Brokers offer aid for online auctions

Services: For a fee, they'll photograph, post and ship sellers' items, or search sites on behalf of buyers.

May 08, 2000|By Karen J. Bannan | Karen J. Bannan,New York Times News Service

Liz Parella had a big problem. She needed to sell a Baldwin baby grand piano that was taking up too much space in her Manhattan apartment.

She got in touch with an antiques dealer, but the dealer offered her only $1,000, far less than what she thought the piano was worth. By chance, Parella, a secretary at a financial management firm, saw a magazine advertisement for an eBay broker service.

Although she knew about online auctions, at that point she had never used the Internet. On a whim, she decided to give the broker a call and subsequently entered the online auction market by proxy. As the term implies, eBay brokers photograph, list, sell and ship auction items for people who cannot do it themselves or do not want to.

Some people, like Parella, say they do not have the online know-how needed to list an item for sale.

Others just want to avoid what they consider to be the hassle of posting, selling and shipping items.

Liz Temkin, the eBay broker who sold Parella's piano for $4,000, said: "I got the idea from observing that a lot of people I knew were interested in selling things online but just didn't have the time. We live in a very service-driven society. I've been a booker at Ford Models; I've sold real estate. I've always been involved in customer service. This is just another way of using my talents."

Temkin, a full-time eBay broker in New York, charges a flat-rate listing fee of $10 and a 25 percent commission on each item's sale price (with no extra charge for eBay's fees). The listing fee is nonrefundable even if an item does not sell, and that happens frequently, especially with items that have high reserve prices, the lowest prices sellers say they will take.

Unlike antiques dealers or secondhand-goods dealers, Temkin does not set prices. If customers don't know what price to offer, she will help them find reputable appraisers.

Temkin, who said she was doing very well with her business, specializes in expensive items such as jewelry and art. She will not accept items such as $5 Beanie Babies or $50 home furnishings. "By the time someone pays my commission and listing fee, it would cost them more than if they just gave it away to charity," Temkin said.

Mike and Cheryl DeWolfe, brokers in Victoria, British Columbia, also limit the types of items they list. They specialize in store liquidations and collectibles and have sold board games, knickknacks and figurines on eBay for clients, most of whom find them through word-of-mouth.

Mike DeWolfe also runs a Web development service. The DeWolfes have expanded their eBay business to include buyer services. A customer, usually a collector, can hire them to find a specific item and purchase it. The DeWolfes' commission is 50 percent of the seller's profit on an item. They spend 30 to 35 hours each week scrutinizing eBay's millions of listings and buying and selling items for customers.

The DeWolfes also cater to clients with items too inexpensive for them to list. They offer such customers coaching and computer templates that make it easy to post items on eBay.

Even with the commission and listing fees, which are much higher than the 1.25 percent to 5 percent commission and listing fee of 25 cents to $2 that eBay charges, most eBay broker users come out ahead, compared with what they would pay an offline consignment shop.

Although eBay brokers are starting to be seen across the country, their services are not available directly through eBay, said Matt Bannick, the company's vice president for product and community. Instead, eBay will integrate a question-and-answer service offered by Keen.com into the eBay site so users can help others.

Under a three-year agreement announced last week, eBay users will be able to pay a fee for answers to questions about how to list and buy items. Bannick said eBay's community boards also offered help.

"People can post questions and other users post responses," he said.

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