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How to sell valuable items on eBay – Chapter 1

Written by traderchris on . Posted in Uncategorized

Over the course of the next few weeks / months, I’ll be writing about how I go about selling valuable consignments. This information was gained through thousands of hours of selling on eBay, as well as a lot of trial and error. I welcome any questions / feedback that you have and hope that people out there will find these articles useful.

 

Chapter 1 – What is the market for my item?

The first thing I do whenever I have something that I think is valuable is to try to research current sales trends for the item. This means that you want to find out what an identical or similar item has sold for recently (ideally, two years or less), as that can be a good indicator as to what others are willing to pay for the same item.

Please note, this does not mean that you will go straight to Google or eBay and look-up the current listed price for the same item. Oftentimes, items that are currently listed for sale may be vastly overpriced (hence, that is why they are listed for sale and not already sold!)

Here are some different venues that are helpful in researching your items:

eBay – eBay is the largest online marketplace in the world, where you can find everything from Russian meteorites to vintage underwear, (yes, people collect both,) all under one “roof”. It’s also an incredibly valuable and FREE resource that you can use to research almost anything for sale. All it requires are a few small modifications when you use the search feature

The easiest way to research recently sold items on eBay is to click on the “Advanced” button. Next, enter in a few keywords to describe your item. The scroll down a bit and be sure to check “Sold Listings” button, then click search.

To explain what this does, imagine if eBay was a huge store with everything currently for sale being in the front of this store. You can quickly search for most items by using the standard search bar on the eBay homepage. However, by searching the “Sold Listings”, you’re now getting to peak in the back of the store, where they keep records of everything that’s sold in the last 6-8 weeks.

Why is important? Because not only will you be able to see the pricing information for the sold items, you can see how the format in which it was sold (auction vs. fixed price), how the items were photographed and written-up, etc. I usually organize my results by price (highest to lowest), so I can quickly understand which items are selling for the most money (and why). Be sure that the condition of your item matches the condition of the items that you’re looking at (otherwise it may sell for less if it’s in poorer condition, or perhaps more if in better condition).

Terapeak is a subscription service (currently $25 per month) that can be accessed either as an app through eBay or through its standalone website or smartphone app. Terapeak essentially stores a huge amount of sales data from eBay, allowing you to research sales trends back to a year (or more) from eBay. Additionally, you can see the sales price for any item (even those annoying “Best Offer Accepted” items), research “hot” sales trends in many categories, and even get an x-ray view of competitors (which includes their top sale items, total listings, total sales, and sell-through rate!)

Christie’s & Sotheby’s are the two largest and most well-known international auction houses. They tend to have the highest profile art and jewelry sales in the world. Both auction houses provide the ability to search through completed sales as far back as 10+ years, providing pictures and sales descriptions in addition to pre-sale estimates and hammer prices.

Live Auctioneer is an auction website that serves as an online platform for a number of regional auction houses throughout the United States and Europe. In addition to being able to view upcoming auctions, Live Auctioneer maintains a database of previously sold items, ranging from $5 in value to several million dollars. The website is free, but registration is required to search the database.

Heritage Auctions is the third largest auction house by volume in the world and does particularly well selling coins and sports collectibles. They receive an interesting array of consignments and maintain a past sales results database that includes excellent pictures and descriptions of most of the items sold. The website is free, but registration is required.

Worthpoint is a subscription based service that aggregates both eBay sales data as well as data from a number of regional auction houses in the United States. The database goes back as far as 12 years. I find it particularly helpful when researching obscure or hard-to-find items without a lot of information elsewhere.

Ask Art is another subscription-based service that serves as a database for art. Artists can be researched by their last names, with results that provide full names, birth / death information, bios (if available), as well as examples of works sold and their hammer prices.

There many other databases / subscription services available online or in print, but these are the ones that I found myself using most frequently while selling on eBay.

Now that you have an idea of whether or not there’s a market for your item (and assuming that there is), does the item meet your sales expectations? In most instances, the retail price (original purchase price) of the item will be much higher than the resale price that you’ll find online. Additionally, be aware that appraisal values (particularly for jewelry) are often much higher that what may be possible if you resell your item, as most appraisals were conducted for insurance purposes and not for resale purposes.

