I'm not a dealer and like most of you out there, just an enthusiastic collector with eight to ten buys and sells. Some of you may disagree with my approach or suggestions and have different ideas. Please share them with us...we can all learn from each other.
I hope that when this is all done, that we'll have a great guide that can help all of us play safe in the marketplace.
Eric's Tutorial on Buying and Selling Watches Over the Internet
First, today's litigious environment forces me to pass along this disclaimer: no warranty is offered with this FREE advice. The information contained below is subject to change. All buying and selling is done at your risk. Further, I am not affiliated with any company mentioned herein and don't warrant their service either.
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So, you've had your eye on that nice looking Panerai (or AP, or Patek, or Swatch) and have decided to take the plunge.
But wait, you see that someone is offering the exact same watch for much less than your local dealer is charging you. Maybe it's worth looking into?
Or, maybe you have your eye on that new watch but need some cash to help fund it. There's that old Panerai 9A sitting in your case that never sees any wrist-time, maybe you have thought about selling that to raise some money. That local pawn shop only offered you $1500 for it? Forget those guys, why not try finding a buyer on the internet?
Either way, you have never done this before, and have heard all kinds of stories about people getting ripped off by buyers, sellers, brokers, escrow companies, you name it. So just how should you proceed?
I'll try to break down by advice by different steps. Some people may have the listing part down, but not be too up on shipping, or maybe you're worried about payment. Hopefully, everything is covered below:
1. BUYING A WATCH
IMPORTANT: If the price is too good to be true, it probably is. No one is going to sell you a $15,000 watch for $2500. It doesn't happen. On the other hand, deals can be had. That $15,000 (actual value) watch maybe offered for $13,000. Sometimes people want a quick and painless deal and selling at a discount will enable that. But people aren't stupid - don't forget that.
Look at the Paneristi.Com Collectors Market. Hundreds of nice watches listed there. Assume you find one and the price seems right. What then?
Email the seller. Tell them you're interested. Don't be afraid to ask questions if you have them.
- Are they the original owner?</li>
- Are they a dealer? </li>
- Has the watch been serviced? Polished?</li>
- Do they have all the proper boxes, papers and other accessories?</li>
- Will they allow an 'inspection period'?</li>
- Don't be afraid to ask for additional pictures: "can I see a pic of the lug where the screw fits in?"</li>
Well what exactly is that? Well, my feeling is that if you trust your seller, as long as the price and description meet your needs, you shouldn't have anything to worry about. But how can you be sure?
BEFORE any money changes hands, you should be sure about who you're buying from.
Ask the seller for a phone number, call them at it.
If you're the paranoid-type, use Google or an online reverse directory to find the approximate location of the phone as well as the city, etc. Does that city match the address of the seller?
Spend some time on the forums. See who posts. The number of posts isn't important, but is the seller 'active'? No posting doesn't mean they're a crook, but raises some questions in my mind. People who frequent the forums don't want to have their reputation damaged. One time visitors may not think twice about if they upset their buyer.
Ask them for references. CHECK them. Post a 'reference check' on the CM. Who are they offering as references? Do you know those people? Taking a reference FROM a stranger is just as risky. If a seller has a good track record, they should have no hesitation in giving you names of past customers.
What should you ask the reference givers?
- Was the watch accurately described? </li>
- How long did it take to receive it? </li>
- Was the seller reachable if/when they had questions? </li>
- Would they buy from them again?</li>
If you don't know the people offering the reference, then get references on them. Ask around. Even if you're not buying or selling, get to know the people on the forums. If I don't know the seller, then I insist to know SOMEONE who does. There needs to be some direct connection for me. Sort of like 'three degrees of separation'.
Checking it out in person - face to face meetings
If possible, try to arrange a meeting with the seller. Sellers who don't have the watch or plan to rip you off will likely not agree to meet you. It will always be:
"Oh, I have three other people..if you don't want it now, then I will sell to them"
If you get that story, just walk away.
Again, it's possible the seller has other people ready to buy and takes a 1st come first served, but if you don't know them, why risk it? Let other people deal with it.
If the seller is far away, ask a local friend to meet and inspect the watch on your behalf. (Of course, if helps if that person knows what they're looking at.)
