“Tell him he’s dreamin’!” – The ridiculous asking prices of some vintage R/C items
Call it naivety or call it greed. But some sellers of vintage R/C items appear to be laboring under the misapprehension that what they’re selling is worth a fortune, when in fact the true value is a fraction of their asking price.
So what is the actual market value of something? And how can you avoid being ripped off?
Remember the film “The Castle“? If you haven’t seen it, it’s an Australian comedy that was released in 1997 about a working class family whose home is threatened by the development of an airport.
Among the film’s many amusing riffs on ordinary, suburban Aussie life, the Dad of the family – Darryl Kerrigan, and his sons, would often trawl the newspaper classifieds looking for bargains. And whenever they saw something interesting that they felt was overpriced, Darryl’s catchphrase was “Tell him he’s dreamin!”…
While Darryl was often referring to oddball items he had no need for anyway, as we know, collectors absolutely DO need everything they want to buy. Right? 🙂
Regardless, no truer words were ever said when it comes to the over-optimistic pricing philosophies of some sellers on eBay (and other marketplaces).
As any collector of toys (or collector of anything for that matter) will know, there are no shortage of people out there who will gladly overstate the collectibility, rarity, vintage-ness, uniqueness and general loveliness of whatever it is they’re selling. And when you’re dealing with items that are long out of production, and for which there is little supporting information available, it can be quite difficult to know what the truth is.
Often we rely on our memories and our nostalgia for vintage toys and items we had in our childhood, but it’s very important not to let our hearts rule our minds when it comes to buying collectibles. Impulse purchases are often your wallet’s worst enemy, and there’s nothing worse than paying $200 for something because it’s the only one available on eBay at that moment (and therefore, seemingly the whole world), only to have a better condition example appear later for a fraction of the price.
When it comes to vintage R/C cars and related items, I’ve seen a lot change over the years. But one thing I really want to highlight in this article is the way that some eBay sellers seem intent on forcing the prices of rare items up, up and up – to unrealistically high levels.
What are things really worth?
Well, this is the age-old question. What is my car worth? How much should I pay?
In my view, collectibles are only “worth” what people are prepared to pay. Not what someone else thinks they should pay.
eBay auctions that involve bidding are an excellent way of gauging the true value of things, because they represent a democratic process in which all buyers have an equal chance of winning. The bidding process is open to anyone in the whole world. So when an item is put up for bidding, and consumers fight for it, the final winning price is undoubtedly the most accurate representation of value.
If you’re a seller, and you just want your item to sell for a fair market price to the person who wants it the most, then listing your item in an auction for bidding, with a reasonable starting price is the most honest and ethical way to sell it. Sometimes items will sell for less than you expect, and sometimes for more. It’s the luck of the draw. But if you’re prepared to accept this, buyers will greatly respect and appreciate the opportunity you’ve given them to allow their demand to dictate the final value. Buyers want a bargain just as much as sellers want a profit. But over time, I have found that things generally average themselves out – both buyers and sellers “win some and lose some”, and I have sold many items both below and above what I had hoped for.
Unfortunately though, it seems that more and more sellers of rare R/C items are becoming greedy and setting self-declared prices that have no real bearing in reality. The thinking seems to be: If I possess the only example of item X currently listed on eBay, then I can set whatever price I want for it. And sooner or later, someone will buy it.
There’s nothing wrong with reasonable buy-it-now prices of course, nor with someone setting a buy-it-now corresponding to a previously seen high benchmark price. I can understand that, because the seller might just be trying to get their own money back. Personally I don’t even care about items that are $100-$200 above the highest price I’ve seen before. Fluctuations of a few hundred dollars are very common anyway.
I’m referring instead to the items with prices two or three times higher than any historical price.
Perhaps even these items will sell in some cases, and I don’t doubt that this ploy works occasionally.
But most of the time, these overpriced items sit on eBay for months and months…and sometimes even years, without selling.
Here’s an example. This new in box vintage Tamiya Wild Willy kit has been for sale on eBay for a fair while, and has been relisted more times than I can remember. Here’s a link to the auction, but in case that expires, here’s a screenshot…
Clearly this seller doesn’t care whether it sells or not. And perhaps one day, he will get lucky and it will sell. But not if all buyers do their research first.
Based on past experience, US$3000 is a ridiculous asking price for this particular car. What’s also funny is that there at the time of writing there were several other Tamiya Wild Willy kits also on eBay for around US$1200, and even these were not quick sellers…
So what is a vintage Tamiya Wild Willy R/C kit actually worth to people?
The reality is that, as I write, an original new in box Tamiya Wild Willy kit is worth somewhere between US$750 and US$1000. It fluctuates from auction to auction. But if someone puts one up for bidding, it will most likely sell for a little below US$1000. You just have to wait for a seller to come along who is either prepared to offer it for “buy-it-now” at around this price, or is prepared to let the market freely decide what the item is worth. Rather than imposing some “dream” price on it, two or three times higher than usual, and expecting people to fall for it.
Patience is key.
When it comes to finding and buying rare vintage R/C items, be patient.
Do as much research as possible before pulling the trigger and buying an expensive item. Search eBay for “completed items” and look at the green (sold) ending prices of similar items. Ask other people if something is rare, before believing a seller’s claims that it is “ULTRA RARE!”. Perhaps even wait a few months to see what else comes up, and track the prices. But remember: only the end price of an auction where someone actually paid money, counts as a valid indicator of value. Asking prices do not count.
In recent years, the disparity between what things are actually worth and what certain elitist sellers believe they are worth, has grown dramatically. I think this is because back in the earlier days of eBay, R/C cars had less of a reputation for collectibility. In more recent years, word has gotten out that some vintage R/C items are quite valuable. So unfortunately there are many fools who believe that everything old is worth a fortune.
The above example of the Wild Willy is one in which the item is still quite valuable, even when sold at it’s true market price. Because it is quite a desirable model and one of the great classics by Tamiya.
However, the delusions of grandeur in R/C pricing extend to other makes and models, such that it is easy to find ridiculous prices elsewhere. Take this Nikko Bison F10 buggy, for example…
While it is rare to find this car new in the box, and it is a very nice car to have, the reality is that if this car were offered up for democratic and fair bidding I’d expect to see it fetch less than one-third the price it is currently listed for – say, US$300-$500. I base this on past experience (13 years on eBay), and the fact that I own a NIB example of the sister car to the F10 – the arguably better-known Nikko Rhino. And I certainly didn’t pay EU1400 for it.
Obviously we live in a free society, and sellers are entitled to sell at whatever prices they please. While buyers are entitled to ignore those items, if the price is too high.
But what I take exception to are the attempts by some sellers to artificially “step-up” prices to hitherto unseen levels, based on the false assumption that everything gets more valuable over time, or that mere scarcity = value. Neither are true.
Not all things get more valuable over time, and in fact, there are many vintage R/C items – cars, parts, and so on, that have remained entirely static in value over the past decade. In many cases, values reach a natural plateau and simply cannot climb any higher. Sometimes they even decrease in value, as demand falls. Just because old R/C cars were nice, and you can’t get them anymore, does not mean that in 20 years from now they will each be worth $30,000.
So don’t get ripped off by sellers who demand top dollar. Stay smart about prices, keep your eye on eBay, and set up saved-searches to consistently monitor the end values of the things you are hunting for.
Because in the end, if buyers refuse to act as “enablers” toward sellers who demand sky-high prices, sellers will be forced to face reality and everybody will benefit from a marketplace where realistic and fair pricing is the norm.