 

Shipping Shape: How to Ensure that your Gifts Arrive Safely and on Time this Holiday Season

Written by traderchris on . Posted in Uncategorized

Since many of us have friends or family that we’ll be mailing gifts to this holiday season, I decided it might be helpful to share a few packing and shipping tips that will save you time and frustration.

  1. Pack appropriately. Books and clothing are ok to ship in bubble mailer envelopes. Christmas ornaments are not. Anything fragile, including glass, porcelain, and electronics should be package in an appropriately sized box, ideally with 2” or more of cushioning between the item(s) and the sides of the box. If you’re sending multiple fragile items in the same box, be sure to wrap each piece separately in multiple layers of bubble wrap and/or clean newsprint. Consider double boxing the contents for added protection.
  1. Get tracking and insurance. USPS Priority Mail packages automatically include tracking and up to $50 of insurance coverage, while UPS and FedEx packages include tracking and up to $100 of insurance coverage. If you’re going to ship valuable items (such as jewelry or expensive electronics), be sure that the package is insured for the full value and consider adding signature confirmation to the package. After all, you don’t want Grandma’s new iPad walking off the doorstep, do you?
  1. Keep your receipts. If you do have problems with a package getting lost or damaged, the shipping company will need to know the tracking number, shipping cost, the value of the item(s), proof of damage (pictures), and a repair or replacement estimate. Gathering this information prior to filing a claim will help save you time and additional hassle.
  1. Avoid the lines. You can purchase postage from the USPS, FedEx, and UPS directly from their websites and sometimes at a discount versus their counter rates. The USPS will even pick-up packages for free at your doorstep (FedEx and UPS charge a $5 fee), providing you schedule a pick-up through their website. This can be a huge timesaver, especially if you have multiple or oversized packages to send.
  1. Don’t procrastinate. Remember last year when Amazon overpromised and UPS under delivered, right before Christmas? Don’t wait until the last minute (like everyone else) and expect your package to be delivered on time. Add at least 1-2 days to the handy holiday shipping guide available at shipstation.com/blog and you should have a reasonably good change of your package(s) arriving on time.
  1. Be nice to your delivery person(s). They work long hours in cold weather and have families at home, too. USPS employees can accept gift cards valued at $20 or less, while freshly baked goods or cookies are usually welcomed by all delivery drivers.

Having the Holiday Chat

Written by traderchris on . Posted in Uncategorized

Lets be honest, kids have different tastes than their parents do. This is evident to any parent who has children that want to dress themselves, feed themselves, and decorate their own rooms. So why is it reasonable to assume that when we die someday, our kids will want to inherit all of our things?

With the holidays coming up, it’s a good time to sit down with parents, grandparents, or other family members to discuss downsizing and what they want to do with their estate someday. “Let the kids deal with it,” should not be the end of the conversation. Anyone that has ever had to deal with an unexpected death in the family or a large and complex estate knows that it can be a very hectic and stressful experience, especially combined with the mourning process and/or making funeral arrangements.

It’s typically much easier for parents and grandparents to gradually downsize possessions and to involve their families in their plans to distribute personal property, particularly if it includes any family heirlooms. It could be as simple as sitting down with family members individually or as a group and asking them what they’d like.

Assets not wanted by heirs can either be donated to a local charity or equitably distributed if the property is sold with the proceeds divided amongst the recipients. If you don’t think your grandchildren are going to enjoy your Hummel collection as much as you did, why not sell it and take them on a trip, add to their college fund, or do something nice for yourself?

The end of the year also serves as a good time to update wills, personal property inventories, and insurance coverage. While these activities are certainly not fun and exciting, they’re import and will provide a good deal of peace of mind if / when you need to use them.

 

The original article can be found in the November 2014 issue of Southern Neighbor available here: www.southernneighbor.com.