Even if you don't know someone local, tell the Seller you want to set up such a meeting anyway. If they are afraid of a meeting, they'll give you excuses. Later, you can always tell them that your friend's not available after all. Meanwhile, you learned how willing they are to meet face to face.
TIP: If you can arrange a face to face, try to complete the transaction then. Maybe a long-shot, but someone could show your friend a real watch and ship you a brick.
AGAIN, do not send ANY money (even 10%) without being 100% confident in whom you are dealing with. If a seller sells it out from under you while you're checking refs, then they're not being ethical and just be happy you didn't deal with them.
However, if they agree to hold the watch for you pending your checks, you also have a responsibility to act promptly. Don't drag your heels.
Ok, the refs check out, the pics look good, the price is right. Then what?
Be sure that you both agree on the payment method. Typically, the Seller holds the watch pending payment, so as the buyer, you have a bit more risk. That's why checking out the seller is so important.
In addition, be sure you're both clear on how the watch will be shipped (UPS? FedEx? Next day? Standard ground?); who pays for shipping; and how the item will be insured.
Check out the Payment section (Section 3) for specifics on the different methods.
After payment is made, you should send the Seller a copy of the wire receipt or payment proof.
Upon receipt of payment, the seller should promptly pack and ship the watch to you. They should provide you some Airway Bill # to permit you to track the delivery.
In a few days, if all goes well, you should receive your new watch!
2. SELLING YOUR WATCH
Selling, from a risk standpoint, is a bit easier since you have the watch already. As long as you get the money, then you just need to make sure the watch arrive on the other side safely.
But, how to let people know what you have? Make a 'For Sale' post..that's how!
You can make a simple post, something like "For Sale: PAM111, $4000, email me" but not sure how many potential buyers that will attract.
As mentioned above, many potential buyers may not know you, so the more information you can give them, the more comfortable they'll be in dealing with you. In addition, accurately describing the watch can help to avoid problems down the road.
Key elements of a for-sale post would be:
Accurate description of the watch, being sure you use known terms accurately. List all flaws, even if most people wouldn't notice them. In my own case, I always prefer buyers be pleasantly surprised by the condition rather than upset.
Two common terms you should keep in mind:
BNIB - Brand New in Box. Just as it comes from the dealer. Never been worn, strap never changed. All papers and packaging.
LNIB - Like New In Box. Almost like BNIB, but maybe you put it on to see how it looked before putting it back in the box. Or maybe you switched the strap. Also comes with all papers, packaging, etc. In my opinion, if you wore the watch for more than 15 minutes, it's not LNIB anymore. This is the move overused and abused term. 99% of LNIB watches are not.
Personally, I try to avoid using terms like "Mint", "Like New", etc. Everyone has a different idea of what those mean.
List every mark that can be seen, no matter how small. Examples might be "hairlines on the case from wear", or "small scratch from strap changes".
Don't forget to describe the strap. Is it new? Well worn? What about the papers? Dated? Stamped?
Pictures are important. I will usually take a few, and offer more to interested buyers.
I've also had my sale photos stolen and used for other purposes, so I started watermarking my pictures. You should too. Otherwise, you'll see YOUR watch for sale on E-Bay by a criminal using your photos to scam someone.
Try to anticipate questions and answer them in your ad. How old is the watch? Has it been serviced? Where are you located? Do you have references? How to reach you?
Don"t forget to include your name and contact info.
Lastly, the price. If you're firm, say so (will save you from getting too many low-ball offers). Also be sure you specify how you want to be paid (wire transfer) and what currency the price is in (USD, Euro, Pound).
Talking to Potential Buyers
Hopefully, your ad will generate interest and people will contact you about your watch. As mentioned in the Buying section above, people who don"t know you will likely ask you a lot of questions. Of course, you should try to help them, after all, you're asking for their money.
However, you'll find some people are never satisfied, even after giving 10 reference, they want the name of your banker, etc. There comes a point where I think it's ok to say enough. Ultimately, it's a two-way transaction. Just as the buyer has a right to vet you, you have a right to vet them.
However, if you've agreed to hold the watch for them, I suggest you give them a specific period of time to avoid later problems. For example, offer to hold it for three days while they check your refs. After that, if you don't hear from them you reserve the right to sell elsewhere. Once you've agreed to hold it, please don't go against your word and sell elsewhere. (We buyers hate that!)
