Selling stuff on ebay
October 3, 2012 7:23 PM   Subscribe

Explain Ebay to me like I'm six years old. I need to sell some expensive lenses and a camera. How do I sell something without being taken to the cleaners by scammers?

I have some Contax Carl Zeiss lenses I want to unload at long last. Two of them are EXC++ in the old Shutterbug grading system, but one of them has cleaning marks and needs a CLA, but is optically and functionally above par, so VG+. I also have a Contax Aria camera body, a B+W 52mm circular polarizer and a Metz Contax adapter, all EXC++.

Do I sell them all as a kit? Do I piece them out? How do I make sure I'm not ripped off? I tried selling on Craigslist, but only got responses from Russia. Am I just fucked, and should try to unload them at a place like KEH?
posted by Slap*Happy to Work & Money (17 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Disclaimer: Know nothing about camera equipment, but have a reasonable amount of semi-pro eBay experience.. The choice to sell on e-Bay versus selling to a pro shop is pretty much all about a trade-off between cash and risk. A pro shop will give you something below market rate - how much is, I suppose, up to them and you would know better what the incentives are. E-Bay is 95% likely to give you as close as guessable to full market value (pretty much independent of how high your minimum bid is or whether you set a reserve price), but it comes with obvious hassle and risks: things break in transit, people hold off on payment, sometimes auctions don't go as well as you'd want them to. You should be aware that, if a buyer initiates a complaint, the burden of proof is on the seller to demonstrate the item was delivered as promised. That's the most likely you are to come to being ripped off: because of package tracking and using PayPal as a sort of broker system, you're unlikely to send something to someone who just doesn't pay you.

That being said, if you go the e-Bay route: be scrupulously honest about your items' flaws, package them separately unless they're naturally paired as long as they're worth more than $20 or so, take a ton of pictures, and check with yourself to make sure you realistically know what this stuff might bring. E-Bay's advanced search lets you search completed listings: the ones that actually sold are in green, the ones that didn't make minimum bid are in red.
posted by Apropos of Something at 7:37 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have some nice lenses to sell (Canon L series) and I would not get near eBay as a seller. CL in person, for cash, or B&H/Adorama. eBay is so strongly buyer/scammer biased, I'd never sell anything on there worth more than $20.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:37 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

eBay has really gone down the toilet in terms of seller safety and if you end up with a buyer who is anywhere on the range from weird or overly anal, to sleazy or outright scammer you're absolutely screwed. I've bought 200+ items and sold around 50+ over the years but after my last two sales went wrong I walked away. Only use it for stuff you could bear to lose or you don't expect to get much money for.

If you have the patience just keep listing them on Craigslist, and make it clear in your post that you won't ship or take anything other than cash. It might take longer to sell but you're probably going to make more money in the long run.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:54 PM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

I was happy with KEH, for what it's worth. I was selling pretty basic stuff, but I got the quote ahead of time and they actually paid me more because they thought the lens was higher quality than I did.

Top dollar? No. But hassle free.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 8:01 PM on October 3, 2012

I agree that I would avoid ebay as a seller. I'm not sure you'd get the best prices unless you were already established as a seller. Buyers have up to 45 days after the sale to file a claim with ebay and ebay or paypal can make you take returns regardless of what your auction terms state. Then there is the possibility of people returning the items damaged or switching them out and returning something that wasn't what you sold. If you do sell on ebay remember that you have to use the proper shipping for items - anything $250 + has to have online signature confirmation which is a separate form at USPS and different from insurance .
posted by oneear at 8:05 PM on October 3, 2012

If you prefer predictability, sell to a shop. If you can handle some additional risk, you'll likely increase your payoff with eBay.

Apropos of Something gave a great rundown of eBay. I'd expand with these points:

1. Take accurate, high-resolution photos of your items. Describe their condition in detail so that the buyer has no surprises. If the buyer feels slighted in any way, they have the upper hand and you will probably lose.

2. Ship the item the same day you get a confirmed payment through PayPal. Ensure you have a tracking number if the total cost of the transaction (including shipping) is under $250, and ensure you pay for a signature to be collected if the value is over $250. It is your responsibility to ensure the item arrives as described, so you'll want to purchase insurance if you're not comfortable covering the risk of loss or damage out of your own pocket.
posted by reeddavid at 8:10 PM on October 3, 2012

Another route - the buy/sell section of the forums. It's full of gear-heads and worth checking out.
posted by thecjm at 9:00 PM on October 3, 2012

Since you seem pretty knowledgeable about what you have I think eBay is an excellent outlet for you to reach a significantly greater number of people who may be interested in exactly those items. Do your research about values, through eBay completed sales and offers, as well as outside sources. I'm not particularly familiar with high-end lenses but I would say check camera stores and magazines. There are probably clubs/groups on line which may have value threads. I would list the items separately unless there are natural combinations which a buyer would likely want.