When to Get an Appraisal

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An appraisal is an estimate of value of an item by an expert in the field. A formal appraisal is written and can serve as a legal document in the event of damage, loss, or in a legal dispute. It may include provenance (history of ownership), specific features of an item (such as cut, color, and clarity for diamonds), and an estimate of replacement value. Appraisals can be done on anything from art and jewelry to coins and comic books. So when is a formal appraisal necessary and when can it be skipped?

Formal appraisals should be performed on any rare or valuable personal property that the owner wishes to insure. In the event of loss or damage, an appraisal provides proof of ownership and value to the insurance company, which will work with the owner to either provide a replacement or compensation for the item.

If you have an item that is inexpensive or you’re simply curious about what it may be worth, there are several steps to perform an informal appraisal of an item.

Step 1: Is the item authentic? Depending on the item, this step can either be very easy or very hard. Certain items such as art or autographs require specialized training to authenticate, so if you suspect it may be quite valuable, it may be wise to have professional look at the item. If the item has any markings or special features, be sure to compare them to other items that have previously been authenticated.

If you are the original owner and purchased the item from a reputable source (such as buying a luxury handbag directly from the manufacturer), then it’s reasonable to assume that your item is authentic.

Step 2: What is the condition / completeness of the item? Items that are as close to new condition as possible will usually bring the highest value (with exceptions being if the item was owned / used by someone famous or in a historical context.) A small chip in a porcelain figurine might lower the value as much as 25%, while a significant repair can affect the value by 50% or more. If an item has multiple pieces, such as a vintage board game, are all of the pieces included and in good condition?

Step 3: What have comparable items sold for recently? Sales information on the same / similar items that have sold in the last 3-5 years can provide a good estimate as to what your item would be worth if you were to sell it. Good sources for this information include eBay, Live Auctioneers, individual auction house websites, and subscription websites such as Worthpoint.com and Askart.com .

 

The original article can be found in the October 2014 issue of Southern Neighbor available here: www.southernneighbor.com.

Online Bidding Etiquette

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I recently had a buyer purchase a beautiful diamond tennis bracelet from me at auction on eBay. I shipped it expedited for free with a current appraisal. She exclaimed that she was in love with it until she took it to her local jeweler, who said that she paid too much for it. (Keep it mind that she purchased it at auction where she decided the final bidding price.)

After several e-mails back and forth, I allowed her to return the bracelet even though buyer’s remorse is not normally a valid reason for return (items arriving damaged or different than originally described are acceptable reasons for returns). After I received the bracelet and provided a refund, I was rather flabbergast when she contacted me again asking if it would be ok for her to bid on the bracelet again, with the hopes of buying it at a lower price. At that point, I said “no” as politely as I could and blocked her account.

EBay is what you’d call a hybrid auction site, mixing items that are listed for sale at fixed prices as well as those that are being auctioned. With a bit of knowledge (and luck), it’s a great place to get deals on a number of things. You just have to know how to ask for them.

Many sellers list items on eBay with a fixed price and also include a “Make an Offer” feature that allows interested buyers to offer a lower amount on an item. A reasonable office might be 50% to 90% of the original asking price, depending on what similar items have recently sold for. If you’re not sure what to offer, simply ask “What’s you’re best price on this item?” It’s a perfectly acceptable way to negotiate a better price without a lot of haggling and avoids the risk of making an insultingly low offer to the seller.

If you’re considering buying something that’s being auctioned, it’s a good idea to review the item description and pictures carefully, in addition to the shipping and return policies (and any other fine print included in the listing). Most experienced sellers are very thorough in addressing common concerns in the listings, such as including item dimensions, damage/defects, or the ability to combine multiple purchases in a single shipment. If there is any information missing or not clear, it is best for the prospective buyer to ask questions before placing a bid, so that they have all of the information necessary to make an informed buying decision.

Auctions also have a tendency to pull bidders in emotionally. It’s exciting to outbid several people and “win” an item in the closing seconds of an auction. However, you should make sure beforehand that the amount you’re bidding is what you feel the item is truly worth (and more importantly, what you intend to pay!) There are few things more frustrating that having a buyer attempt to back out of a sale as soon as an auction is over. This costs the seller both time and money and typically results in the buyer being blacklisted from future sales by that seller.

