Friday, February 04, 2005

eBay Grading

Hmmm. Been seeing some talk about eBay grading, TCA Standards and the like. Is eBay really responsible for the grading or is the seller?

Well, at a TCA meet, it is incumbent upon the seller to accurately represent the item that is getting sold, bartered or traded. But eBay is different because it isn't the same kind of forum that a standard train meet has. Buyers and sellers are seperated by hundreds and even thousands of miles. Should that excuse a less than accurate representation?

Let me put another and more realistic shade on the discussion; what if the seller doesn't know what he or she is selling and is taking the word of a reputable source? Let's met this out further; what if an item is sold and it isn't returned in the same condition it was sent (and the TCA nor does the law have much remedy for this)?

Well, I kind of break it down like this: if I went to flea market (like the giant one by my house in Upstate New York called "Stormville"), if I buy from a seller there all I have to go on is his word. And there's no recourse if I don't like it, I don't have his address, his phone, whatever. I also get to barter the price down, not up because he doesn't want to go home with the stuff, much akin to a train show.

On eBay, nobody wants to get zero bids or not meet their reserve. Sniping is rampant (something that doesn't often happen at a train meet or flea market).

What about when I buy something at an antique store, usually owned by one of my friends and it has some repro parts? I still like the item but am I going to yell at one of my best friends and lose the opportunity to eat over at his house around Christmas time?

Back to grading: I asked my old pal Jim Cohen how he grades things. He said that if you really want something thoroughly graded, he had to get down and dirty by taking the item apart and checking almost every part/piece. I told him most of us collectors don't have time for that and I guarantee the new world of eBay won't permit it. He said that he heard similar complaints through the years at the advent of each new event and bigger get-together. "The only true test" as Jim said "is to have the toy in your hands and to inspect it with your eyes thoroughly." "You don't need to be a genius to recognize a refurbished item or an item that is rated as mint that isn't even good."

Thus some things that I learned from this:

1) If it is an expensive item, check to see that it can be returned.
2) Try escrow (ebay offers plenty of Escrow services and they work, I have used them).

By the way, I have worked with some folks buying some expensive items on eBay. Whenever someone won't do an escrow (either buying or selling) for an item over $1k, you should immediately question why.

3) Ask for some credentials! What qualifies someone to give a train an "excellent" rating.
4) Ask up front, before the sale, not after the item is delivered to your house.
5) Look at the feedback, that's what it's there for. You can quickly tell when a seller is accurate in their recollection of an item or not.
6) Call people on bad judgement. I have written several notes to people and told them that a boxcar that is half rusted, is O gauge and has no wheels does not equate to a "standard gauge materpiece".
7) Find reputable eBay sellers that you like and focus on them. I have tried to list a few but I actually can't do all of them justice.
8) If eBay is too agitating to look at, just go to another forum. Stay with auctions. If you live in the boonies, talk to the auctioneers, I guarantee they will help you do absentee bidding. Believe me, this is one of the best ways to acquire the best stuff. And even then you should still watch your back!

There are no rules for this in our new electronic universe. However I think the opportunity to expand our vistas and see some trains we don't normally get to touch or hear about is there. Operating in the world of common sense and keeping your cool are the first two best steps.

Remember, 10 years ago, there was no such thing as eBay. Who knows what it we'll be trading on tomorrow.....


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good tips on how to use auctions to beef up your collection. Another tactic on expensive items that past TCA president Paul Wassserman uses and that I have also used is to ask the seller to ship you the item first before you pay for it. This is especially useful when the seller is new to EBAY and/or does not have much feedback. If you have a good feedback history you can point to that as proof of your trustworthiness. I once had a $3K set shipped to me in this manner.

I'm more of an operator/collector so while condition is always important I tend not to spend extra bucks on top condition stuff. I want to run the stuff not just look at it. I know of a collector who has two separate categories of everything: high quality originals which he displays and modern reproductions of many of the same trains and accessories which he runs. Nice if you have the bucks and space to do it. But I'd rather have a larger number of charming originals with character in just good or very good condition than a lesser amount of excellent or near mint stuff. More is better for me.

Jim Kelly