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As a UK based antique furniture restorer with over 30 years experience, I have purchased a fair amount of antique furniture on Ebay for restoration and resale. It’s very easy to come unstuck and end up with a lemon of a piece and here in this article, I’m going to highlight a few of the important do’s and don’ts of buying antique furniture on Ebay. Not everyone will agree with my observations but it’s worked well for me!
Remember, not every seller knows how to list their item and they often either choose the wrong classification or more importantly write a bad title. If the title is wrong, the item will be hard to find. If it’s hard to find, less people will be able to bid on it and the selling price will usually be lower. Here’s some examples of misspelled titles that spell good opportunities for buyers! chest of draws, tabel, book case, dinning table, mahogony, the list goes on. Using any of these words in the sellers title means the item will not show up so well for searches, so if you are looking to buy, its worth searching using these miss spelt words. Many sellers use all sorts of weird words to describe their item in the title for example “old desk” or “large desk”. If you want to buy an antique desk, you’ll search “antique desk” or “desk” in the antiques section but what about if someone has listed “old desk” in the wrong section? You won’t see it! The answer is to enter the word “desk” in “all categories”. There will be 1000’s of “desk” some old, some modern, the way to do this is to spend time searching all the “desk” up to most recent – yes it’ll take a while! Once you have searched them all, then its just a simple matter of logging onto Ebay once a day searching “desk” and catching up on the most recent listings since your last search – won’t take long! This way, you’ll see every single desk that’s listed on Ebay. Get a list going – desk, bookcase, table, dining chairs etc go through the backlog of listings in all categories and then update your search for each once a day.
Get to know the sellers by viewing their listings time after time. Check their feedback, see who’s bought their items by viewing “items for sale” and completed listings and see what’s sold and what hasn’t. View their current items for sale, view the items they’ve sold in the past and the items that haven’t sold. Doing this will tell you very quickly whether the seller is a trade or private. If there’s a long list of furniture going back months then odds on its a trader, If there’s the odd furniture plus ordinary household possessions, most likely it’ll be a private seller. Check for negative feedback in the usual way but remember everyone makes a couple of mistakes so don’t be too hard on them if they are 99.9%!
Whilst you can buy well from trade on Ebay, you’ll buy better from private sellers. Check the prices their items have sold for, if some of the prices are obviously low, it suggests that the seller is prepared to take a loss on some sales which is good news for you the buyer and show the seller is honest.
Making an offer
Some regular trade buyers make offers for items before an auction has ended, be aware that this could happen because if it does and its not you who has made the offer, the item will vanish from Ebay just as you are about to bid on it – very exasperating! Those most likely to accept offers are newcomers to Ebay who worry their item won’t sell, so look at their feedback number, if its very low, they will be the sellers most likely to opt for an early offer. There’s nothing to stop you making an offer using the ask a question facility, I personally don’t do this as I don’t think its in the spirit of Ebay but that’s just me.
Is the seller being honest in their description and answers to your questions? Some sellers stretch the truth, others are ill informed and know no different! Try to work out which you are dealing with. Example – if the piece is listed as Georgian, it may not be, either because the seller is economical with the truth or because they just don’t know – you have to make a judgement on the true level of knowledge of the person who you’re dealing with.
Look at the title for the listing – is it well worded and professional with all the right keywords, is the listing itself wordy and persuasive, look at past listings for the same seller, if it all looks good and as it should be, that will most likely be a trade seller. If the title is a bit iffy and the listing itself doesn’t read too well as if the seller doesn’t know what they’ve got or what they’re doing, then the seller is most likely private.
Check the images on the listing. Are they well taken and consistently good? Probably a trade seller. If the images are under/ over exposed, often a private seller using a mobile phone camera. Look at the backgrounds of the images – what can you see? Domestic clutter? Tidy? Untidy? Valuable furnishings, nice car on drive? All these things point toward a certain quality of seller and it can be very easy to ascertain what sort of seller you are watching and therefore get some idea of whether the item is any good or not. Look closely at the images – are they taken from a distance on purpose so as to hide detail of the item, is the picture blurred for the same reason, how much detail does the image show, few images will enable you to judge the state of repair of an item so tread carefully at all times and be wary of buying from an image alone.
Ask a question
Always, always ask a question pertaining to condition and make the question specific eg is the item damaged at all and if so what’s damaged? Don’t ask, what condition is it in. Ask if the item has any cracks or splits in the top or sides, or are the chair frames loose at all, anywhere? be specific and nail the questions so the seller can only answer honestly. Look to the answers given – if they avoid the question or are ambiguous, be careful! And, don’t sound too keen!
If the item doesn’t have a condition description, ask yourself why. Is it intentional or is it lack of thought. If they don’t describe and you don’t ask and the items a dog, you’re stuffed!
Condition is everything with antique furniture. Colour, original finishes, past repairs and all these are subjective and open to abuse when describing either intentionally or innocently. Ask if the item has EVER been repaired and if so what has been done, this puts the seller right on the spot and their answer goes a long way in allowing you to make a judgement on who you’re dealing with. Evasive answers could either be an intention to deceive or are put out by sellers innocently covering their backs, you have to decide which!
In my opinion, only bid using a sniping tool. The main reason for me saying this is that if you bid early in the auction, the seller has a lot of time to work you out in terms of what you’ve bought in the past and what you’ve paid. If you bid at the last minute they cannot do their homework on you and therefore they cannot bid their own item higher (yes it happens) because they know you’ll pay more, so play your cards close to your chest, bid in the last 7 seconds and catch others by surprise also. If the item is something you desperately want, put a manual bid in about one minute from the end of the auction so you know you’ve bid.
Always try to pay cash on collection, this way you have the upper hand and can walk away if the item is dubious, which it sometimes will be. Try to negotiate, it maybe be better to agree to pay the seller £20.00 for their trouble and walk away rather than allow them to stick negative feedback on you. Once you have bid and won the item, keep in touch with the seller. If you have bought the item at a really cheap price, collect it fast in case they back out of the transaction. Treat the seller well and go out of your way to keep them happy, this way if you need a favour eg can you keep it a few days more before I collect, they’ll be happy to oblige.
Enjoying your purchase
There are many great buys to be had – almost always from private sellers but some from trade too. Do your homework on the seller, keep your wits about you and the chances are you’ll come away with a fantastic piece for a great price. By the way, if it does need any restoration or repair work undertaken, you know who to call!!!