Selling Your Trains?

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Things to consider when selling your trains by Scott Griggs

When you consider selling your train collection, which method you choose will depend on your priorities. The three factors for you to consider are:

  1. Obtaining the highest possible price
  2. The amount of work you are willing to do
  3. How quickly you want to get the money

Here are the most common options that you have in selling your trains and an idea on how well each matches up with your priorities above.

A. Sell your trains using an Auction House

  1. Price – This depends. Auctions generally do best if you have high-end items like Mint and Like-New Postwar and Prewar trains and you enlist an auction house that specializes in toy trains. The auction house generally charges you a listing commission and also a buyer’s premium. These two fees together typically range from 38% to 60%. You are at the mercy of the crowd that day. If you have a lot of “inexpensive” items like freight cars, expect them to be sold in large lots, further lowering your return. Some auction houses are not even interested in Modern era Lionel and other manufacturers items for their auctions.
  2. Effort – This depends, sometimes it is minimal, they come and pick it up, or you may need to haul it all to them.
  3. Fast Money – Plan on waiting 4 to 12 months for your trains to be scheduled at the next available auction, and then another month or so for them to do the final accounting and to write you a check. Some auction houses may break your collection up and sell it over several auctions and then not pay you anything until weeks after the final auction is completed.

B. Sell your trains using an online auction

  1. Price – You are at the mercy of the crowd online that week. Fees will cost you about 11% to 15% of the final sale price, including credit card and PayPal fees if you sell with no reserve. If you put a reserve, your fee may be more, you will alienate some buyers and you will have items that do not sell for your reserves, so you will need to re-list them and either lower, or eliminate your reserve and take your chances.
  2. Effort – This takes a huge effort. Taking pictures, writing descriptions, filling out auction forms, handling correspondence, getting boxes and packing material, packing, labeling, collecting the funds, hauling everything to the post office or UPS/FedEx. Then handling complaints, tracking requests, damage claims and returns. Do not sell your items on an online auction without pictures!
  3. Fast Money – Fairly quick depending on how fast you can get the auctions going and how many listings you have to do. If you work at it full time, you can expect to get 20 items done per day including creating the listings and packing out the ones that have sold.

C. Sell your trains at train shows

  1. Price – Here you can set your prices. Depending on your experience in the current train market you may set your prices too low and sell things at a lower price than a dealer would have paid you, or if you set them too high you won't make any sales. You also have expenses that can quickly add up, especially if you travel. Travel expenses can run you several hundred dollars per show when you add up hotel rooms, table fees, gas, mileage, and food. Also, when there is no show, you have no sales. Your sales will depend on your competition at each show and what they have and the prices they have as well as who the buyers are at the show that weekend and what they are looking for. You are also at the mercy of the weather as well.
  2. Effort – This also takes a huge effort. Packing everything up, unpacking it, displaying it and spending entire weekends to sell it, and traveling. To sell through a large collection this can take an extremely long time, and you will need to continually lower your prices to get it all moved out.
  3. Fast Money – Not so quick, money will come in in blocks at the end of each show. When you have a bad out of town show and you compare your sales to expenses, you might actually lose money and you would have been better off staying home. This option also introduces the highest risk of theft and damage to your items.

D. Sell your trains to a single buyer

  1. Price – Here you are selling your items at a wholesale price. The buyer is going to resell them and do all the work. This includes selling them using any of the above methods or selling them in a retail store. The pricing you receive will usually be comparable to that received from an auction firm, but you will get it much quicker.
  2. Effort – This depends on the size of the collection. It is minimal if the buyer comes to pick it up. You may have to either pack it up and ship it or deliver it.
  3. Fast Money – This is the fastest. You get paid when they receive or pick up your trains.