How to bid (correctly) on eBay

gdmichaels Feb 4, 2016

  1. gdmichaels

    gdmichaels TrainBoard Member

    I have fallen for this trap many times.

    There is a long-out-of-print N Scale car I want for my Boston & Maine Box Car consist. I see someone has it listed on eBay. I have no clue how much to bid, so I low-ball. I bid $5.

    A few days later - someone outbids me. By now I have my heart set on that car, so I up my bid. Before I know it, I am paying $25 for a car I really didn't mean to spend more than $8 on. But I had not way to check what a reasonable max bid is.

    So I added a function on my Micro-Trains database to allow you to check where recent auctions and fix price items have sold, along with current listings.

    eBay already has this function but never to show the two together. They don't want you to know how much is a fair bid, because the more you bid, the more money they make and the more money their paying customer makes (the seller). As a buyer, you are a mark and the less knowledge you have the happier they are.

    So I created something to help us collectors. Here is how it works:

    Go to a specific car and check 'eBay Availability'. Look at this link for example:

    Boston & Maine 40' Box Car #76032

    If you click the 'check eBay for Availability' button you will see (as of this posting) that two of these recently sold for $14.99 and $13.50 recently. There is currently one for sale for $19.90. This tells me the one for sale is a little over-priced and I should wait for him to come down or for a new one to be listed in the price range of the two that actually sold.

    Additionally should one come up for auction, I can comfortably bid $15 and know for 100% sure that I will not be overpaying, and with some luck I might get it cheaper. It also teaches me how to make a solid low-ball bid at 50% of recent sales price - $7.50.

    Cool stuff, eh?

    Visit: for a long list of n-scale items.

    Oh, and February MTL stuff is now listed.
    Rodsup9000 likes this.
  2. rschaffter

    rschaffter TrainBoard Member

    When possible, I generally bid the most I'm willing to pay in the last ten seconds of the auction...
    BALOU LINE and Josta like this.
  3. Josta

    Josta TrainBoard Supporter

    Same here; maximum bid that I would pay for it in the remaining few seconds of the auction.
  4. gdmichaels

    gdmichaels TrainBoard Member

    Agreed, but deciding how much to place that bid at is often a challenge. Good research tools are a key to placing a solid maximum bid. Also, sometimes my thought is, I would like to place a bid that is:

    a) no more than $20.
    b) not any higher than it needs to be.
    c) high enough that unless someone crazy outbids me, I will win.

    To do this accurately either early on or late in the auction I need to know how much it has sold for recently...
  5. Maletrain

    Maletrain TrainBoard Member

    Thank you.

    One caveat: this is a very fluid situation. Prices seem to fluctuate a lot over time. When something new comes out, eBay retailers try to get a jump on the competition at reasonable, but not rock bottom prices. Soon, everybody has it, and the regular e-tailers and LHS set the street price through open competition. Then it either runs out before demand lags, or demand runs out while there is still stock. In the latter case, some real rock-bottom deals show-up on eBay and elsewhere as vendors try to clear-out stock. But, once stock is cleared, prices tend to go up, sometimes unrealistically so with the "buy it now" listings. Eventually, the item becomes "unavailable" EXCEPT for OCCASSIONAL eBay listings. It is this last condition where price becomes wildly influenced by ONE guy new to the hobby who just has to have THAT model, and is willing to bid a lot to get it. I have seen a single item in this catagory get bid to ridiculous prices, which seems to prompt some other sellers to make listings at similar starting bids or "buy it now" prices, only to have the item sit there unbought for MONTHS. Maybe they are waiting for the next new guy entering our hobby with the same interests and bank account of the guy who bought that item last?
  6. upstate gator

    upstate gator TrainBoard Member

    As a bidder, I've had the most success using a program that allows me to place a bid in the last few seconds. (I'm currently using eSnipe.) I was really tired of losing a bid in the last few seconds of the listing.
    I'm sure you've noticed that on highly-sought after items (or pretty much anything I'm interested in) most of the bidding activity takes place in the last minute of the bid window. For example:, there was a WoT SP baggage car that went for more than $80 last week. Similar cars for other roads were going well below the MSRP of ~$39, even in the $18 range.

