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Advice from a Regular eBay Seller: Keep the Clarinet

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In the immortal words of Cinderella, you don't know what you've got til it's gone. Kelley Faler explains how someone else's piece of junk can be quite profitable for an eBay seller who does a little research and has the luck of good timing.
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It was a classic David and Goliath estate sale scenario. I was standing in line next to several lifelong antique dealers and at least a couple auctioneers. I, still a novice garage saler, didn't stand a chance to find a bargain. It didn't help that I had my two year old son with me. When the doors finally opened feet were flying, fingers were pointing and I realized that everyone had created their own 'sold' sticky notes except me. It appeared to be a great sale, every room was chock full of old stuff. I combed it as best I could but when all was said and done I only managed to walk away with a few watches and an old clarinet. I choked. I was a little intimidated by all the experts around me. Everyone else appeared to be leaving with truck loads or at least several boxes. What I bought I carried to the car in one hand while holding my son's hand in the other.

When I arrived home I camped in front of the computer and started my research. Since eBay is my marketplace, that is where I do 90% of my research. It doesn't seem to matter how obscure an object I find, someone somewhere is selling it or has sold it on eBay. What I found regarding my 'treasures' was not real encouraging. I have learned to search active and completed auctions. I search titles and descriptions. I also look for any characteristic or name at all on the item I am researching that could point to a fortune. When I come up empty handed on eBay I then expand my search to the internet in general. Of course, when I get really ambitious I head to the library. My efforts told me I would do okay on the watches but I would be lucky to make my $20 back that I spent on the clarinet. I cleared a place for my items in the laundry room and started dinner.

Eventually the clarinet worked it's way out to the shed with the other items that I would 'get around' to listing later. There it sat for months. The watches were placed in my shadow box of jewelry to sell. I don't remember what it was that finally prompted me to list the clarinet. Possibly my husband threatening to throw the thing away. I wanted to at least get my money back. Clarinets abound on eBay and from everything I read so far, mine was nothing to get too excited about. So, up it went for $24.99 and I was hoping for at least one bid.

Days passed with no apparently interested bidders. Then an e-mail arrived. The individual wanted to know if we would end the auction early for any particular amount. If there is one thing we had learned about auctions it was that you NEVER end an auction early if someone appears to know more about what you are selling than you know yourself. We politely told the person we would prefer to see the auction through to the end. The next day still no bids, but then another e-mail. This person offered $100 if we would end the auction early. Well, obviously we missed something in our research. So I did a little more digging on eBay for other clarinets like mine.

Because it had been months since I last researched the clarinet, I was of course looking at all new data. The answer was in the maker of the mouthpiece. We had a Chedeville and it was really good. Possibly, when I researched this before none were listed at the time and none had been listed in the previous 30 days. However, since it was now months later I should have re-researched it before listing it. I would have found that under completed auctions a mouthpiece similar to ours had sold for over $300. My concern now was not that I started the bidding at $24.99 with no reserve, but that I did not have Chedeville in the title. My experience is that reserves matter little when an item is highly sought after. Bidders always seem to bid higher than I would ever dream to place a reserve. So, I opt to save my money on my insertion fees and start with low opening bids and let the bidders determine the value. The title however, is key. Many bidders doing searches do not understand the difference between searching the entire description and searching the titles only. Additionally, there are all kinds of bidders out there that simply scroll down through items only looking at titles for something that catches their eye. Therefore, it is critical from a marketing standpoint that the title of an item contains all the key words. Fortunately, we had received no bids yet, so we could change the title to include the word Chedeville. Once a bid has been place it is not possible to change the title.

Amazingly enough, I would say that within minutes after we changed the title to include the word Chedeville we received a bid. We now felt more comfortable bidders would find the item. The only other thing we did was to take several more pictures of the mouthpiece alone and we added these pictures to our auction page. While it is not possible to change an existing description after receiving a bid, it is possible to add to a description.

So, we were back to waiting. Our 7 day auction had 3 days left. We thought the ball might start rolling now that one bidder had broken the ice, however, it just sat at $24.99 for the next two days. We were not without hope that the price would rise. We were not however prepared for what did finally happen to the item. When the last day of the auction arrived the price moved to about $75.00 throughout the day. Then it became one of those fun closes where, quite literally within the last few seconds of the auction, the price jumped to $535! To say the least we were ecstatic! It was absolutely astounding to us that our $20 investment had turned into this and that we came close to not realizing the gain for more than one reason. Our favorite part of this transaction occurred when the buyer told us to send the mouthpiece and keep the clarinet! We later sold the clarinet at a flea market for $20!

So, this 'Davidian' garage saler had turned an apparently pathetic purchase into a tidy sum. I found myself wondering what kind of returns the other antique dealers had realized from that sale. It certainly was a confidence booster for me. The power of eBay is absolutely amazing.

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