The Three Words that Baseball Card Buyers Never Want to Hear

If you’re selling a card, your first responsibility is to declare a price …

1934 Goudey Lou GehrigI was recently in a card forum where a seller was offering a card. But in scrolling through the post, one thing was conspicuously missing.

A price.

To be fair to said seller using the dreaded, “Make an Offer” phrase, this is a relatively common practice. More and more sellers these days are listing cards for sale without prices, hoping to lure a buyer.

So why do sellers do this, exactly? A few thoughts.

While under a guise of all sorts of excuses, the idea is often to get someone to overpay for a card. It’s a card that a seller no longer wants in their collection (or, not as much as they want/need the cash) so they offer it up, hoping to make some money on it and find a buyer that is uneducated enough to overpay for it.

Or a seller may do it so that they don’t leave money on the table. They sell a card for ‘X’ and then the post receives a flood of replies with collectors saying they would have paid more. The seller, as well within their rights, wants to make as much money as possible on a particular card.

Sometimes, too, a seller has no real interest in parting with an item. They don’t really want to sell it. Instead, they’ll put it up for sale with the caveat that they’re only fishing for offers and would have to be overwhelmed to make a sale. This is sometimes done to result in a sale and sometimes done to establish some kind of a benchmark to determine its value for a possible sale down the road.

Jesse Owens 1939 Kings of Speed Track and Field

In any event, I usually (but not always — see below) think this is bad form and, as a result, will scare prospective buyers off.

For some reason, this practice often goes unscrutinized. For example, imagine yourself in a grocery store and having to ask for a price for eggs only to be told to make one up. Or at a car dealership buying a used car. That wouldn’t fly in those cases so why do we allow it with cards or with other collectibles?

It’s also worth pointing out that while this is less of a problem for some collectors, many of those are no doubt the same collectors find themselves up in arms with dealers that do not price every single card on every single table at shows — even if a price is declared verbally but just not labeled. To me, not naming a price at all is a greater offense.

Here’s the thing. Sellers are well within their right to employ any legal practices they want. It’s not that there’s anything illegal about it or even particularly shifty about this practice. It’s just, well, annoying if you’re a potential buyer.

Most people inherently hate bargaining. Sure, some masochists might enjoy it but it’s not something that 95% of us really want to do. We don’t want to have to call the cable company constantly to negotiate a better rate for our Wifi and we don’t want to play footsie under the table with prospective sellers. We want to know how much something will cost and make a decision based on that information.

Typically, any interest I may have had in a card goes out the window when I see the ‘Make an Offer’ tactic. Maybe I know a seller’s history with the card and assume the price will be too high. Maybe I don’t want to get into a bidding war with myself. And maybe I don’t want to waste my time emailing a seller and playing a particularly petty back-and-forth. Sometimes I will actually make an offer if it’s a card I desperately need. More times than not, though, it’s something that sends me running the other way.

… Unless

E94 30 YoungNow, there are some exceptions to this rule.

First, if you have a price in mind but don’t want to publicly declare it, that is fair game to me. It’s a little too covert for my tastes and some of this seems to be driven by wanting as little information about a seller’s sales publicly out on the internet. I’m far from Mr. ‘The Government is out to get us’ but I can get that, I suppose. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it as long as you disclose the price in private.

Second, if you are approached by a buyer about a card you were not actively shopping, I think asking for an offer is fine there, too. Perhaps it’s a card you hadn’t really thought about selling and would only be inclined if an offer was right. Again, perfectly fine.

Finally, you may have a card to sell but be hard-pressed to come up with a reasonable amount due to it being an exceptionally rare card or a very unique one. I say this with things in mind where maybe only 2-3 examples exist and not something that’s rare but readily seen like, I don’t know, a T204 Ramly. I’m talking very tough, very unique stuff, or stuff with damage that is so unique that is hard to determine a price. Generally, I think its okay to list a card without a price in those cases as long as you indicate that you’re doing it for one of those reasons. I still think you should probably come up with a price in that instance but not doing so is a bit more reasonable than selling a less unique item like a T206.

At the end of the day, sellers can do what they want. This is a suggestion, not a mandate. So if that means listing a card while only stating that he/she is fielding offers, that’s well within their rights. But in general, that’s a tactic that is going to scare off a lot of buyers.

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