    As a seller, I'd be thrilled if there were two people interested in the same item.

    Don't forget, there are alternatives to eBay. Trading Post on Trainboard, Railwire has something similar, N-scale yard sale, etc.
  7. traingeekboy

    traingeekboy TrainBoard Member

    The way to bud is to assume you will lose. Always be willing to wait a long time for what you want.

    Over the years I've managed to get most everything I want much cheaper than the going rate.
  8. Jeepy84

    Jeepy84 TrainBoard Member

    I'm usually pretty successful sniper bidding at the end, with an odd cent amount. Like the last auction I won I bid $85.67, and won at $83. Give it a try.

    Sent from my XT1585 using Tapatalk
  9. tracktoo

    tracktoo TrainBoard Member

    With this in mind, would any of the experienced auction bidders care to post what they think is a fair range for general categories/ brands of rolling stock? Things like Micro-trains or Atlas freight cars, passenger, and then the old Rivarossi heavyweights, then maybe the Bachmann freights and 65' heavyweights? Or any of the other popular rolling stock? Even some of the defunct brands. I will assume good to excellent condition but then there's the other issues. Boxes, Rapido couplers, pizza cutter wheels, etc. All things that can be dealt with but must have some bearing on the value decisions. I'm fairly new to looking at auctions and while I have a sense of new price and I think I'm getting to understand auction pricing a little I'd love to hear what others more experienced think.
  10. BoxcabE50

    BoxcabE50 Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    This might be rather difficult. Some items being harder to find, or more desirable than others could create quite a variable pricing range.
  11. x600

    x600 TrainBoard Member

    I think I might be able to help here. As a long time ebayer, both as a seller and a buyer, I have learned a few lessons.
    At first I was really excited about the benefits to me about ebay. I live on the west coast and model E-L, Lackawanna, and D&H.
    It was hard to find some of the earlier stuff I wanted here, so ebay gave me the opportunity to get stuff not readily available to me.
    Later when I was selling, it gave me a broader market for my excess east coast stuff.
    This is just my experience, but there are basically two types of sellers. One is clearing out stuff and needs the money quick, and the other is
    someone that is trying to make a profit.

    There was a period when I was collecting MT DL&W hopper cars for a long train to run on our N-Trak layout. Retail price for earlier runs was in
    the $10 dollar range up to $19 for the later runs. I started to see some cars listed for $30 and up. While constantly watching, I noticed a few things.....
    Right after I paid $15 dollars for a car, I would notice the same cars listed cheaper, with no bids. This made me think to wait, as I could find cars later for $5, right after I paid
    $15! (shipping not included in the prices) So I would wait as I was in no hurry. When a car came up, and it was, let's say $5, I would place my max bid of $9.51. I lost a few,
    But also won a bunch. Same thing with buying out of production engines. One might sell for $60, but if I waited, I could find some for $45. Patience was the key. If there is , let's say
    5 other people looking for the same thing, let them get it and get out of the way, then there was little or no competition for the next listings.

    Watching for people that were "thinning the herd" and waiting for the few people to get their higher price purchases out of the way, enabled me to win some good deals.
    In the " good old days" of ebay, you could see who you were bidding against. There were a few friends from some of the forums and we would not bid against each other.
    Sort of an "I let you have this one, I'll get the next one". There were also a few bidders that would constantly out bid you. There was also some sellers that had "shill" bidders.
    They would constantly bid you up until they out bid you. If the shill bidder won, the buyer would just fail the transaction and relist the item until the got the price they wanted.
    This is when it became obvious to me to just place my max bid and let it ride. I ended up with over 100 MT hoppers and didn't pay more than $10 for most of them.
    I also started watching by setting my list to "Ending Soonest" and work backwards. If there were several listings, some would be bid up, then there was some that weren't bid on ending later.
    Less competition for the car.
    As far as certain brands or types of cars, I don't think there is a magic formula. More hit and miss. Again patience being the key. If you want it, and are willing to pay a reasonable price,
    wait and watch. You may not get a Kato engine for $10, but you may get one for $25 if you watch and wait. Same with some passenger cars. One set might be listed for an unreasonable
    high price , but waiting might get you one much cheaper.