If you’re not quite sure about how something works (whether it’s the item or the auction process itself), it never hurts to contact the seller or auctioneer in advance to ask several questions. Most sellers are more than happy to educate / accommodate their buyers, proving that the request is made with respect and in a timely manner.

 

The original article can be found in the September 2014 issue of Southern Neighbor available here: www.southernneighbor.com.

The Power of Provenance

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In simplest terms, “provenance” is defined as the origin of something. In the realm of art, antiques, or anything collectible, it’s typically an account of ownership or historical significance of a piece.

Provenance can greatly enhance the value of what may otherwise seem like an ordinary item. An old baseball bat may be an interesting collectible, but what if you were able to prove that it was used by Babe Ruth? The value would be greatly enhanced at that point.

When it comes to art, provenance is the chain of ownership from the earliest purchase or transfer of the piece to the current owner. It may include the original purchase receipt, formal appraisals, or even a sales slip from the gallery or auction house where the piece was obtained.

ARosan item doesn’t have to have been owned by someone famous to have provenance. One of the more interesting items that I sold last year was an antique blond china head doll. They aren’t particularly rare, but what set this doll apart was that it came with an 1850s era picture of the original owner with the doll and a hand written letter from her granddaughter describing both the doll and her owner. “Rosa” ended-up selling for about three times what I would normally expect to get for a similar doll, just because we were able to provide some historical context about her ownership.

Items with historical ties are often purchased by collectors of particular genres. A gentleman who purchased a dinner chime from me that originally belonged to the RMS Queen Mary told me that he also had the ensign (flag), dinner service for 12, and even an original phone booth from the ship. Being able to find one-of-a-kind pieces for unique collections often means that collectors are willing to pay a premium for these items.Chime

So what’s the best way to document the provenance of a particular item if you don’t have a receipt or series of appraisals? Photographs can serve as a good indication of provenance, particularly if the item is photographed with people or at events that can be historically traced. Additionally, an official account of ownership can be provided by a family member related to the item or the current owner of the item. This account is provided in a written affidavit that is signed and then notarized.

Do you or a family member own anything with interesting provenance? If so, please consider e-mailing your story so that it can be shared with other readers in a future issue.

 

The original article can be found in the August 2014 issue of Southern Neighbor available here: www.southernneighbor.com.

Summertime Yard Sale Strategies

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Some people think of summer as the ideal time to have BBQs, spend time outdoors, and go on vacation. My father would tell you that it’s his favorite time of year because yard sale season is well underway!

Why have a yard sale? Well, it’s an easy and cost efficient way to downsize and de-clutter all of that stuff that’s been building up for several years (or decades…) And you don’t have to drag things much farther than your garage or driveway in order to sell them. So, how to proceed?

1. Take inventory of what you want to sell. A good yard sale will have a nice variety of things and should easily fill-up your garage or driveway. If you have a few things to sell but not enough to entice people to stop, ask a few neighbors if they have items they’d like to contribute (they might even give you a cut of their profits if you offer to haul the stuff over and take care of the selling.)

2. Price appropriately. Nothing turns off people faster at a yard sale than overpriced items. You shouldn’t expect to get retail prices selling stuff on blankets in your driveway. Most items in yard sales cost a few dollars or less. And if someone asks to buy in bulk, consider giving them an even better deal (especially towards the end of the sale). If you have a lot of expensive clothing, jewelry, or other items that you need to sell, they should probably be listed at an estate sale or consignment store instead.

3. Advertise both online and locally. Craigslist is a great way to advertise your yard sale for free. It also never hurts to place a paid ad in the News and Observer online, as many people use that for sales info, too. Be sure to list the types of items for sale as well as the street address.

The evening before / morning of the sale is a good time to put out your signs. A good sign is sturdy, easy to see, has bold lettering, and lists both the address and direction of the sale (as not everyone has GPS and/or may be looking for a yard sale in the first place.)

4. Start selling early! Saturday morning at 8 am is the standard start time for most yard sales. 9 am or later start times are too late, as you’ll miss a lot of early bird buyers. If you want to get a jump on the local competition, consider starting at 7:30 am or even the day before.