See my other comments (Buying and Payment section) regarding payment. If you accept Paypal, be sure you know that you'll incur a fee so you may want to pass that along to the buyer.
As a seller, other than cash in hand, wire transfer is the safest method to receive payment. Once the money is in your account, itís there. It's difficult for the sender to say "I made a mistake". As a seller, I would insist on wire from everyone except close personal friends.
Have your wire instructions ready to go. Most buyers are anxious to get the watch so be ready with the info.
Once the money is sent, be prompt in following up with your bank to confirm it's arrival. Once confirmed, pack and ship the watch asap.
Usually, seller will specify what kind of payment they expect. Of course, cash is easy if it's a face to face deal. But if you're apart, then what?
From the seller's perspective, a Wire Transfer usually offers the safest option for them. Once the money is in their account, itís extremely difficult for it to be taken back.
Some buyers want to use Paypal, thinking it gives them some needed protections. Well, yes and no. Read the fine print about what your rights as a buyer are. In a private transaction (not via eBay) PayPal may not do much for you.
From the Seller's end, PayPal costs them money. So expect them to ask for 3-5% additional for you to use this method. In addition, the same legalese in the PayPal Agreement that affects your rights also affects theirs. Even if they do what they're supposed to, a criminal can use PayPal to revoke payment and if nothing else, cause a lot of grief.
Checks? You're kidding right?
They're too easy to be faked, take a lot of time to clear, and even then the Seller can lose. Even Cashiers Checks can be faked. It's unlikely a Seller will accept a check from you unless they know you personally, in which case you don't need my tips.
Also, outside of the US, checks are not very common. I live in Hong Kong and write about one check per year.
*** Important - a more recent scam has been for the Buyer to make a deposit directly to the Seller's Bank Account using a check. If you're not careful, the deposit will look like they wired money, but really it's simply a check that will eventually bounce. When you check with your bank to confirm payment, BE SURE that the payment was made via wire and not via a check deposit or other non-confirmed method. Your bank should be able to easily tell you how the money was deposited. ***
As a seller, I would never accept PayPal. Only cash or wire for me - in advance.
To send a wire you will need the sellers 'Wire Instructions'. This typically includes the following:
- Their bank name</li>
- Bank address/tel</li>
- Sellerís account number</li>
- ABA # for US banks and domestic US transfers</li>
- SWIFT Code (for non-US banks and intíl transfers)</li>
Unless decided ahead of time, you should assume as a buyer that ALL bank fees are for your account. The seller will expect the price NET into their account. So, beside the fee you will pay your bank to send the money, you should specify to them that all 'recipient' fees will also be paid by you. These fees can vary from nothing to upwards of $50. My bank in Hong Kong doesn't charge me anything, but I know most US banks do charge for receiving wires.
Lastly, and this is important is to be aware of EXCHANGE RATES. You should confirm with the buyer what currency you are transacting in and be sure that currency is what you are sending. No matter what your bank tells you, unless your in a currency-controlled country (Venezuela, Malaysia, some others), you can send whatever currency you want. If the sales currency is Swiss Francs, donít send the seller US Dollars or vice versa. Inevitably, those USD will convert to less CHF than what was agreed and the seller will rightfully demand you send them more money.
Usually, a wire is received by the recipient in one business day (donít forget about holidays on the other side). Anyone who tells you it takes a week for the wire is either lying to you, or their bank is lying to them. I send/receive wires all the time and 99% of them are credited within 24 hours.
What about Escrow Accounts?
I am not familiar with these. I have used them for Domain Name purchases but not for physical goods transactions.
The problem with any of these third-party services is that there's usually lots of fine print that can be exploited by a criminal to swindle you. In my opinion, these services donít provide any reduction in risk and simply increase the cost of the transaction. I am sure that others can provide their own experience using these services.
Shipping doesnít need to be difficult but there are some things to keep in mind.
Insurance: unless you have a special contract with them, neither FedEx nor UPS will cover a watch for loss or damage even if you declare it and pay the insurance premium.
