Insider: Tips for Buying Collections on Craigslist

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In the past year I've bought about 30 or so collections off of Craigslist, some very profitable, some not so much. Today I'll pass on all the tips and tricks I learned along the way.

Overall I think buying collections on Craigslist can be a profitable, albeit erratic way of making money. Sometimes you can make over a thousand dollars on a single collection, but you can also go months without seeing a single deal.

Your prospects will be heavily based on your location, both for the numberĀ of opportunities presented and the amount of competition you will face. Are there many Magic players living around you that are trying to sell their collections? How many people are you competing against when you are trying to buy a collection? These are the factors that will determine your profits.

I initially assumed there wouldn't be much money to be madeĀ in my area, but you should never underestimate the laziness of others! This holds both for people selling their collections and for your competition.

Anyways, here are my nineĀ most important tips.

1. Check Craigslist Every Single Day!

It takes me about oneĀ minute every morning to check Craigslist and I can't count how many times I've gotten a collection simply because I wasĀ the first to notice it. I've also gotten punished on the other end. A few times I missed great opportunities from being too slow.

The cost of checking each day is very low and the rewards are high. Maybe I should even be checking twice a day.

2. Check the Option for "Include Nearby Areas"

If you are like me, you won't mind driving out an hour or two to make a thousand bucks. Check this option to give yourself a wider search area. It can't hurt.

3. Search for Both "Magic" and "MTG" as Separate Searches

Sometimes people list one keyword and not the other. Pretty self-explanatory.

4. Ask for Additional Information When Necessary

What cards are in the collection? Ideally you will have a fairly complete list, but often the best deals come with limited informationĀ because the seller doesn't have the time to list every single card.

If I can't get a good list I usually ask some of the following questions:

  • About how many cards are in the collection?
  • About how many rares/mythics are in the collection?
  • Where did you get these cards?
  • What condition are the cards in?

It never hurts to have more information to go off of. This helps you avoid wasting time on an obvious dud collection.

5. Construct a Worst-Case Scenario Valuation for the Collection

Know your outs. What can you get for the collection in cash, at the very least? Here is my formula to give you an example:

First, I input all of the cards I can (that are Near Mint) into Trader Tools and use the total buylist price for those.Ā Next, for the unlisted cards, assuming I'm not buying bulk, I add $1 per rare or mythic and $10 per 1000 commons and uncommons. Finally I total everything and use that as a sort of worst-case scenario when determining how much I am willing to pay.

6. Be Extremely Courteous at All Times

I've learned this lesson the hard way. You can get extremely different responses just based on your wording. For example, which do you think will work better:

Option A: I'll buy it for $300.

Option B: Hey, I saw you were asking for $500, which is a very reasonable price. You will probably get someone to buy it, but if you can't, I'm willing to buy it for $300. Thanks for your time.

The answer should be pretty clear. This tip is easy to forget yet deceptively important. It's always good business to be courteous. You never know where you may meet people again down the line.

7. Show up with Cash in Hand and Do All of the Bartering in Person

You should only be making a deal beforehand in one situation: you want to make sure the deal will fire before you drive off a long ways. Otherwise, you should always discuss the final price in person. When you have cash in hand there are many psychological biases playing in your favor.

8. Only Look at Collections Matching Your Particular Criteria

I've bought all kinds of collections. Small collections, big collections, $50 collections, $3,000 collections, old cards, new cards... You get the point. Over time I learned that some collections were worth my time and others weren't. I think this comes down to two factors: time and budget. What kind of budget are you working with and how much do you value your time?

If you value your time at say, $50 per hour, and you are buying a collection that will take around 10 hours to sort through, you should only be willing to buy if you can see yourself making at least $500 dollars profit when all is said and done.

Personally, I try to make at least $20/hour. ThisĀ means on a reasonably sized collection that takes 10 hours of work, I want to make at least $200.

9. Answer this Question: "Why am I Getting a Deal?"

Okay, so you've found a collection that matches your criteria and will make you a good amount of profit even in a worst-case scenario. There is inevitably some reason you are getting a "deal." Some of the reasons are great and some of the reasons are awful. It's your job to figure out which is the case. I'll list some potential reasons here:

Great Reasons

  1. They don't have time to sell the cards individually.
  2. They don't know what their cards are worth.
  3. They need cash immediately for some other reason.

Terrible Reasons

  1. The cards are in bad condition.
  2. They are effectively selling you bulk disguised as a true collection.
  3. The cards are fake.

You should useĀ all of the clues from the listing and your interaction with the seller to try and identify the true reason. Usually the good reasons are easy to hone in on, and if none of them are fairly obvious, I start to suspect the worst.

The clues are usually very obvious. Oftentimes the seller will explicitly say why they need money quickly in their listing if that is the case. Similarly, if the seller doesn't have the time to list out all of their cards, they will have very few cards in the listing and be reluctant to give too much more information when you inquire.

Again, the bad reasons are tough to spot. A good strategy is to assume the worst if you can't pinpoint a good reason.

An Example of a Great Buy

So what does a greatĀ sale look like? Here'sĀ oneĀ example of a sale that I benefitedĀ from quite a bit.

A guy was selling his entire collection and asking for $3,500. Based on all of the cards I could gather from the ones he listed and pictured, as well as an estimation of the value of the rares, commons and uncommons left in his collection, I calculated it was worth at least $2,750 in buylist prices.

I offered him $2,500. He said he would do it for $3,000 if I drove down the next day. I drove around an hour to meet him, and checked through the unlisted rares to make sure there wereĀ at least $250 in cards I had not accounted for. As soon as I estimated there was enough value in the collection I made the deal and drove home with it.

After 10 hours of work I entered all of the cards into Trader Tools and ended up with a total of $4,250 buylist value. I probably made around $1,500 profit in the end because I sold a lot of the higher-end singles on TCG Player. Often you will find you get more for very expensive cards on TCG PlayerĀ than via buylist. All tolled, it took me maybe 20 hours of work which put my profits at around $75/hour.

The reason I had a great feeling about this collection was because I could tell by the few cards listed that itĀ was a true collection, left entirely intact. None of the high-end cards had been removed.Ā This gave me confidence that a lot of the unlisted cards would be expensive instead of bulk. Also, when someone is selling a collection of this size all at once you can assume there is likely some urgent need for cash.

This was definitely a way-above-average deal, but I think I can expect to get these kinds of deals around 3-4 times a year. At no point did I hesitate at all, which was probably very important.


Thanks for reading. I hope you liked this article and can now go out and grab some deals on Craigslist.


Song of the Week - Explosions in the Sky - Tangle FormationsĀ (Post-rock)


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Luca Ashok

Luca has been playing Magic on and off since Invasion, but for the past year has chosen to shift focus to the financial aspects of the game. He uses his studies in economics at Stanford as a basis for his thoughts on the MTG marketplace. He has been known to play Pauper from time to time and was the first person to develop the Esper Familiars deck for which Frantic Search and Temporal Fissure were eventually banned.

View More By Luca Ashok

Posted in Buying, Finance, Free Insider

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