This month I posted an article asking how you would build a new photo kit from the ground up with only a thousand bucks. The responses were all awesome (if you haven't left one yourself be sure to check it out, I'd love to hear from you), but they had one thing in common: everyone bought used gear. Buying used equipment can be awesome, but unless you're in an area with a nice local camera shop, you're stuck ordering online. While eBay and Amazon were traditionally the go-to sites for picking up used equipment, recently a lot of photographers have turned to buy-and-sell groups on Facebook.
I reached out to two of the leading camera gear groups' moderators and asked them to give me a hand putting together a guide to safely buying, selling, and trading gear online.
First things first, you've got to join a group in order to interact in one. While there are a million different options, I'd strongly recommend Camera Gear, Nikon Equipment: Buy & Sell, Canon Equipment: Buy and Sell!, and Film Photo Gear. Each of these groups have a good track record for safe buying and selling, and excellent moderation.
Note: While Mayolo frequently references Nikon products these suggestions definitely hold true for Canon, Sony, Fuji, maybe even Pentax.
- "Do your research about the product you want ahead of time. Weigh out the price differences between new versus used. Google 'Nikon (insert item name here) known issues' so you know what to ask [about]. For example, if I know that the Nikon 28-70mm suffers from AF-S squealing, I’m going to ask if it has it or if the AF-S motor has been replaced.
"Beware of used items being from Grey Markets. Why? Nikon USA will not under any circumstance service a Grey Market item whether it’s under warranty or not. Yes, that means they won’t even take your money!
"Always ask for detailed, high-resolution photos of the items you’re buying, including a picture of the serial number.
"Always ask for a detailed invoice outlining what’s the item for sale. I also like to have the seller list the serial number of the item(s) to ensure it’s not a bait and switch.
"Ask as many questions as possible prior to sending money.
"Most people online use PayPal. If so, verify the seller or buyer is a 'verified seller/buyer.' Here's how you do that:
Sign into your PayPal account and open a second browser in the same window. Copy and paste the following URL and insert the seller/buyers PayPal email at the end of the URL as shown:
"If you are the seller, it is in your best interest for you to insure the package. Remember that until the buyer gets the item in their possession, you still own it. Oh, and always ask for 'Signature Required.' It’s a PayPal requirement, and if the buyer doesn’t get the package because it never arrived or was stolen off their front porch, guess what? The buyer gets their money refunded by PayPal. So protect yourself.
"Going back and adding to number 1; Do your due diligence, and that includes you researching the buyer or seller. I Google them, I Facebook cyber-stalk them, and so on. Do whatever you can to verify their identity and that they are a real person. From my time as admin of several Buy & Sell groups, this seems to be one of the biggest issues with buyers. They failed to do their research and got duped.
"If the seller states the item is still under warranty, be sure to ask to see a copy of the receipt ahead of the purchase. If they said they had it and you buy it and they don’t, good luck getting it after the fact.
"Make informed purchases by weighing the options between a used with no warranty and one with.
Item #1: Nikon 70-200mm VR2 used no warranty for $1800
Item #2: Nikon 70-200mm VR2 used with warranty for $1950
Most people will buy the cheaper one to try to save some money only to have the lens need service six months later at a cost of $400. Think of it this way, do you want to pay $150 more now for peace of mind that you’re covered, or save money now and potentially get stuck with a $400-600 repair later? With a $2,000 lens, I’ll pay a little more for the warranty. Plus when I buy a lens used with a warranty, I immediately send the lens to Nikon and state the AF is off and have them do a once-over of the whole lens including cleaning for free. A CLA (clean, lube, and adjust) alone runs $250, so me paying $150 more upfront for a warranted lens actually saves me $100 right off the bat. One time I bought a 70-200mm with receipt, sent it to Nikon for a AF adjustment and cleaning as I normally do, and when I got it back they had basically rebuilt the whole lens including new AF-S motor, new switches, and mount for free! Moral of the story is most people never send their gear in for service, so they have no idea when their gear is not working as it should, so if at all possible you should buy gear that’s still under warranty."
- "Read the rules posted by group admins and abide by them." One of the most frequent mistakes I see is people ignoring the group rules. When a group says it's not for gear talk, only sales, they mean it. Posting stuff that's not allowed is a great way to bum out the mods and possibly get yourself booted.
- "Be specific about your descriptions when selling and post good photos." This one holds especially true in Wooldridge's group. Film gear has nebulous, subtle differences and the type of Leica 50mm f/1.4 lens can make hundreds of dollars worth of difference.
- "Be clear about your location and currency." There are few things more frustrating than looking at purchasing an item just to find out that the seller is on the other side of the world. Do your buyers a favor and make sure to be specific about where you're selling from and where you're willing to ship to.
- "When buying, use PayPal and not the gift option unless you know the seller personally." And by "personally," Wooldridge means I've-had-a-beer-with-that-dude personally. The PayPal fee isn't all that steep, it's worth having the protection on both ends.
- "Trading gear is serious hard work and I only recommend doing it in person." These groups are great ways to get in touch with people from your area to trade if that's your jam.
Disclaimer: As with any private sale the onus is on you to do your homework, be safe, C.Y.A., abide the rules of the group and/or site. And, as always, if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.
About the mods:
How have your online buying/selling experiences been? Do you have any other suggestions? Let us know in the comments below!