Sunday, August 15, 2010

How to Sell Lenses on Craigslist

Here's a guide to selling equipment on Craigslist. I'm going to focus primarily on lenses. Good lenses don't depreciate much after a few years, if at all. Newer lens will generally not recoup their price, but have strong demand if they offer good performance, or are professional quality lenses. I'm going to assume that this isn't you, so we'll skip high-ticket items like anything more expensive than the Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 and the 70-200VRII. If you are selling a 200-400 f/4, I'm going to assume that anything I have to say will be fairly irrelevant to you.

One thing to watch out for is currency fluctuation. Depending on when and where you bought the lens, the resale value will fluctuate according to the retail price of the same lens sold in a store. Don't expect wild swings, as importers tend to hedge against currency changes months, if not years in advance.

Things to ask yourself before selling:


  1. Is this lens worth buying? What's the incentive for a buyer to pick up your lens? This is the single most important question you need to ask yourself before going to the market. (Also known affectionately to you business students as the unique value proposition). If you have a kit 18-55mm f/3.5-f/5.6 lens that you want to resell, it would be difficult to expect much given how many of those things were made and how pedestrian the f-stop range is. (I'm talking only about the resale market value... that particular lens in its various inceptions is optically decent for it's price... but that's the point, low starting price, low resale value). Which leads us into the next question:
  2. Does my lens have a good reputation? Is it sharp, is it fast, does it colour fringe, is it well made? Thanks to the internet, the number of well informed people grow by the day. You pretty much have to start with the assumption that your potential buyer is going to be well-informed. Said another way, don't expect a lot of enthusiasm for your Nikon 70-300ED zoom, but you should get lots of inquirys for a Nikon 70-300VR. 
  3. Am I willing to part with this lens? Funny thing is, I wouldn't consider this question first. Sometimes thinking about the first two questions will make you decide that it's not worth parting with your beloved lens. It's good to know the worth of something before you decide to part with it; if you don't let it go, you will appreciate it more having considered this question.


Writing the Craigslist Ad


  1. Specify locations that you would be comfortable selling in. You are the seller; don't go driving across town through rush hour traffic for a potential sale that could fall through. Your time is also your money.
  2. Put down the right asking price. This seems obvious, but it bears stating: the right asking price is more than what you would expect the lens to go for.  No matter what people say, no price is firm. Putting down "300, firm" will not deter people from bargaining with you. What it does do is make you seem inflexible, which reduces trust on the part of the seller, and it will make you look weak if you do acquiesce. For example, if you think that $300 is fair and what the price will eventually come to after negotiations are done, then list the price higher, say at $330.
  3. Clean your lens. Use a microfiber cloth and gently wipe off the dust from the front element, making sure that you are actually wiping the dust out and not just jamming it into the nook where the glass meets the plastic body of the lens. One trick: Armor All. It does what it says it does, it restores the colour of faded plastic. Spray a sparing amount onto a cloth and then wipe onto the plastic body of your lens. Do not spray directly onto the lens, and do not get any of it onto the glass. Let it absorb and then buff until the surface is dry and the Armor All is incorporated. This takes years off of the appearance of used lens. Also works wonders on camera bodies.
  4. Make sure you have front and rear caps as a minimum. Presenting a lens without a rear cap is the kiss off death. First of all, nothing is more off putting than buying something from a stranger with a sensitive part of the optics exposed to the elements. Secondly, a lens with a front cap but without a rear cap is potentially a stolen lens pulled off of somebody's camera body.
  5. Ideally, have the originally packaging and receipts. Nothing says scrupulous legitimate owner like a receipt and a well cared for manufacturer's box. The older the lens, the more willing a buyer will be to over look the absence of these.
  6. Include pictures of the actual lens in your ad. Since photography is a visual hobby, it would make sense for your ad to have visual appeal. Shoot it against a non-busy neutral  background; it doesn't not have to be stark-studio white. Make sure you or your residence cannot be identified by the the picture. Also make sure you shoot the item with lots of depth of field so that the item is easy to see in the Craigslist listing. Now is not the time to be wowing people with your ultra-shallow bokeh  technique.
  7. Do not link to an outside picture or paste in manufacture's promotional images. Anybody can do this, the point of posting a picture of the actual item is to prove to potential buyers that the lens exists. You might have to use your cellphone camera, but a picture is better than nothing at all.
  8. Do not include manufacturer's specs or promotional literature in your Craigstlist ad. In other words, don't gild the lily. Ads that do this seem insincere; your buyer is going to know what your product is, don't insult them by giving them the promotional crap again. 
  9. Don't quote Ken Rockwell in your ad. I don't have anything personal against him, but the man's writing style is...ahem...polarizing at best and if you quote him in your ad, it will mark you as a rookie who doesn't know that there are more sophisticated places to spend your web viewing time. (By all means, visit his site, though. I do it all the time.) 
  10. Do not use the tagline, "My loss is your gain." This comes across as brutally insincere. Leave the cheezy taglines for used cars salesmen. 
  11. Do not  include your telephone. Serious buyers will give you a contact number immediately; if you have priced it competitively, they will know that others are looking at the same ad and that time will count. Give preference for people who offer a telephone number right away; people who do not will likely have a few more questions. In the time that it would take to play email tag, you could have arranged a deal.

The Deal:

  1. Meet in a high traffic, public place in an economically upscale part of town. Coffee shops and banks are the best locations. Starbucks are common in my hometown, so it's fairly common practice to meet at one. Do not meet at train or subway station. Ads that ask for this are downright suspicious.
  2. Do not meet after sundown. You will be conducting an expensive cash transaction with a stranger that you haven't met before; this is for your own safety.
  3. Bring a friend if you are uncomfortable. If you are wary about selling on your own, your next best option is to consign your equipment through a local camera store. If Craigslist is out of your comfort zone, don't be put off by the small amount of money that a camera store will offer you.
  4. Let the buyer test your equipment, but be mindful of their movement and where the nearest exits are. You want to eliminate the possibility of the 'buyer' making a quick getaway.
  5. Be prepared for last minute negotiations. Any buyer worth their salt will try to negotiate a little off the price that you discussed by email/phone. This is up to you, whether you want to accept less and take your chance that the next buyer will be willing to pay more money. I suggest throwing in a UV filter if you have one for the lens. The best way to counteract last minute negotiations is to have set the proper asking price ahead of time, so that you will have leeway for the inevitable.
  6. Shake on the deal. Social convention being what it is, a handshake puts an end to the negotiation process. Anybody who changes their mind after this step is somebody who is either ignorant of, or willing to violate one of life's little rules that most people live by.
  7. Only accept cash. If you meet in a bank and the buyer can confirm that the funds exist, only then would I ever recommend taking a cheque. Even then, it's just easier to have the buyer withdraw  the necessary funds in cash. Never accept a money order, or payment from somebody out of town.
  8. Always count cash with the money and the equipment on the same table, in plain view of both parties. Never forget, the buyer is also scrutinizing whether or not you are an honest person as well.
  9. Chit chat. If the deal went well and your buyer is upright and honorable, the conversation after the deal will probably be more relaxed and pleasant. This is a sign of a good deal.  Buyers who are willing to find used lenses on Craiglist are typically more serious about their hobby than the general public.
  10.  Make sure you're cash is safely stored on you. You now have a significant amount of money after the transaction; be careful with it.
  11. Avoid looking at Craigslist for the next few days. Be happy with the price that you got, don't tempt fate...

1 comment:

  1. Wow! What an awesome blog! Keep posting! Super helpful advice!