Financal Considerations When Selling High End Cards

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I’ve talked at length now about how any and all Reserved List cards are being targeted left and right. In addition, non-Reserved List cards from the 1993-1994 time period are all climbing now—this past weekend I saw Sea King's Blessing jumped and I couldn’t help but scratch my head.

Rather than dwell further on these silly cards, I’m going to focus on the opposite: high end cards. But my intent isn’t to tout the merits of owning cards like the Power 9, Library of Alexandria, and The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale. I don’t think an article needs to be written to communicate how stellar those have been as investments.

Instead, I want to talk about a rising complication that comes along with the explosion of high-end card prices.

Let’s start by looking at a hypothetical example…

Case Study: Selling a Timetwister

Let’s imagine that you’ve been playing Commander for a decade now, and are tempted more and more by the climb in price of an Unlimited Timetwister. A decade ago, this card sold for under $300—it was, by far, the least desirable piece of Power. All the legendary creatures that abused Timetwister probably hadn’t been printed yet, but I’m sure the card still interested at least some players back then.

Now you look at TCGplayer and observe that the lowest card’s price is $8499.99. That’s a 2700% gain if you can actually fetch that price! Even if you undercut the lowest seller, selling this card for $7000 would be a nice windfall, especially in trying times such as a pandemic.

Understanding you won’t necessarily be able to sell the card at TCG low (often times these numbers are inflated), you begin doing your research.

A quick search on eBay reveals that recently sold played copies of Unlimited Timetwister went for $3500 to $5500. While not impossible, that $8499.99 price tag suddenly seems like wishful thinking. Perhaps we’ll get there soon, but the true price of a moderately played Timetwister isn’t that high just yet. Consistently, the last sold MP Timetwister on TCGplayer was $4500.

Let’s say you decide $4500 is the right price to sell at—hey, that’s still a far cry above the $300ish you hypothetically spent in this case study. That’s a very solid 10-year return!

The big question I have now, the crux of this article, is what do you do next? How are you going to actually net $4500 selling this card? I don’t think it’s so easy…

Hidden Costs

First of all, selling this card on eBay or TCGplayer will incur roughly 10% in fees. That’s a $450 haircut right off the bat. (NOTE: TCGplayer caps fees at $50 per product sold in some cases. Check their website for more specific details). If you receive payment via PayPal, it’ll be another $100 or so taken out. Now your $4500 Timetwister is going to net you at $3950.

You could try to avoid these fees by selling directly via Facebook or Discord. This is a viable strategy—only, buyers on those sites know you’d be incurring these fees and expect you to discount your asking price by nearly the same amount. Why pay an individual $4500 for a card when they can purchase it from a reputable online seller with 10,000’s feedback for a similar price? (Granted, none are readily available at the moment.)

Maybe you get lucky, and an eager buyer happens to come along and scoop up your copy at a price closer to $4500 than $4000. You could always give it a try—it costs nothing to post. But you may be waiting a while, and could have to deal with numerous DM’s with lowball offers. This is one disadvantage selling privately versus using a site like eBay and TCGplayer: with the former, you have wishy washy buyers, lowballers, and people who post comments with no intent of purchasing. With the latter, all of that is removed and you either make the sale or don’t. Quite simple.

If you’re impatient and want a sale sooner, you could always pursue a buylist. But unless you’re in Japan, you aren’t going to get nearly as much for your moderately played Unlimited Timetwister by going this route.

For example, Card Kingdom pays just $2,340 for “Very Good” copies. Star City Games is even lower, offering $2250 for played copies. Your best bet currently appears to be ABUGames, who will pay you $3213 for a played copy of the card ($6650 if you want to try your luck at the store credit game). That’s not completely unreasonable in terms of buylist, but of course you could get more selling it yourself.

No matter which route you decide on, there’s one nearly certain thing you’ll have to deal with. Unless you have a friend looking to buy or you get lucky posting to Craig’s List, you’re going to have to ship the card…

Shipping Costs and Beyond

Have you ever shipped a $4000 Magic card before? I haven’t! I know this is done frequently, but if you’re not used to the practice (like me), then the prospect could be stressful.

First of all, there’s the overall cost of shipping the card. Maybe some folks are comfortable throwing a $4000 card in a plain white envelope and making a sacrifice to the “Mail Gods”, but that doesn’t jive well with me. If I sell a four-figure card, you’d better believe I’m at least shipping it via priority mail, adding signature confirmation, and at least considering adding some insurance.

Unfortunately for me, that all comes with incremental cost. To ship Priority mail, with signature confirmation alone costs about $10. Then if you want beyond $50 insurance, it’s another $59 to fully cover the cost of a $4000 card. So in total, your shipping cost could be as high as $70 if you want to minimize risk. You could pursue a private shipping service such as UPS or DHL; you may get that cost down a little bit, but I’m sure it still won’t be cheap.