5. Carry plenty of change. Yard sales are typically a cash only affair, so have plenty of small bills and change on hand.

If you have more expensive items to sell (i.e. large power tools, a john boat, or lawn equipment), consider opening a Square or Paypal Here account so that you can process credit cards on your mobile phone. The more ways that people can pay, the more likely you are to close a sale on those more valuable items.

 

The original article can be found in the June 2014 issue of Southern Neighbor available here: www.southernneighbor.com.

Preparing for “Antiques Roadshow”

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I recently had the chance to guest appraise at several local “Antiques Roadshow” type events. For anyone not familiar with it, “Antiques Roadshow” is a program on PBS where experts provide appraisals on items brought to them by people who live in or near the host city. People often wait in line for hours, hoping to gain a better understanding of their items and to find out if it has any value.

My limited firsthand experience revealed that most of the items brought to these type of events have little more than sentimental value in most instances. Unfortunately, I have not yet seen the market for Grandma’s china or depression glass to have rebounded yet, so I have to find a polite way to say that most of these types of items are not worth much. (The one exception I had encountered last year was a hand-painted Limoges plate that had originally been designed for the Rutherford Hayes White House. It later sold to a collector for over $3100!)

Another common misconception out there is that if something is old, it must be worth something. Alas, this is also incorrect in many instances. Age often lends rarity and/or provenance (ownership history) to an item, as fewer and fewer of the same items tend to survive with time. Yet, if the item is no longer collected widely (i.e. stamps) or doesn’t have historically significant provenance (i.e. old photos of unknown relatives), then the market for those items can be very poor.

So, what makes an item “Antiques Roadshow” worthy?

1. It has an interesting provenance. Anyone who collects anything almost always has at least 1-2 favorite pieces with a good story behind it – typically about how it was acquired or who had owned it previously. If you don’t have strict proof of provenance (i.e. photos of the item with the previous owner or purchase receipts showing custody), the next best thing is a signed affidavit from the current owner, attesting to the history of the item.

2. There is current demand for the item(s). Chinese antiquities are hot right now. (Most) books are not. Collecting trends come and go with time, so what may have been popular when the items were originally collected may have already peaked in value / interest. You can get a sense of what’s in demand by talking to local dealers, auctioneers, or simply typing in what you wish to research on eBay and click on the “Show Only Sold Listings” button on the left side of the browser window.

3. It hasn’t shown-up on tv before. You can actually browse an archive of items shown on any previous “Antiques Roadshow” by visiting http://www.pbs.org/ wgbh/roadshow/archive/index.html . You can search by keyword or even by price. Assuming that longtime viewers like a bit of variety, the producers of the show probably search for things that complement other items that have been filmed in the past.

 

The original article can be found in the May 2014 issue of Southern Neighbor available here: www.southernneighbor.com.

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Finding the Diamond in the Rough

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I’m usually so busy with consignments that I rarely get a chance to go out and look for items to buy and re-sell on my own. However, this past week, I received an e-mail from EstateSales.net for a sale that was too good to pass up. The location was in Fearrington Village, about a 10-minute drive from my home. The items being sold were top notch, a nice mixture of antiques, luxury goods, and smaller collectibles. There were even good pictures posted with enough information for me to do some pricing research beforehand.

I woke-up early the next morning to get ready for the sale. Knowing it would be cold and that I might be waiting around for a few hours, I dressed in several layers, packed myself a little snack, and even prepared myself a travel mug full of piping hot coffee. I put a bunch of empty boxes and packing material in the car and headed off, excited about the morning’s prospects.

When I pulled into the neighborhood about 10 minutes later (and two hours before the start of the sale), imagine my surprise when I saw dozens of cars already lined-up along both sides of the street. “Oh no,” I thought, “other people know about the sale, too!”

I parked and quickly grabbed my gloves, hat, and small folding stool and headed towards the house, not realizing that I had left my mug of hot coffee in the car until it was too late. When I arrived, I felt a little more relieved, as there were only 10-15 people in front of me… or so I thought. A few minutes later, I overheard someone murmuring about “the list”.

