I am getting ready to retire and I’ve slowly been getting rid of stuff I know I won’t need going forward. I’ll be keeping some minimal gear because I am always going to take pictures. But I won’t be doing any more assignments (unless they are for good friends or involve cars that I happen to lust over!)
So I’ve been conducting some experiments. I took some actual gear (along with some hypothetical gear) and contacted all the usual suspects to try to rate which offered the best service.
My experiment wasn’t very scientific. But from a purely empirical point of view I did learn quite a lot about where you might have the best luck selling your used photography gear.
Let me first say that if you want to simply have the easiest, hassle-free experience, trading it in at the camera store where you buy your new gear is usually the best alternative. You’ll probably get the least amount of money in return, but you’ll save yourself advertising, shipping, negotiating with tire kickers and other time wasters.
If you want to get the most money possible out of your gear, my experience is that generally, Ebay is your best bet. If the gear is highly specialized or very rare, your milage may vary. But if we’re talking run of the mill stuff like 50mm lenses, two generations old DLSRs, tripods, etc., you will have the best chance of selling your gear on Ebay. This also means paying Ebay a cut and dealing with PayPal (one of my least favorite entities on the planet – but that’s another story.)
After Ebay, I’d try all the current lens and camera rental houses. They tend to pay well when they need something. The problem is they more often than not do not need gear. But it doesn’t hurt to ask.
I tried B&H and Adorama. They were both the slowest to respond (three and a half days Adorama two and a half days B&H) by email. When I called both, they wanted me to send the gear before they’d give me a number. This is part of their plan to pay you as little as possible. They will gladly return the gear if you don’t like their offer, but they (probably correctly) assume that once you’ve gone to the trouble to package it and send it out, you won’t want to quibble and you’ll take the money and run. Both companies offered me the lowest amount for my used gear by far compared to any other method I tried. So while both are reliable in that they will pay you, it won’t be much.
Next, you can try selling your gear through your social media network. This works great if lots of photographers follow you, but not so well if you have a small audience. I am lucky, because I have such a large audience I am usually very successful selling things via Twitter at what I consider to be fair prices.
I found the best mail order solution for selling your used gear to be KEH.com. They have been around a long time, offer fair prices when buying or selling, have lots of consumer protections in place and are a trusted source in the photo community. When you don’t want hassle of any kind, I like them as a solution, but you may get 10-20% more if you can find a way to retail the used gear. You just have to decide if it’s worth it. KEH pays quickly, the guy you met on Craig’s List? Not so much.
Some camera clubs or meet up groups have regular camera swap meets. These are also popular in large cities like New York, Chicago, Seattle and LA. I’ve done well at such events but that’s because I only accept cash and always have someone with me to help provide security in case anyone gets the idea they can follow me back to my car and get a quick grab at my wallet.
There is always Craigs List or worse, the local newspaper classified advertising. But I would suggest these are the least likely to be successful and also much more dangerous as they involve people coming to meet you who may just decide to come rob you instead of paying you. Some people I know do very well on Craigs List, but I also know people who’ve been given bad checks, or worse. So in this case, let the SELLER beware.
Lastly, you may want to consider donating your used gear to a 501C3 non-profit group here in the USA. In America anyway, such donations are tax deductible and may bring you more money in the long run if you need the tax break.
Once you’ve decided how you want to sell and have a buyer there are a couple more quick tips I have for you.
Make sure you have deleted any personal photos from internal memory cards and that removable memory cards have been taken out of the camera. Make sure that you pack any camera very well that you plan to ship because you can’t imagine the kind of abuse some boxes take when shipped commercially. When it comes to payment, unless you are dealing with a trusted source, don’t take checks. They bounce. Really. Cash is good as long as you can safely move it but that rules out transactions that aren’t local. Money orders, cashier’s checks, bank checks, etc. are all very easily (and often) forged. They aren’t any more secure than personal checks. Even actual bank checks can be recalled if the account holder claims he “lost” the check. So you get it in the mail, ship the camera, the buyer calls the bank and says the check was “lost” your bank debits your account for the amount of the check AND a bounced check fee. Not good.
You should allow 14 days for any sort of check to clear if the source is untrusted or unknown to you.
One way around this is if you live in the USA, is to accept only Postal Money Orders from the US Post Office. You can get cash money for these at the Post Office. They are responsible for verifying their validity and there’s no recourse against you once the Post Office gives you the cash. This is my preferred method of payment. It does require me to make a trip to the Post Office but at least I know I am paid.
Another way around this is PayPal or similar services. Here’s the problem. If you ever read the PayPal Terms of Service it will (or should) scare you to death. They can basically do ANYTHING they want with your money, including NOT giving it to you, without reason, hearing or explanation for an indeterminate amount of time. And your only recourse is to go to California and apply for arbitration. How do I know all this? It happened to me. I was getting large payments from a client via PayPal for six months. In the seventh month PayPal froze my account with roughly $50,000 in it. They offered no explanation, reason or warning. I tried getting someone on the phone. Impossible. I wrote emails, sent faxes, telegrams and snail mail via registered letter, nobody answered. This went on for months. My attorney looked at the TOS and said, “Well you agreed to this.” And he was right. So I turned him loose on PayPal and after much trouble, I got my money back. Won’t ever be using them again. You can do so at your own risk.
Remember this isn’t a white paper on how to sell your camera. These are just some starter ideas. Your experiences may be very different from mine. My hope is that in sharing my experiences, I can help you overcome some of the problems involved with selling used gear.
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