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How To Sell Your Trains on eBay

Updated on July 24, 2012
I'll put this up as a Buy It Now listing because it is new product that will get full retail price.
I'll put this up as a Buy It Now listing because it is new product that will get full retail price. | Source
Detail pictures are good, but make sure your lighting and focus is spot on.
Detail pictures are good, but make sure your lighting and focus is spot on. | Source
This caboose photo is dark and doesn't show the color well.
This caboose photo is dark and doesn't show the color well. | Source
A flash helps highlight the product but can also wash out or exaggerate paint flaws.
A flash helps highlight the product but can also wash out or exaggerate paint flaws. | Source
There's a big difference between "mint in box" and "excellent" condition.
There's a big difference between "mint in box" and "excellent" condition. | Source

Selling on eBay is convenient, albeit expensive and sometimes risky. You have a global market for your trains here. So how do you sell your trains on eBay? If you list your items the right way, and provide enough information for the buyers, you can get through the process unscathed and make a few bucks while you're at it. If you have sold on eBay before, you are familiar with the fees and the risk of selling to a less-than-ethical buyer. While there is no avoiding the fees, there are steps you can take to ensure a smooth transaction.

Whether you are selling antique trains or "new in the box" product, ensuring you have listed your items in the correct category and that you have provided enough information for the listing is the first step to success. If your product is new, you need to be able to determine how new it is. Is it still shrink-wrapped? Has it ever been opened? When did you first obtain it? Did you buy it new? If the product is used, you need to be able to determine how used. When you create a listing, you are able to specify through a drop down menu if the product is new or used. With trains, eBay offers the ability to include the TCA (Train Collector's Association) Grading Scale. The grading scale works as a 1-10 numbering system where C1 (condition: 1) is essentially junk to C10, which is mint in the box.


"New" Items

New trains are easy, and will typically have a grade scale between C8 and C10. I would suggest you only list something as C10 if it has never been opened or removed from its packaging. Listing something as "mint in box" opens you up to complaints from buyers. If you have, for example, a Lionel train that is still sealed in its original brown shipping box, then you have a piece that is C10. If that outer shipping box is damaged, but still sealed, there is a risk that the product inside is damaged. It would be in your best interest here to open that box to inspect the product. If you need to do that, and the product checks out fine, while it may still be "minty", the reality is that you are now down one grade level to a C9, which is "Factory New". factory new basically means that the product is in all of its original packaging and has never been run. You will see toy train retailers list old inventory as factory new. Personally, I tend to list the majority of my new trains as either C8 - Like New or C9 - Factory New. I will only list something as a C10 if it is sealed in its original factory shipping box.

"Used" Pieces

Used trains present a little more of a challenge. You have to be careful how you grade them. I would recommend being conservative with your grading. It is better to set the expectation low and surprise the buyer with something that is better than expected rather than disappoint. Most used trains that have any value will fall between C5 and C7 on the grade scale. According to the TCA standards, C5 is defined as "Good—Signs of play wear: scratches and minor paint loss. Small dents, minor surface rust. Evidence of heavy use." A grade of C7 is defined as "Excellent—all original: minute scratches and paint nicks; no rust and no missing parts; no distortion of component parts." It is very easy to split hairs in this area. Words such as "minor" and "minute" are open to interpretation. You need to be very specific in your description to be able to support the grade you choose. Anything that may grade out as less than a C5 may not have any value on eBay. There are exceptions, such as with rare pre-war pieces from American Flyer, Ives and Lionel. But of you are selling a box full of beat up plastic HO stuff from 20 years ago, you will do better in a yard sale.

New or used, a detailed description is important. I like to used a bullet list with short, specific, descriptive sentences. Keep flowery modifiers out of the description. Avoid using words like beautiful, amazing, pristine, perfect. Be dry and be exact. If your product is new and the information is available, you can use a list of features from the box or catalog. Be certain to note any text that comes from the packaging or marketing material and be careful that the marketing material doesn't make the train sound better than it really is. Also, a good selection of quality photographs will help to tell the story. You don't need an expensive high end camera to take good pictures. Some basic guidelines would be:

  • Use a 5MP or better camera
  • Have good lighting (i.e. sunlight, bright overhead lighting)
  • Use auto-focus (and make sure your pictures are in focus!)
  • Upload the largest possible image

You would be amazed at how many people upload images that are dark and out of focus. Take pictures of all the important parts of the piece you are listing. If there is any damage, or any play wear that might be open to interpretation, make sure you take good pictures of it. You can upload one image for free in your eBay listing, you have to pay for the rest. You can upload 12 images total if you go through eBay for the pictures. There are other listing services out there that give you the ability to load more, but there are fees associated. Either way, upload the maximum number of pictures. Avoid using stock images unless it is a brand new product that is sealed in its shipping box. There you can use a catalog photo and of course, a picture of the sealed shipping box.

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Don't Stop With the Listing

After you have listed your item, you will want to market it beyond the walls of eBay. You now have the ability to not only share your listing via email, but you can also post it on your Facebook page and "tweet" it with your Twitter account. If you have a sharing toolbar installed with your browser, such as AddThis, you can post your listing to dozens of social media outlets. When I list, I share my listing with as many places as I can.

Once you have sold your item, you will want to get paid. You are given the option to have buyers pay electronically if you are shipping product or pay using another method if they are picking the product up from you. While eBay states that they require electronic payment, you can get paid in other ways. Keep in mind though, any opportunity for "seller protection" goes away when you take payment outside of the preferred methods. While I do not like the fees, I use PayPal and do not take any other forms of payment. I learned early on that it is easy to be burned and using a payment service keeps that from happening.

The decision to list in either an auction type format or with a "buy it now" format is as much driven personal choice as it is by what you are selling. I list everything in auction format with an opening bid of 99 cents. I have had the most overall success this way. If I have a piece that is new and will get its full retail value, I will list it with a buy-it-now price, but everything else goes to auction. There are valid arguments for both types of listing, and there are dozens of books that will advise you to go one way or the other. I say, find what you are most comfortable with and what works best for you. If you do choose to go with a buy it now format, you need to select a price. There are guide books available to tell you how much a piece might get, but the reality is that eBay drives the market. The best thing to do is look at completed listing for the last 60 days to see what similar pieces are going for and price accordingly. If you are listing as an auction, you need to decide if you want to set a reserve price. A reserve is the lowest price that you are willing to allow. If bids do not bid up to that reserve, your item will not sell. I seldom use reserves, preferring to let the chips fall where they may and hope that there will be a frenzy over my items that will naturally drive up the price. Remember there are different fees associated with the different listing types. Familiarize yourself with the fees.

Selling on eBay and being successful takes time, patience and a little trial and error. If you take your time and some basic precautions, you can have a successful sale on eBay. Know your product and learn the eBay way. This will go a long way toward your overall success.

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