* Don’t Fall In Love With The Item Before You Buy
* Drill Down Into the Bargain
eBay bidding secret #1: Every Purchase Is a Relationship
If you buy an old Klaatu LP on eBay (good on you, by the way; they’re a criminally underrated band) and pay $12 for a a record described as mint condition but it’s actually scratched on one side, that’s unpleasant. If you buy a $20,000 Datsun 240Z described as mint condition that was actually submerged during Katrina, it’s catastrophic.
Relationships almost never start out badly and get better. If they start out badly, they will probably get worse. Everything you buy on eBay represents a relationship, albeit a very short one. Understanding these means that the honeymoon phase better be a good one. If the seller doesn’t include a ton of pictures, ask for them. If they are not forthcoming, don’t buy, period. If the seller includes only stock pictures and not pictures of the actual item, forget it. If they’re lousy cell phone pictures, ask for better ones before the auction ends so that you can make an informed decision.
If the seller offers you a discount to cancel the auction and make the purchase outside of eBay, do not buy. Not only are they violating the terms of service with eBay they are leaving you no recourse if the item turns out to be not as described.
The most important tip I can give you for purchasing an expensive item is to ask questions. Any expensive item by its very nature won’t be adequately described in the auction listing. That’s good. Use it as an opportunity to understand more about the seller. Request detailed information on any possible weak spots. Switch positions mentally and imagine how you, as an honest seller, would answer about things that are less than ideal.
If the seller seems at all less than forthcoming, assume the worst and avoid the auction. In other words: don’t fall in love with the listing. Oh, and about that?
eBay bidding secret #2: Don’t Fall In Love. Repeat: Don’t Fall In Love
I am constantly surprised at how people, myself very much included, tend to fall in love with Iexpensive purchases. It flies, nay, defecates, in the face of logic. Think about the last big purchase you made. Be honest with yourself. Wasn’t it a little exciting? Maybe even a lot exciting?
That’s idiotic, if I may say so. And I’ve been there. The more you have on the line, the more coldly logical , perhaps even skeptical, you should be. I’m madly in love with my kids. Do you think that would make me a good person to write their report cards? Of course not. I think they’re totally outrageously fantastic kids. I’d give them A’s in everything!
eBay is full of things that are genuinely one of a kind, and millions of items are listed every day. That also means that if you find that absolutely perfect thingie you’ve wanted for so many years, a thingie pretty darn close to it may well appear next month, or tomorrow. I know it’s hard to wrap your arms around that concept when you’re falling in love with your eBay soulmate auction listing, but another one will come around.
eBay bidding secret #3: How Tell If a Bargain Is Truly A Bargain
I once bought a trumpet at a pawn shop for $60. It was worth $250, even at a Seattle pawn shop, and take my word for it, Seattle pawn shops never sell musical instruments cheap. It was a silver plated instrument that had started to blacken, and one of the valves was totally stuck. The plating had simply tarnished, a problem easily solved with a $2 silver polishing cloth. The valve was stuck because it had been inserted backwards, a common mistake so easy to solve that even I can solve it in seconds, and I’m terrible with hardware.
I asked to look at the trumpet and gazed at it uncomprehendingly long enough that the salesperson gave up and left me alone with it. As soon as he turned his back I unscrewed the bottom valve cover, spun the valve around, and screwed the valve cover back on. It worked perfectly. I then replaced it so it was stuck again, and tried to offer them $50 due to the stuck valve. No go, but I had to try. I bought it anyway, and quickly traded it for a used sax worth $350.
On eBay I sometimes look for a wonderful book called “Zany Afternoons”. The first edition in paperback goes for $150 or more on Alibris. On eBay, it often goes for way less, so it’s a killer opportunity to “flip” the book on Alibris. How does this happen? Because Alibris sellers know too much about books! On eBay, many people unload books so quickly they have no time to research each title.
All of this is a way of saying that you can find genuine bargains, but the key is intimate market knowledge. Never, ever believe a seller who claims you’re buying something way under market price. Check Completed Listings for similar items, because if it’s expensive you know the seller has too. On the other hand, if the seller is unloading an old car from an estate sale, happens to recall a Datsun that had turned our to be a lemon, he may not know enough about, or pay attention to, a particular variation where the four-seater happens to be worth $5,000 more than the two-seater.
On those rare occasions when you can take advantage of seller’s lack of information, feel free to get aggressive and snatch the item up. Just watch the metadata–the information about the information. If it seems absolutely impossible that the seller would be unable to see what you see, follow the first principle and make sure you ask detailed, probing questions, then run like hell if the seller seems to be agitated. Might be a scam. After all, a genuinely naïve seller wouldn’t be angry about a simple request for information, right?
Remember: it’s all about the relationship, and in a good relationship everyone knows communication comes first. That applies equally well to buying an expensive item, even one you’re about to fall in love with. Take these eBay bidding secrets to heart the next time you see a breathtaking 1962 Fender Stratocaster listed as “Dad’s Old Guitar-Found Under His Bed After He Passed” and apply them carefully and methodically before you take the plunge.