“List?” I thought to myself. “What are they talking about?” Then I saw a yellow pad sitting on the steps with names and numbers. By the time I added my own name to the list at 7:15, there were 82 people ahead of me.

This baffled me. There were obviously not 80 people standing in front of me, so how could this have happened? I began to catch snippets of conversations from others in line. Apparently, there were seasoned estate sale stalkers that would go to great lengths to get prime positioning on “the list”. Some would come by the night before to start a list, while others may arrive at 5 am to get on the list, then sleep in their cars for a few hours. I even heard a few stories about unscrupulous attendees that had stolen or destroyed lists when others weren’t looking, just so that they could get a higher spot.

As it got closer to 8:00 aScreen Shot 2014-04-30 at 11.01.40 PMm, when numbers were to be handed out for the entry order, people started coming out of the woodwork. It was like a swarm of estate sale locusts! A number of people starting cutting in line while others simply pushed as close as possible to the entrance of “the hive”.

After watching the scene unfold a little while longer, I thought “this is ridiculous,” and decided to leave empty-handed and a bit in despair. On the drive back, I swore off going to estate sales ever again.

Of course, that promise was short lived, as curiosity got the better of me and I returned to the same house the next day, when everything remaining would be marked down.

As I expected, everything I had originally wanted was long gone. Most of what was left was either overpriced or miscellaneous chachkies. As I was getting ready to leave, I noticed that no one had touched either set of nice stereo speakers in the house. The pair of bookshelf speakers were marked down 50% to $15.00, and I managed get the matching set of floor speakers for only $30.00, after revealing that they needed some new foam inserts (which cost about $10 and 30 minutes of time for the do-it-yourselfer.) My faith in estate sales had been restored! Well, maybe not completely, but at least it was somewhat salvaged.

 

The original article can be found in the April 2014 issue of Southern Neighbor available here: www.southernneighbor.com.

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To Auction or Not to Auction… That is the Question

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Doll DressI love auctions. There’s nothing more exciting that to see something you’re selling zoom beyond your expectations. On the flipside, it’s also quite possible for prices fall far short of what you had hoped. So how, when, and why would you choose auctions over selling items with a fixed price?

Auctions can either be conducted locally by a licensed auctioneer or online, with websites such as eBay or uBid being the most popular. A local auctioneer can typically handle anything from a single item to a large estate and can make arrangements to either haul everything off or hold the auction on-site. Most online auction sites allow users to auction items themselves, which may be preferable if you’re the do-it-yourself type.

If you’re in a bind for time or simply have a large collection, then an auction may be the best way to sell your items quickly and efficiently. Depending on the size and the scope of what you want to sell, an auction can be arranged and items sold within as little as a few weeks.

If you have something particularly rare or valuable, an auction can be a great way to bring the best price for your item. As the items are usually advertised in advanced with a limited window to place a bid, auctions will oftentimes bring out the competitive nature of serious collectors… and their large check books! (See the doll dress in the photo for reference.)

MeccanoWhile there are a number of positives attributes of auctioning off items, the biggest negative factor is less control than one desires over the final price, which can result in items selling for less than expected. Local auctioneers will typically sell to the highest bidder without a minimum or “reserve” price (I once sold a large lot of furniture through a local auctioneer. He nearly forgot about a huge antique dining table and sold it towards the end of the night for a mere $20, which made me sick to my stomach…) Formal auctions will oftentimes have estimated sales prices published in their auction catalogues and will start bidding at 1/2 of the lowest estimate. Occasionally, items may only receive a single bid at this opening price.

Online auctions can start as low as $0.01. I’ve sold more items at $0.99 than I care to remember (such items are typically low quality or obscure). If you’re unsure of the demand for an item online, I’d recommend either starting the auction at a higher price or listing the item at a fixed price instead.

Ultimately, things are only worth what other people are willing to pay for them. Sometimes, it’s a good surprise. Other times, it’s not. But it’s always fun and exciting.

 

The original article can be found in the March 2014 issue of Southern Neighbor available here: www.southernneighbor.com.

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