At the end of 2015, a number of my friends and some our writers (myself included) made AV system upgrades and changes. In the AV realm, even years-old components can retain real value that could help you upgrade to brand-spanking new toys. Much like car dealers and big chains like CarMax make selling your car easier, selling your products directly to the next consumer is the most profitable way to protect your investment. With that said, there are many pitfalls to buying and selling AV gear. Here are some tips and thoughts on how to transact successful deals in the used market.
Selling Less Expensive Gear
Mainstream products sell fantastically well on Ebay.com. The site is tantamount to the world's largest flea market or swap meet, and Ebay has streamlined the process of listing products to make it super easy. If your component is exactly listed, with a few iPhone photos and some honest dialogue about the performance and condition of your product, you can be off to the races in minutes.
One trick I've used to sell countless smaller-ticket items on Ebay.com is to offer free shipping in the United States, as well as to start items that I know will be popular with a reserve of $1. Many expert eBay sellers suggest going seven days on the term of the auction, but I am often too amped to sell the product and get it out of my place. One Ebay.com expert that I spoke to suggested to all HomeTheaterReview.com readers to ignore the seven-day issue but to try to get your auction to end on Sunday. He suggested that more people are home and willing to track auctions on the weekends, which can help get you that last-minute flurry of bidding that can run up the price of your item.
PayPal is often the chosen way of paying for items won on auction via Ebay.com. PayPal is more buyer-friendly, but for small-ticket items the convenience is excellent. For sellers worried about transactions going wrong, you can wire-transfer the money out of your PayPal account (or order a check be sent) for use in a non-associated account, although most people just leave the extra money in their PayPal accounts for future purchases or larger transfers.
Selling Big Ticket AV and Audiophile Components
Selling an old AV receiver or Blu-ray player is one thing, but selling a pair of Wilson speakers or a Mark Levinson amp often leads AV enthusiasts to Audiogon.com. The community there is strong. These customers know about even the most offbeat audiophile products, and many of them scan the new listings just waiting to pounce on a bargain.
When selling on Audiogon.com, you can do an auction like Ebay.com, but I've had much better success with a more traditional classified ad. Audiogon.com has a pretty good Blue Book guide to assess the value of a product; between surfing current asking prices and historical prices on the Blue Book (which costs a few dollars to access), you can come up with a fair price. Seller, beware: you might get some close-to-insulting offers from bottom feeders as soon as you post a juicy item for sale. Be patient and wait for a good buyer. Make a solid case in the text of your ad as to why your asking price is justified. For example, "XYZ Speakers model 123 sell new at retail for $12,000 per pair. The last two pairs that sold on Ebay.com sold for between $5,500 and $6,000. The average price in Audiogon.com's Blue Book is $6,150. I am offering them for sale at $6,000." This way you avoid getting a $4,000 offer on your $6,000 asking price, which is just annoying and a waste of time for both buyer and seller.
The likelihood that that low-ball bidder will become a legitimate buyer is low. Buyers should make meaningful offers using the same logic as above so that the sellers will take them seriously. Additionally, it never hurts to talk on the phone about the transaction to suss out if a buyer or seller is serious and if the transaction seems fishy at any level. If for any reason you get even the slightest odd feeling about the transaction, RUN, don't walk. There will always be someone else to sell to or another product to buy. It might be in a few minutes, the next day, the next week, or a month from now, but it's worth waiting for a simple, no-drama transaction.
In sales training, highly paid gurus teach you to "overcome as many buyer objections as possible en route to earning the right to the sale." When selling on places like Audiogon.com, things are no different. Take the time to shoot many photos. Front, back, sides, close-ups. The site lets you post many images, so use your phone or, even better, your fancy higher-resolution camera to take excellent photos. In the copy of the ad, disclose as much as you can about the product, as it saves so much time in the long run and makes both sides of the transaction go more smoothly. Where and when did you buy the product? Why are you selling said product? How did you use the product in your system? Are there any flaws (describe even the tiniest ones)? Do you have the original boxes? Do you have manuals, remotes, and/or accessories? Is there any warranty left? Has the product been reviewed by notable publications (link to such reviews via Google). Disclose it all.