Once you know about what you want and might expect to receive for them you are free to make choices on eBay about how you wish to obtain those prices. You can gamble and throw it up to chance and just list them with a low starting price and hope they catch the eye of potential serious buyers during the listing period. Sometimes that works and "auction fever" can result in higher than expected returns. Probably not a really likely scenario. Were I in the position you appear to be, i.e. knowledgeable about my items and apparently not in need of "distress sale" speed to get rid of them, I would choose to set a price which is at or very close to what I want to receive as the initial minimum bid starting price, or even a "buy it now" listing. This may mean that you wind up listing the item a number of times without getting your price, but I believe eBay now allows you to list a significant number of items each month without any basic listing fee and only a "final value" percentage fee if the item sells. You can relist an unsuccessful sale with almost no additional time or effort unless you choose to rework the listing. Be realistic about the value, but remember that quality items which are not offered for sale very frequently have an excellent chance on eBay of finding the one buyer, per item, you need, given the huge numbers of people shopping there.

Follow the advice above about documenting both the items and their condition and flaws and use the shipping methods designed for your protection, i.e. tracking, signature required, and insurance. You can require the buyer to pay these by including that in the listing.

Selling quality items at or close to their true market value should greatly reduce the likelihood of scammer interest. Your listing should require that a buyer seeking a refund be responsible for payment of return shipping, using the same tracking, signature and insurance requirements.

Be patient. If you decide you just want to sell them and be done, I would probably choose a larger camera store which features used equipment.
posted by uncaken at 9:01 PM on October 3, 2012

Man, you gotta make sure the seller knows that the items are working when you package them, and if things are damaged in transit, it's not your problem. Twice now, my husband has sold items--electronic equipment and cameras--and the seller's have told him they arrived non-functional. For years we ran a packaging company and packaged items for the government. We know how to pack! This kind of stuff never happened ten years ago when he sold the entire contents of his darkroom prior to going overseas--including enlargers, an aerial camera, several lenses, 120 and 35 mm cameras, etc.

Husband always puts insurance on packages through FedEx. Both times the sellers insisted the packages weren't damaged, so they couldn't collect. In good faith, he refunded the money--the second time he told the buyer he wanted the item returned shipped, and sent the shipping fee. Guess what happened there? The third time it happened, husband had stressed that arrival condition was NOT his problem and included a video of the item working. Buyer left a crappy rating, but didn't return item for refund. The last straw was a fella that insisted the item was not as described--it was listed as two 120 camera film backs with PICTURES of the item on the listing. He felt he should have gotten the camera with the backs! There were problems with other sales also, and husband has decided to sell stuff via Craigslist instead.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:10 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am an established eBay seller and yes, it has become much more difficult as a seller recently b/c of the reasons mentioned above.

But here's the thing: with most items, you bring them into an antiques store or a book store (I think it will be the same thing with a camera store) they will offer you less than 15% of what you could sell it for.

The fees on eBay are about 12% of the selling price. If you sell on eBay make sure you restrict your listings so that people from Italy can not bid/buy on them. I have no issue with Italian people but Italian customs is a nightmare to deal with, sometimes they will confiscate an item and demand the customer pay the VAT before delivery and then the buyer decides to stiff you. Just not worth it.

Craigslist is comprised of 90% of people looking to buy things to resell and 10% of people who might need your item ASAP. Very, very unlikely to get a decent price there.

I sold a book on eBay for almost $1,100 and prior to selling it (for market research purposes) I took it to a famous bookstore in NYC to see what their offer was: $80.00

I helped a friend sell a snuff box and some sterling candlesticks with important hallmarks & makers' marks on them. He insisted on going to a local antiques store b/c the people who owned it are "very nice".

Long story short, I had researched what the items sell for and given my friend all of the information to familiarize himself with. When he tried to point out to the antiques store owners what these items were selling for (note: not an asking price, what they have sold for) on eBay, they both went into a Negging routine that would make a PUA proud. Which is standard practice, antiques stores do this all the time, try to make you feel what you have is not that special and then offer you 8% or some ridiculous amount.
posted by mlis at 9:32 PM on October 3, 2012

I've sold gear back to KEH, B&H, and Adorama and was generally satisfied in that I didn't have to do much. Adorama won't give you any more for a body or lens with box, caps, and manual but I believe KEH will.