    This is not to say that I have NEVER fallen into a bidding war! There was a noted modeler selling off a bunch of his custom built Lackawanna steamers. I couldn't bid on all of them, so
    I had to choose one. Of course it was the coolest one! There were 3 of us bidding on it near the end of the auction, I just kept going back to the computer and bidding up, only to be out bid.
    Finally, I just threw in a Big max bid. they bid it up, but I still won it. It was more than I wanted to pay, but still well worth the price for a big unique model.

    So my thoughts on bidding on stuff, are..... What is it worth to you to have it? Are you in a hurry? Are there several available? What's the market for it?
    I sold a Kato GN Observation car for way more than I paid for the set and the buyer was happy to get it. I just needed one car from the set for a project, and broke
    up the rest, but this car was hard to come by and several bidders wanted it.
    The Micro-Trains collectors market has died a little bit, and there were a lot of cars that have little collectors value. It's possible to get basic 40 and 50ft cars for less than
    the cost of the trucks and couplers.
    On snipe programs, I never liked them, because I got the crap sniped out of me a bunch of times on some good deals, but I managed to get everything I wanted for a good price
    eventually. So much so that a few years ago I needed to thin the herd myself. Selling on ebay is a whole different story!

    Be patient, watch carefully, and don't pay more than YOU are willing to pay. Oh, and I always take shipping cost into consideration. No use paying $5 for 1 car and pay $7 shipping.
    The post office is the only winner there.
    Just my 2pesos, your milage may vary.

    Greg O.
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2016
    subwayaz likes this.
  12. tracktoo

    tracktoo TrainBoard Member

    I understand that and that's expected. What I mean is a rough range that would be expected in the typical product offerings for those of us who are really new at this. Example: Microtrains freight car, new or like new, in the box, typically $_ to $_. Then without box. Then something older that still has Rapido couplers that would be a decent car but for a coupler change. Just trying to get a sense of a range. It could be a broad range and qualified in any way. I would expect there to be some of those special cases that are desirable for some reason and are then priced accordingly. And maybe, if there are any particular defunct brands that generally meet that criteria, give them a mention. Older Rivarrossi heavyweights seem to be in that category from what I've seen. They seem to bring more money than my inexperienced mind would suggest is appropriate but I guess they were pretty good cars and still viable. It's that kind of general info I'm asking about and no more than somebody's experienced thoughts.
  13. tracktoo

    tracktoo TrainBoard Member

    Thanks, Greg O. That's exactly the kind of info that can be helpful to us greenhorns. And I asked as much for myself, maybe if only to see if what I THINK I've started to figure out is actually true, but also for those perusing the site who are in a similar situation. A list as the thread originator has created but also some additional experience based thoughts, whatever they might be.
  14. randgust

    randgust TrainBoard Member

    If you're really looking for bargains, hunt like a cheetah. You're looking for the old, the slow, and the lame - sellers.

    If you've spent any time on Ebay, you should be astounded how many times people can't properly identify, or can't SPELL, what they are selling - particularly vintage stuff. If you have a box of Uncle Dick's N scale, and you're selling it, odds are you really don't know what this stuff is. The trick is to second-guess the lame sellers that will miss-list stuff. These are the same people that sell tenders separately, and couple them on backwards.

    Let's take one of the simple issues - steam locomotives. Let's say I actually want a vintage Rivarossi 2-8-2. A knowledgeable seller will list it with all the right words. But the bargains will be had searching for "Atlas steam train 282" or "rare vintage old train made in Italy #282 " Also, you'll see roadnames get butchered - Santa Fe becomes Sante Fe, you name it. Before Athearn came out with the FP45's, I made a science out of bottom-feeding on mis-listed Lima FP45's - at the time they commanded premium prices for the body shells - but were usually mislisted as the EMD model number was never printed on the box. They also were listed by PMI and AHM, so "AHM passenger train" was a better search than 'N scale EMD FP45".

    Mis-lotting is another classic, sellers will just advertise some really nice stuff as "Old N scale lot #26" and you'll spot something in there like a brass locomotive or a Shay in there. Some of those mixed lots are the best deals ever if you can make out what's in a picture, even if you turn around and resell half of it with proper listings.

