Jerry Del Colliano recently wrote about the perils of buying a
twenty-year old power amplifier in his latest Blog. And while I agree that
buying used equipment always entails more risk than buying new, the discount
makes it worthwhile much of the time.
I have been buying and selling on EBAY since 1994. I’ve sold
guitars to collectors in Thailand and Spain and purchased watches from folks in
Hong Kong and Argentina with no problems.
Lucky? Of course. But I try to stack the deck in my favor by
applying five simple rules to all my EBAY and Audiogon transactions. Let me
share them with you:
Rule 1 – No Feedback, No Sale
I will not buy from or sell to anyone with 0 feedback. No one,
except a thief, lists an expensive piece of gear with a below-market “Buy It
Now” price and has no feedback. Anyone who’s halfway sane (or at least a
slightly craftier thief) would buy some little stuff – batteries, USB cables,
Q-tips, to see how EBAY worked, establish a Paypal account, and get comfortable
with Internet sales, before selling a big-ticket item on EBAY.
On the seller side, I don’t accept bids from 0 feedback buyers.
Life is too short to have to educate a newbie on how to Paypal me money, why
the shipping costs what it does, or the myriad of beginner questions and
problems that come up when someone has never purchased goods through EBAY
Yes, I am discriminating. It reduces the drama ten-fold.
Rule 2 – No Pictures, No Bids
If a seller can’t or won’t supply a picture I can’t or won’t
bid on their item. No exceptions. I need to see a picture. It doesn’t have to
be a very good picture, because with almost 60 years of experience looking at
pictures I’m really good at decoding them. Even a smart-phone pic is usually
good enough to tell me what I need to know. But without a picture, the playing
field is so unlevel it’s nearly vertical.
Rule 3 – No International Deals
I’m sorry, but I had to make this rule for myself. I used to
love selling and buying cool stuff from exotic places, but the hassle? Customs
forms, commercial invoices, everything in quadruplicate, the Lacey Act…All the
extra steps have made it so time-consuming to sell or buy anything substantial
from overseas that I stopped, cold turkey five years ago. I still buy little
stuff from China and Hong Kong since I enjoy seeing the stamps. And the risk of
getting burned by a seller with a 20K+ feedback rating for a $1.98 item is
Rule 4 – Never Assume
Many people have communication issues, especially when they are
buying or selling something. On EBAY you must read descriptions carefully.
Never assume all the bits and pieces needed to make something work are included
unless it says that they are. Also just because something usually comes with a
remote, unless it say there’s a remote, THERE IS NO REMOTE! Same thing goes for
AC cables, antenna wires, cables, instruction books, software discs, etc. If
it’s not listed for sale, it’s probably not there for a reason, that reason
being it’s not part of the deal.
Rule 5 – Buy The Seller
Whenever I’m seriously interested in something on EBAY, one of
the first things I do is see what other kinds of things the seller has bought
and sold in the past so I can judge their level of knowledge about the item
they’re selling. Usually the more the seller knows, the closer the price of the
item is to the current market value, which is bad. But the more the seller
knows, the higher the probability that the description of the item is accurate.
I would rather buy from a knowledgeable seller because they are
usually better at packing and shipping, and less likely to be weird. I will only
buy from a naïve seller if they have something I really want, AND it’s not
terribly expensive so the risk is manageable. In a worst-case total-loss
scenario I want to be able to take the hit.
Do As I Say, Not As I Do
I recently broke my own rules. I bought a Lexicon RT-10 from a
naïve seller for the buy-it-now price of $150 plus $30 shipping. The seller had
decent feedback, but everything they’d sold was decorative or household items,
not electronics. I read the ad carefully. No remote control was included, but
at the price I was OK with that. From the pictures I could see it had a rack
mount, which meant a semi-permanent install, and the description mentioned it
had been a home system. I could also see that it had no signs of physical abuse
or moisture exposure, so I pulled the trigger and Paypaled away $180.
The next morning I was surprised to see that I had not received
a notice from EBAY telling me the auction had been cancelled and my money
refunded. Several days later I got an email with shipping info and five days
after that Fed Ex Ground delivered a slightly rumpled but sufficiently large box
so the contents could weather the abuse, with a working Lexicon RT-10 and its
instruction book inside. Without a remote, as I expected.
One call the Lexicon and I had a new remote that only set me back $56. In the
meantime I re-programed my Logitech/Harmony 890 by adding the RT-10 as an
additional CD player (since that’s what I’ll be using it for). It was a fifteen-minute
job, but in the end when I pushed “eject” on the Harmony remote the RT-10 stuck
its tongue out at me. Success. Sometimes EBAY long shots do work out and buying
used can be a great way for any audiophile to get a leg up in sound on a
Your chances of getting burned are vastly reduced if you
follow my five rules, I promise.