You may also wish to sell through rangefinderforums as they have MF and SLR sections in their marketplace as well.
posted by a halcyon day at 9:52 PM on October 3, 2012

As everyone has mentioned, you need to be careful when using eBay. With that said, I personally would sell those lenses on eBay without a second thought (after listing it on various camera forums). I would even start the auction at $0.99 with no reserve, though that's because I have faith in eBay. This minimizes fees and can even drive the auction price up because people are drawn to the initially very low price. I have sold numerous computers on eBay like this with great success.

Of the 60 or so transactions I have had on eBay, about 5 of them have been troublesome with 2 of them disastrous. One of them was the joint fault of me and my mother -- I didn't explicitly ask her to ship with signature confirmation for an expensive phone and she therefore didn't ship with delivery confirmation. It was claimed to be never received and I was out of a fancy phone -- my fault, but lesson learned. In the second instance I was selling a partially functioning computer. I described it to the best of my ability and marked it sold as-is but the buyer was disappointed upon receipt and refused to accept it.

Fast forward to last month. I sold my father's fancy phone on eBay. The buyer poorly communicated that it was never received and opened a dispute. I simply included the tracking number with signature confirmation and that was the end of that, dispute over.

Moral of the story: go for it, but be careful and protect yourself.
- Delivery and signature confirmation
- Shipping insurance
- Describe the item to the best of your ability with lots of photos. Mention every existing flaw.
- It's up to you, but I only ship to the U.S.

If you want the piece of mind, go another route. Probabilistically speaking, I would think that even with the occasional scam (3% of the time in my personal experience), you will still make more money in the long run using eBay than by selling it through other means.
posted by masters2010 at 9:52 PM on October 3, 2012

I've sold gear back to KEH, B&H, and Adorama and was generally satisfied in that I didn't have to do much.

That's great -- but how much did they give you for each item and how much was it selling for used on eBay?
posted by mlis at 11:13 PM on October 3, 2012

Some great advice here. I routinely sell off all of my belongings and go travel for months at a time. So far, I'm very happy with using EBay for the more expensive shippable items. I've sold three camera bodies and over $10,000 worth of lenses. Here's what I've learned so far, hopefully it helps:
  • Search for it in the "completed" item search, look specifically at The selling prices within the last six months, and note how many didn't sell. Look at each one and try to figure out why it didn't sell. Usually it's because they were priced too high or something in the description sucks.
  • Also in the completed item search, note the frequency which the item shows up for sale. Compare this with the number of current auctions for this item. If it isn't a common item but there's a lot for sale at the moment, it might be worth while to wait until the current set of auctions end so there will be less competition. Try to start your auction a little before the last one or two (comparable) auctions end, and you might pull in bidders of previous auctions who are watching the supply of your item dwindle.
  • Offer free shipping and ship via USPS Priority with signature. I prefer this because it simplifies the transaction. Less moving parts = less points of failure.
  • I only ship to the United States. Customs forms and fees are a pita. Less chance of getting scammed too.
  • As others have mentioned, take ultra-high resolution, sharp images of everything that there is to see on your item. Light up the shutter. Hold the shutter open and shoot through the lens with another lens. Put the lens on a body and shoot some images that show both the limitations and the strengths of the lens. If there are any defects, take some pictures that clearly show the defect, and if it's a cosmetic defect only, then overstate it a little in your description. (IMO) Most serious buyers will look at the images and make their own judgement, and nobody can say you were deceptive in your listing.
  • If you've still got the boxes, accessories, and receipts, lay them out all pretty along with the equipment. Take a nice, big picture of them and make that the main image for the listing. Also, get the item ready for shipment but stop just before you seal it up, in case you need to open it back up to answer a question. Take a picture of the item lovingly padded and well-packed and put that in the listing too. Preemptively answer as many questions as you can through your images. Lots of people won't ask you the questions that run through their head, don't lose them by being lazy. Convince them that you are a professional, meticulous, honest person by the way you present your auction.
  • When deciding the price to start the auction at, I look in completed items for the lowest prices sold for recently. Check them out and make sure they are comparable items, then see how you feel about risking it. I usually start my auctions off really low, and I've yet to feel cheated by the selling price.
  • Include a note with the equipment providing the buyer with your phone number in case something is amiss. To this day I've never been called by a buyer I've done this with. I think it just reinforces the whole idea that you have integrity.
  • Don't mention shipping insurance in the listing. If a buyer requests insurance, I happily oblige and pass on the cost to him. If it sells to a bidder that doesn't ask, I pay for it out of pocket and tell them I insured it when I email them the tracking number.
  • Speaking of tracking numbers, ship the items as fast as you can. People are used to 2nd day shipping from and 3 day priority mail. The longer they wait, the crankier they get. They might also fall out of love with their purchase if they wait too long. Ship soon using a fast service.
  • When I'm selling items on ebay, I transfer the buyer's payments from PayPal and into my bank account the instant they are made. If the buyer cries to PayPal, there will be no money in your account to freeze, and you will not be at as much of a disadvantage.
  • Tell a story in your description. Without getting dramatic, describe the life that the item you're selling has experienced.
I'm sure there's more, but the important stuff is there. The trick to experiencing a hassle-free transaction is by managing their expectations. Do everything you can to align their expectations with the reality of what you are selling. It's ok if you deliver exactly what they expect, better if you deliver more than they expect, and a recipe for drama if you deliver less than they expect. Take into consideration what high expectations us Americans seem to have of our retail experiences. Keep the transaction as simple as possible, and find some cheap, easy ways to exceed what the average person would expect of you.

