Rookies. All-stars. Hall of Famers.
Those were the only three types of baseball cards that I thought were worth the trade when I was a kid. I was eight years old, but that didn’t stop me from becoming diligently schooled by my three older brothers who knew the ropes of other similar hobbies such as comics, coins, and stamps.
The drill was simple. Every time someone wanted to trade cards with me, I would ask them one simple question.
“What’s your favorite team?” From there, I would bring out an album loaded with baseball cards. Every one in mint condition and encased in plastic sheets. “Pick your favorites!” They would gather their own, and I would go through their collection, find the fresher cards in mint condition, and gather mine.
Over 30 years later I do the exact same thing with cars. I sell based on interest and buy based on condition and long-term reliability. I’m still not loyal to any brand or model these days. For me, even after all these years, the opportunity to buy and sell any car comes down to three simple concepts I learned in my youth.
Condition, presentation, and price.
Every car has its price, and it’s the condition and presentation that determine the value.
Unpopular vehicles may be the cheapskate’s dream. But they’re a seller’s nightmare.
Three door minivans? Buy them low, sell them quick, and avoid them like a painful venereal disease. A cheap car with low demand always takes up space for too long. Base model non-sporty wagons from the Y2K era with 5-speeds? Same deal.
Low demand, low performance cars net low returns. Even if you are a stingy bastard. In baseball card terms, they are the common players that nobody wants. The Chicken Stanleys who are used as cardboard fodder for the Jeff Bagwells.
Camrys and Accords? You have to pay a premium for the good ones and unless you finance, you better get one without major accidents. What sells for cash at this “all-star” level is the mint condition version.
You can get away with selling a popular car with a rough history to those with bad credit. Whenever I see a person who is struggling with a fancy car, I think about the traders who could never keep their good cards for long. There was always something a bit more new and popular that would catch their eye, and it was my job to figure out what it would be.
Baseball cards and cars pretty much sell the same way.
1) Always offer a history.
Folks are always purchasing three things when they buy a used car. The model they want. The prior owner they prefer, and the maintenance history they desire. Even if you offer a piece of miscellaneous nothing such as, “I bought it two years ago from an older guy who lives in Pawtucket.”, the potential buyer will usually appreciate the fact that there is one less uncertainty in the history of your vehicle.
2) Sell yourself.
If you come across as an honest guy and an expert (or at least knowledgeable), you’ll have a big leg up on the 90+% who are either too scared or too corrupt to do the same.
3) Don’t be afraid to say a car has an accident. Everything has defects.
In fact, telling folks specifically what happened can be a great way to affirm #1 and #2. A VW Beetle TDI I recently sold had an accident on the driver’s side that required a repaint on the door and a replaced front quarter panel. By showing what was done, emailing the Carfax history beforehand, and specifying who did the repair, I was able to show the buyers that I had nothing to hide.
That candidness alone often gives you a price premium over those sellers who just glaze through everything. When I sold cards, I would mention the small defects and often times, it made the other guy feel like he wasn’t getting screwed.
4) Clean the damn thing! Please!
You ever go to a junkyard and see all the wonderful souvenirs that are left behind by the last owner? Well, the junkyard doesn’t have to worry about those endearing mementos.
But you must certainly do.
The next owner probably doesn’t want that Hello Kitty CD holder on the sun visor. All those crumply things in the glovebox? Remove them and reorganize what you have so that you can give them a maintenance history that they can physically hold. I would get the car washed, vacuumed, and invest in a basic spray on or quick wax along with an hour or so of time removing stains and marks.
A mint condition baseball card was always a better buy in the eyes of my customers when I was a kid, and a clean car is no different.
5) If the car doesn’t sell immediately, study the market.
Edmunds, Kelly Blue Book, NADA, and even dealer-focused price guides such as Black Book and the Manheim Market Report all have one thing in common.
They are rough approximations based on imperfect data… and much of the time, those imperfections are due to a seller’s inflated idea of their vehicle’s condition.
Everybody falls victim to this at one time or another. Even dealers. Even yours truly. Most sellers tend to price their vehicles in clean condition even though their vehicles are somewhere between average and God awful. If you see no action out there, forget about the price guides. Look at how the competition is pricing the same type of vehicle. The marketplace always tells you things that the price guides miss.
6) Pictures, pictures, and more pictures.
Take pictures of everything before you advertise…. and take multiples. I have often found that early mornings offer the best time when shadows and sun reflections have the least impact on my pictures. Overcast days are also great for this purpose. So make sure to take pictures of everything; especially those close-up areas that aren’t perfect.
If a seller is already comfortable with the price, showing them the cosmetic issues now will eliminate the desire for a lower price when they see those defects in person.
7) Organize The Sale: Bill of Sale, Money, Title, Plate and Keys
A lot of folks have trouble selling cars because it’s an organization game. You have to bring everything together and understand the sequence of events so that the flow of the deal is always in motion. Shake hands. Answer questions. Give them physical records of the car’s history. Let them have time with the car. Be patient. Leave them alone. Give them space.
When you are organized, you can afford to be laid back and observant. People like that because it means you’re paying attention to them and putting their needs first. When I was trading baseball cards, the eye candy alone was enough to keep me and the other person occupied. With cars there are more steps, but the same human elements of the transaction applies.
When you’re organized, in anything, it’s easier for both parties to enjoy the experience. It also keeps you honest because you don’t have to figure things out on the fly.
Am I wrong? Is the four-square method of customer manipulation more effective than being a mensch, putting your best foot forward, and keeping organized?
Let me know…