sales and flipping them for a modest profit or restoring them and pricing accordingly. I have yet to see a legit good deal on CL in the last year.
Most collectors are trading/buying through the community. I have tried a couple of times to get more involved with other enthusiasts, but it seems that I would rather spend time with my wife and two kids instead of making new friends and fostering those relationships.
I am not in a hurry and I am willing to do some work to bring a machine back to life. I just want to avoid buying something that requires artistic skills to repair. Thus my question, which is basically asking if I can figure out how to tell the difference between a dirty emerald and a horse apple.