You could squeeze more money out of the sale by not doing this, but it seems to dramatically lower the occurrence of problem buyers, which is totally worth it to me, and I still end up with more than I would expect to get locally.
posted by Th!nk at 11:31 PM on October 3, 2012 [8 favorites]

A few more things I forgot:

Don't sell multiple items in a single auction. You'll most likely get less than you would get for them separately. I sell things one piece at a time, and if I have low-dollar items (cheap camera bags, wipes, cleaning supplies, etc) that I want to get rid of buy aren't worth enough to sell I just throw them in with items that have more competition to try and make my auction the "most desirable."

In your description, go ahead and mention how you would grade it as you did in your OP, but remember that there will be amateurs looking at your auction. Describe the lens in laymanspeak as well so everybody can understand everything.

And about KEH, definitely see what they will offer you for your stuff before doing this. I've only found their price more desirable once, with an old, rare lens in very good condition.
posted by Th!nk at 11:42 PM on October 3, 2012

I haven't sold cameras, but I've done a lot of other high-end ($1,000+) sales on eBay.

My advice:
- limit sales to the US. This avoids a ton of issues around payment, shipping, and customs.
- write a rich description of each item, making sure to mention every relevant detail and feature. If the manufacturer has brochures, they're a great place to start.
- take lots of photos of the items from different angles. consider putting your ebay username on a piece of photo in the photos, to prove you're not recycling images.
- if the items have meaningful value, buy relevant listing upgrades like subtitles
- look at completed auctions for similar items
- make sure your auction ends on a non-holiday, during hours where bidders from both coasts can be awake
- make sure your listing looks professional and non-sketchy
- offer a Buy-it-now option
- if the items are compatible with a bunch of cameras, list them in the description
- think of how people might search for each piece of equipment, and make sure to use those words.

Buyers on eBay are concerned about buying the right thing. Do your best to reassure them that your product is the right thing for them.
posted by grudgebgon at 5:48 AM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

1. Ebay used to be a good place for indivuduals to buy and sell things. It hasn't been that place for close to 10 years now.

2. Ebay will make you use their PayPal service so you will have to register for that. As a new Paypal user they will hold your eBay Payments for 21 days so do not expect to e able to access your money for 3 weeks.

3. Between eBay and Paypal fees you will lose roughly 13% of your sale. That's right - you sell your stuff for $500 and ebay will get $60 of that.

4. If you sell your stuff and the buyer claims that you mailed him a brick your payment will be held up for months. If you sell your sell your stuff and the buyer send it back but instead returns to you some broken product that he had on hand (a fairly common scam) - you lose. Neither ebay or Paypal will reimburse you.

The bottom line is that eBay is usually more trouble than it's worth these days - especially for a new person who is seen a "freash meat" by scammers (everyone will know that you are new because of your nonexistant feedback level)

I sell my electronics on Craigslist these days with great results for anything up to a thousand bucks. I make a lot more money on CL as well . There are some caveats for CL selling as well but that's another post.

Also you might try selling your used stuff on Amazon - they will take only 8% of your sale and only hold your cash for 2 weeks max. Also less chance - much less chance - of getting scammed there. I recently have used them for selling various things with better results than ebay and less stress as well.
posted by Podkayne of Pasadena at 8:05 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

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