Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Put a Price on It

Last week, I told you the story of a flea market dealer who hadn’t priced anything and wondered why no one was asking about her items, let alone buying them. So to help you price your antiques and collectibles, especially for a yard sale or flea market, I thought I’d offer some guidance. But before I do, I’d like to offer another example of how not to.

To do that, I continue a few tables down from the previous dealer to another at the same flea market. This guy had a number of U.S. stamps for sale, all packaged in groups by age. Since I collect U.S. stamps, my eye immediately zeroed in on a little “stock” book, with four manila pages with overlapping strips into which he had inserted an assortment of U.S. commemorative stamps. Collectors use these little books to transport stamps to shows or to store a particular group for further study. The dealer had placed two stickers on the cover. One said “$3.50 net with book” while the other said “$4 postage.” At first glance, I noticed the $4 sticker, so I offered him $3, and after some hesitation, he agreed. Then he directed me over to a plastic bin with other packages of stamps. I didn’t see any I wanted, so he directed me to a looseleaf binder with plastic pages filled with stamps. I chose two of them, each with a sticker that said “$2 postage.” He said I could have the stock book filled with stamps and the two pages for $10. I did some quick calculations and came up with $7 for the three items, not $10. “Oh,” he said, “that’s only for the face value of the postage.”

“You said I could have the book with its stamps for $3, so I’ll just take it,” I replied. Needless to say, he wasn’t too pleased. If he had put a definite price on each of his items, there wouldn’t have been a controversy. Instead, his stickers were vague and communicated the wrong message.

So how do you go about pricing your antiques and collectibles so they sell? First, price isn’t the same as value–it’s usually about half that. So while you may use an antiques pricing guide to look up your items, what you’re really looking at is a value guide. The authors of these guides research the value of a particular item by checking the most current amounts the item fetched both at auctions and in shops, then they average the different amounts together.

For you see, the market value of an antique is what someone is willing to pay for it. And just because an items lists for $25, for example, doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to charge the same amount for it, especially if you’re selling your item at a market entry-level venue like a yard sale or flea market. To sell successfully at these places, you’ll have to start your pricing much lower than the guide amount.

Some antique sellers take a shortcut and go directly to eBay to check prices. While prices are current there, many have been inflated by what I call the “entertainment” factor. Many eBay shoppers look upon “winning” an auction much as they would winning a game of chance at a casino. At a regular auction, the highest bidder “buys’ the item while on eBay, the highest bidder “wins” the item. Generally, this drives final prices up.

But even beyond using pricing guides and eBay to research prices, you should check the prices in the same sort of selling venues near you. Go to several yard sales and/or flea markets and check what similar items are going for there. This is known as pricing what the market will bear. You can’t charge more than people are willing to pay in a particular area. The item just won’t sell, no matter how valuable it might be.

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