A word about condition: it's best to under-sell your product's condition. I recently sold my beloved Focal Diablo Utopias, since I am upgrading to the new Focal Sopra 2 floorstanding speakers. I took a ton of photos and inspected the speakers fully, and I just couldn't find anything wrong with them. They had no scratches. They had no dings. There were no mars to the paint, metal, or grills. They functioned perfectly. No, they weren't new, but you couldn't get much closer to new. So you'd give them a 9 out 10, right? Wrong! Give them an 8 or 8.5 out of 10. Audiophiles, especially on Audiogon.com, are neurotic. They obsess over even the smallest, most irrelevant flaw or blemish, and you will hear about it if they feel you over-sold the product's condition. You want/need to protect your positive feedback rating at the end of the deal. More on that later, but buyers tend to really appreciate when you give a very honest representation of the product. As the sales gurus say in training, "under promise and over deliver."
Craigslist.com and Local Pickup
There is a time and place for Craigslist.com or even Ebay.com local pickup. The upside is that big items can be purchased in cash (never take a check or even a bank check) and can be taken away right then and there without dealing with shipping headaches, which for many products are just too painful to deal with. On the other hand, you need to be prepared to have members of the general public come over and check out your house, gear, and beyond. People will try to do a last-minute low-ball offer, which is insulting and a waste of time. Many people say they are coming by to purchase your bla-bla-bla product, so you stay home waiting for them--then they never show up. When doing transactions on Audiogon.com or Ebay.com, you don't have to suffer through these kinds of problems; and, if someone does flake on you, you can torch them in their feedback section (althougs it'd tougher to do on Craigslist).
When my family recently moved, I had a two-year-old, professionally calibrated Panasonic 65-inch ZT plasma TV sitting in my gym room with no place to go. I paid $4,200 for it, as it was the best TV money could buy at the time. I put an ad up on Craigslist on a Saturday morning for $2,200, and I had a bidding frenzy within 30 minutes. It was crazy. One of our readers figured out that it was me who was selling the set, and he made a beeline to the bank to show up with cash. He did want to see that the TV actually worked, which was a bit of a pain but a fair request and worth the effort. While he was driving up from Newport Beach, I had another HomeTheaterReview.com reader from San Francisco literally beg me to sell him the set for more money, but I had to put him off. He was going to buy a plane ticket, then rent a car to drive the set back to Northern California. I think I might have underpriced the set, but who knew that a used high-end plasma TV was worth so much. I tried not to be bitter about the price for which I sold the set, as I clearly could have gotten more; still, the 22 Ben Franklins looked good in my hand, and the plasma TV looked good in someone else's home instead of mine.
Big and mainstream items seem to be the best fit for Craigslist. These buyers know what they want; they aren't as granular or wide-reaching as Ebay.com, nor are they as esoteric as buyers on Audiogon.com. You can always try to sell your Blu-ray player or Mark Levinson amp on Craigslist.com, but there really are better venues. TVs, bigger or older speakers, equipment racks, and computer gear tend to sell well on Craigslist.
Pay Attention to User Profiles and Feedback
One of the buyers interested in my Focal speakers told me when we spoke on the phone, "The only reason I would do business with you is that you have 100 percent positive feedback on Audiogon.com." I'm not sure that's entirely fair. There is such a thing as a reactive negative feedback; if you do a lot of transactions over time, something is likely to go screwy, and that doesn't necessarily mean you can't be trusted. I think it's important to check out the volume of feedback for a person with whom you are looking to do a deal. On the one hand, everyone has to start with zero feedback at some point. On the other hand, if someone with no feedback wants you to wire them $10,000 with little to no recourse, you might think twice about doing so.
Recently, I was shopping for a mortgage bank via LendingTree.com, which prominently displays user reviews of the banks--and it often isn't pretty. A bank with 18 feedbacks and a rating of 2.3 stars (out of five) is a bank that you probably don't want to do business with. Digging just a little deeper, you can tell from the type of copy that people write if the criticism is justified. If people are telling detailed stories of woe (or praise), that carries more weight than a simple "they suck" comment, which shouldn't carry as much clout.
Awhile back, I sold a small, portable DAC that I simply didn't need anymore on Audiogon.com. I packed the product quickly and FedExed it to the byer, with his e-mail address being listed on the notifications for Tendering, Shipping, Delivery, etc. The shipping place, a UPS Store, lost the Jiffy-Pack envelope for a few days. After the buyer complained, I profusely apologized, then I went personally to the UPS Store to figure out what had happened. Within a few minutes, the clerk found the item and rescanned it for shipment. I notified the buyer, and he proclaimed, "I no longer need the DAC. Refund me in PayPal." I responded back that: a) it's not my fault the shipping place misplaced the package around the holidays; and b) it's also not my fault that he changed his mind. However, he wouldn't back off. Before the end of the day, I refunded him his money, and within two days he accepted delivery of the DAC and kept it. He literally stole from me. This shows the downside of PayPal, as they would have likely backed him as the buyer, and I can't justify the time fighting over $150 for the next four or five billable hours. His punishment for being dishonest was that his second feedback on Audiogon.com was from me, explaining the transaction and telling people NOT to buy or sell anything from him. He's a thief. My mistake was selling an item to someone with one feedback. At least it was a small transaction. If you're planning a larger transaction, you should look very closely at the buyer's feedback.