“But Sig, shipping insurance is a sucker’s bet.”

This is a fair pushback—I’ll admit I almost never add insurance when I mail Magic cards. But given the current challenges the US Postal System is having, how comfortable should we be taking on the risk? How often have you checked the tracking number on a package recently and seen this?

This is the current status on a $300 buylist I shipped to Card Kingdom eight days ago, and even this is giving me anxiety. I wouldn’t want to even imagine a scenario where a $4000 shipment I mail out gets trapped in the USPS ether, displaying nothing but “arriving late” status. Between the pandemic, budget challenges, and the polar vortex throughout the country, I’ve heard of more shipping delays and issues now than ever before.

Let’s assume for now that insurance is applied, but not for the full $4000. After all, the odds of the USPS losing a $500-insured package is probably the same as the odds they lose a $4000 package. Let’s use an estimate of $20 shipping cost for this reason. That brings your net down to around $3900 after fees, shipping, shipping supplies, and your time.

If you paid $300 and netted $3900, you’re still banking $3600 in profits, right?

Well…let’s talk very briefly about our friend Uncle Sam: the taxman.

I am NOT a tax expert. I start by saying you should talk to your financial adviser before making any decisions here. All I did was Google “collectible gains tax” and found an Investopedia article that states the following:

So with my case study numbers, if you bought for $300 and netted $3900 after sales, you’d have to pay 28% tax on your profit, or 28% of $3600. That’s $1008! Say what?! You sell this card for $4500 and nearly one-fourth of the proceeds go to the U.S. government?!

Again, I’m not an expert here. Consult with your financial adviser with questions. Back when we were buying cards for $300, this wasn’t a consideration—the numbers were small and inconsequential. But now that these high-end cards regularly fetch mid-four figure numbers, suddenly this situation becomes a whole lot more complex. This is a hidden cost no one talks about.

Imagine if you were trying to sell a Black Lotus?! Someone commissioned PWCC to sell their PSA 10 Alpha Black Lotus recently and it sold for over $500,000.

Of that half-a-million-dollar check, how much do you think the seller will actually get to keep? I shudder to consider all the fees, commissions, taxes, shipping costs associated with such a transaction. I’m sure the fine art field deals with this all the time. But again, in the world of a collectible card game, a lot of this is unprecedented.

Wrapping It Up

It has been fascinating to watch the boom in prices on Old School cards. The high end stuff—cards north of $1000—have been particularly hot lately, probably because savvy players are cashing out of their smaller stuff to move into the blue chips of Magic.

As our collection values grow in paper, the implications of selling become more and more profound. Fees, shipping, risk of lost packages, and taxes are all implications that were less relevant when transactions were only in the $10’s and $100’s. But transactions in the $1000’s and $10,000’s may need to be treated with a new level of care. As crazy as it seems, such transactions are more and more common nowadays.

So as you begin thinking about cashing out of some high-end cards for other real-life expenses, keep all of these factors in mind. It’s almost like hitting the lottery—you are making so much money, but the number you actually receive is much, much less than what was posted publicly. This isn’t meant to discourage folks from selling, of course. Mainly, I just want to emphasize the complexity that now comes with selling Magic cards as they reach unprecedented numbers.

3 thoughts on “Financal Considerations When Selling High End Cards

  1. There seems to be an unwritten rule on Ebay where sellers wil normally increase the selling price of the card in order to cover the 10% Ebay fee, and where the buyer is content in paying for it. Mtg Seattle for example has Birds of Paradise from Alpha listed at $4,800 Ex mint. Cardkingdom is selling it at $4,400. It’s generally understood that both are selling the card at the same price with the only difference being that the fee is being passed on to the buyer. If you’d like to sell your cards on Ebay, you can add that 10% fee to the selling price and buyers will generally understand. It might still take longer to sell, but it’ll sell.

    1. That may work for larger vendors, but for individual sellers, I am not sure if the rationale holds. If I’m shopping for the cheapest copy available, I would not buy from eBay if a card was priced 10% higher than from another website, all other things being equal. Following the math, cards would not sell on eBay in that case…they would just sit there until all other cheaper supply is exhausted. In this way, I would argue that the fee is split in some manner between the buyer and the seller. Maybe the card sells for a little bit more on eBay because the buyer gets buyer protection and all that, but the seller also eats some of the fee because if they try to get the full 10%, their item is priced too high and doesn’t sell.

      It’s a fascinating thought exercise in economics. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      1. You’re right. Liquidity is still by far the biggest problem. The strong consistent pace of growth is what helps offset that problem, something that Magic does extremely well. Once the buylist value reaches the price that you initially paid for the card, that’s when you finally recover the money you invested. From then on forward the sky’s the limit. That’s when the party starts.

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