Your best bet is a private insurer like ParcelPro (who I use). With ParcelPro, the package still travels via UPS or FedEx but is covered under their insurance policy.
To use their services, contact them and set-up an account. It's easy. There are then several steps you must follow in order to include your shipment. This includes packaging a certain way (double boxing), declaring it properly, pre-notifying them with the AWB and vale, and (in some cases) using their account number with the carrier.
I have found their rates to be very reasonable. I've never had a loss, so can't comment as to their claim handling, but they seem to have a good reputation.
There are some other companies providing a similar service (Brinks is one), so check around.
Some people are hesitant to ship internationally. I donít think it should be a concern. There is some additional paperwork involved, but assuming you properly pack and insure the item, your risk is minimal; certainly no more than shipping domestically.
Here are some other things to keep in mind:
For international shipments, besides the airway bill (AWB), you must also submit a commercial invoice. This is a simple document that simply declares the value of the shipment and is used for customs purposes. Duty and taxes may be calculated using this document.
I describe the item as a "precision instrument". You're not lying and can create some confusion to potential thieves looking for something valuable. However, I do list the actual (replacement) value.
On the AWB, do not say what the item is in the "description" box, I simply say "See Invoice". You have to list the item somewhere, but why put it on the outside where everyone can see it. Using this method, the potential thief needs to take papers from the AWB pouch and possibly raise attention to themselves.
Valuing the Shipment (International)
Some buyers may request you undervalue the shipment so they can save taxes/duty on their side. Some things to remember:
- Deliberately undervaluing the shipment will likely void any insurance coverage you have paid for</li>
- Is no guarantee that the customs will not re-value based on an inspection of the parcel</li>
- Can put the shipment at risk for delay or even confiscation</li>
5. WHAT IF THERE'S A PROBLEM?
Hopefully, your transaction will go smoothly, but sometimes a problem will arise. My suggestions if/when that happens:
Try to communicate in a civil way. Don't 'out' them on the Public Forum just because the watch didn't ship the same day the money arrived. You have a right to expect people to act promptly, but allow a reasonable time. A day is reasonable, 30 minutes is not.
If the watch arrives and you feel was mis-described, or is missing something (papers, etc), contact the seller. Many sellers will permit a return as long as it comes back in the same condition it was sent. However, such a claim should be made immediately after receipt. You can't hold the watch for a week and then make such a claim.
Also, please keep in mind there's a difference between requesting a return because the watch was mis-described or wasn't working, and a return because you decided you didn't like it. The CM/DM isnít Wal-Mart, there's not a 'no questions asked' return policy. To avoid confusion, agree with the buyer/seller ahead of time for different contingencies.
Try calling the other party. I have always found it is easier to settle a dispute by speaking to someone personally than over email.
If a third-party was involved (eBay, PayPal, and Escrow company), be sure to notify them asap. Most such companies have dispute procedures which need to be followed exactly so be sure you are aware of any requirements and follow them. Without that, you may be waiving some or all of your legal rights.
In the end, if you feel you have been ripped off, you should involve the police. While it may be embarrassing, you're talking thousands of dollars.
6. OTHER METHODS
Besides buying/selling via the CM, there are other venues. e-Bay is frequently named. I have been the 'victim' there before on much cheaper transactions that I would never buy a watch through them unless I knew the seller. And, if that was the case, why not go direct and negotiate a cheaper price since he/she could save on the fees?
7. LAST MINUTE TIPS
If you're a buyer and after reading the above, you're still not too sure, or are just the nervous type, then I suggest you find a local AD or used watch dealer and buy from them. The extra few hundred dollars you spend will be cheap insurance and let you sleep at night.
I cannot remind you enough, if the deal is too good to be true, it probably is.
If the other party seems suspicious - move on. There are plenty of watches out there, another will come along. Most people's gut instincts are accurate. If the seller doesn't want to meet you, his references seem funny, or seems to have an excuse for not answering your questions, the alarm bells should be ringing in your head -- loudly.
When you check references, be sure that the people offering those references are known to you and people you trust. Taking a reference from a stranger isn't much different than sending money to them.
If you have questions, post them on Paneristi.Com and one of the knowledgeable people there will be happy to answer them. Believe me, we all did our first deal at some point and all have some experience to share.