If you are doing a local deal, get paid in cash. I have a friend who was selling a JVC D-ILA projector for $10,000 to someone on Ebay.com who wanted to pick it up and pay by bank check. He was from another country, and it turns out the bank check was as fake as can be. The buyer was even honest about the fact that he was getting on a plane to return home. He just wasn't honest about ripping off my friend with a fraudulent check.
On the seller side, I prefer wire transfers. Real buyers who trust you and know that you are for real will wire you money for bigger transactions when you give them a real invoice and show them that you aren't a fly-by-night schmuck. I recently took a bank check from a small bank in Michigan for an audiophile product that I sold. Not only did the guy snail mail me the check, thus causing days of delay (wire transfers go down in hours, often on the same day); but, because the check was for more than $5,000 and not from a major bank, my bank held a good part of the money for another three days. If this happens to you, absolutely do not ship the product until you have something in writing (a screenshot from online banking, a printed receipt, an email, something) that the bank has cleared your check. If something goes screwy, you need to be able to go back to your bank and say, "You approved it, so you can eat it." I renew my point about wire transfers and their superiority.
We discussed PayPal earlier. Its ease of use especially on Ebay.com makes it hard not to use from time to time, but I limit how much money I will take on PayPal. It's just too easy for you as a seller to get burned in a larger transaction because PayPal is a little more buyer-centric. There are other PayPal alternatives out there, but why? Some ask for access to your checking account. Are you kidding? Not a chance.
If you've got a transaction that demands a little trust, you can offer to use Escrow.com to hold the money until the transaction goes down. I would reserve this for bigger deals, as I have done this when buying and selling bigger-ticket URLs from overseas entities where I likely could lose everything in a wire transaction. An even better way to do a deal is to have your lawyer hold the money for you in a big AV transaction. There is no better way for a lawyer to get disbarred than to screw with his client account, thus this is an amazingly safe way to transact a larger deal. In the case of escrow, the buyer can pay the fees.
Thoughts on Shipping
If you can keep original boxes, that is great. Sometimes they get damaged, or the packing deteriorates over time. Never ever ever use a less-than-crisp box to ship an AV product. If you need to pay a box-and-ship place, do so--it's worth knowing that your product is going to arrive safely. Double box. Use foam packing. Bubble-wrap the crap out of things. Peanut around products so there is no chance of damage. Use rolls of packing tape when needed.
With that said, no shipping transaction is ever perfect. You've seen the videos on YouTube.com of shipping people just chucking items over hedges and fences with no care whatsoever. You can't control that on either side of the transaction, but you can do your best to pack things fantastically well.
When I was moving out of my old house, I sold my beloved Paradigm S8 floorstanding speakers along with a big, mean center speaker and a center speaker stand. The original boxes had gotten wet, and I just didn't want to use them; so, I paid to have Paradigm send me all-new boxes and foam. I then went so far to have the big Paradigm dealer from the San Fernando Valley come to my house to professionally pack the speakers before I called FedEx to a pick them up. A week later, I got an email from the buyer, and half of the box was gone on one of the floorstanding speakers. A day to two later, the other floorstanding speaker arrived at my old office on Wilshire Boulevard with literally no box. You have to be kidding me. The buyer was cool, thankfully. I called FedEx, and it took me six weeks to get the insurance money (always over-insure AV products, be they small items on Ebay.com or big-ticket Audiogon.com items), but I was able to buy the guy a fresh set of speakers. He could have gotten angry with me and demanded his money back, but the buyer was cool. Because we handled the transaction the right way, he got brand new speakers--albeit six weeks or so later.
In the end, the vast majority of the transactions that I do work out well, even when there is a bump in the road. Using some of the best practices noted above will hopefully help you keep on upgrading your system without any problems. Keep a careful eye on anyone with whom you do business, pack things really well, get paid the right way, and always communicate with the other party, and you'll be well on your way to success. When all is completed and both parties are happy, spread the love--because you can't fake lots and lots of well-written, thoughtful feedback.
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