    With the stuff we want, there's also bargains to be had in the off-season (4th of July weekend is the best), right after Christmas, and on auctions that close on weekdays during the day rather than in weekends and evenings. You can control those times, newbies will catch on eventually.

    I've been on the site now for 16 years and it's been great - even now I find things I'd never find any other way, like the 1970s Railhead kit for a brass-sided passenger car for my circus train consist. And I've been able to sell things - like an entire collection of used NJ signals - for a fair price. In 16 years I've never had negative rating, either. If it's a POS, I'll clearly label it as such, but I'll still sell it with no regrets.

    For buying, I've learned to be patient. Another one will come up, whatever it is, don't panic, don't go nuts, snipe when you have to but always, always, always searched closed auctions first to see what the market is and how competitive it is for an item you really want. Walk away when you know it's just nuts. And on any new product, just for laughs, go to a REPUTABLE ONLINE DEALER first to see what you'd pay if you weren't willing to go through the risk and hassle of Ebay, including shipping. That's the reality check that scam sellers hope you won't do.

    The dumbest, stupidest thing I ever did was buy a Kato U30C mechanism, used, for $20. When it arrived, I was stunned to see there were no trucks on it. Whaaaa??? I went back and looked. Seller never said it had trucks. The picture, which was horrible and dark, didn't make it very obvious, but when I really studied it, huh. No trucks. I ASSUMED it had to have trucks. My bad. And, of course, Kato was out of trucks, or I would have bought a mechanism direct from Kato. Lifetime lesson was "never assume that anything is there unless you can see it or it is explicitly stated". The other lifetime stupid thing I did was buy an item off of the German Ebay site that looked like a deal to me, but the prior rule still applied. IT HAD NO MOTOR IN IT. If you went back and actually translated the text online, you'd figure that out, it was stated. Well, another lesson learned.
    Jeepy84 and subwayaz like this.
  15. gdmichaels

    gdmichaels TrainBoard Member

    My biggest problem as an occasional buyer is not knowing the market well enough. I was also well aware (as Maletrain mentioned) that the market is intensely fluid. Hence my question "where has this item been selling recently?"

    I have also used eSnipe successfully but even then a good snipe bid needs knowledge of the product you are bidding on. Putting a $10 snipe bid on an item that has been selling for $50 is kind of silly if you really want the item. It's awesome if nobody else is bidding, but if there are a few normal bidders putting in $20 bids, the item will be gone before you realize you mis-priced your snipe bid.

    Long story short, being able to check recent closed auctions side-by-side with the open auctions has been very useful for my buying, so I wanted to share with y'all :)
  16. gdmichaels

    gdmichaels TrainBoard Member

    As a quick FYI, the website ( does not make any money from the eBay functions. Anyone can pull auction data for free from eBay. I built the function for collectors to help gather recent pricing points for out-of-print items.
    tracktoo likes this.
  17. tracktoo

    tracktoo TrainBoard Member

    And we thank you! :)
  18. jpwisc

    jpwisc TrainBoard Member

    If I see something I like, I place my max bid and walk away. If someone is willing to pay more than me, than it was worth more to them than me, so they can have it. No skin off my back.
    Jeff Powell likes this.
  19. HOexplorer

    HOexplorer TrainBoard Supporter

    Interesting. I've made over 250 purchases on ebay. Only back in the early days was I not a winner every time. In the past 8 or so years I have never lost. BUT I may play the game different than most. I play two types of bidding games. First, if the item is something I just want to own then I wait to the last 10 seconds and make a bid twice as high as current. If I lose, then I probably could have done without the item anyway. Second, if the item is something I just HAVE to have then I'm going to win. I wait until the last 10 seconds and bid an amount no one in their right mind would bid. Sometimes I have bid $500 more to make sure I get the item. Too many times I've been shut out in the final seconds on an item. No more! Jim
  20. rogergperkins

    rogergperkins TrainBoard Member

    From my limited experiencing searching the venue with interest to buy has best been done by using the "buy now" option.
    If I really want something I missed purchasing, I would rather see who has the best "buy now" price and make my decision.
    I am not a gambler nor do I wish to watch an item where bidding expires at some un-G*dly hour of the night.;)

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