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Online Tips for Collectors

If you're just starting out on eBay, chances are you like to shop and you also collect items that interest you. You'll find out pretty early in your eBay adventures that a lot of people online know as much about collecting as they do about bidding — and some are serious contenders.

How can you compete? Well, in addition to having a well-planned buying strategy, knowing your stuff gives you a winning edge. Following are the opinions of two collecting experts to get the info you need about online collecting basics.

Although these tips from the experts are targeted for collectors, much of the information is sound advice for those involved in any transaction online.

Bill Swoger closed his collectibles store in Burbank, California, and sold the balance of his G.I. Joe and Superman items on eBay. Lee Bernstein, a columnist who ran a collectibles business from her home base in Schererville, Indiana, was the author of eBay's now-defunct Collectibles "Inside Scoop."

Some of their tips for collectors follow:

  • Get all the facts before you put your money down. Study the description carefully. It's your job to analyze the description and make your bidding decisions accordingly. Find out whether all original parts are included and whether the item has any flaws. If the description says that the Fred Flintstone figurine has a cracked back, e-mail the seller for more information on just how cracked Fred really is.

  • Don't get caught up in the emotional thrill of bidding. First-time buyers (because they have fewer than ten transactions under their belts) tend to bid wildly, using emotions rather than brains. If you're new to eBay, you can get burned if you just bid for the thrill of victory without thinking about what you're doing.

    Because item values are such flighty things (depending as they do on supply and demand, market trends, and all sorts of other variables), you need to get a general idea of the item's value and use this ballpark figure to set a maximum amount of money you're willing to bid for that item.

    Then stick to your maximum and don't even think about bidding past it. If the bidding gets too hot, there's always another auction.

  • Know what the item should cost. Buyers used to depend on price guides — books on collectibles and their values — to help them bid. Bill says that price guides are becoming a thing of the past.

    Sure, you can find a guide that says an original-cast Lion King Broadway poster in excellent condition has a book price of $150, but if you do a search on eBay, you'll see that they're actually selling for less than half that amount.

    When your search on eBay turns up what you're looking for, average the current prices you find. Also check the sold listings. Doing so gives you a much better idea of what you need to spend than any price guide can.

  • Timing is everything, and being first costs. If you're into movie posters, for example, consider this: If you can wait three to six months after a film is released, you can get the poster for 40 to 50 percent less. The same goes for many new releases of collectibles. Sometimes you're wiser to wait and save money.

  • Be careful of presale items. Sometimes you may run across vendors selling items that they don't have in stock but that they'll ship to you later.

    For example, before Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace came out, some vendors ran auctions on movie posters they didn't have yet. If you had bid and won, and for some reason the vendor had a problem getting the poster, you'd have been out of luck. Don't bid on anything that can't be delivered as soon as you pay for the item.

  • Being too late can also cost. Many collectibles become more difficult to find as time goes by. Generally, as scarcity increases, so does desirability and value. Common sense tells you that if two original and identical collectibles are offered side by side, with one in like-new condition and the other in used condition, the like-new item will have the higher value.

  • Check out the seller. Check the feedback rating (the number in parentheses next to the person's User ID) a seller has before you buy. If the seller has many comments with a minute number of negative ones, chances are good that this is a reputable seller.

    Although eBay forbids side deals, an unsuccessful bidder may (at his or her own risk) contact a seller after an auction is over to see if the seller has more of the item in stock. If the seller is an experienced eBay user (a high feedback rating is usually a tipoff) and has more of the item in stock, he or she may consider making a perfectly eBay-legal Second Chance offer.

    Don't ask to buy the item off-site. eBay strictly prohibits selling items off the site. If you conduct a side deal and are reported to eBay, you can be suspended. Not only that, but buyers who are ripped off by sellers in away-from-eBay transactions shouldn't look to eBay to bail them out; if you go that route, you're on your own.

    The way to purchase these items is by asking the seller to post another of the item for you — or if you were an underbidder in the auction, send you a Second Chance offer. That way, you're also protected by eBay's buyer protection.

  • If an item comes to you not as described, contact the seller to work it out. Use eBay messages to let the seller know exactly what you received and how it differs from the description on the listing. Give the seller a chance to make good before you go nuclear.

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