The trick at building large card collections that are full of Unrealized Profit goes beyond speculation and purely buying and selling. You have to trade, too. They are trading cards after all.
I only sell cards now for one of two reasons. One, I see an opportunity to get a huge chunk of yet Unrealized Profit into my pocket, or more usually my PayPal account. Two, I'm liquidating portions of my collection that aren't realizing any significant gains or I'm cutting losses. Otherwise, I'm holding and trading.
Why trading? Most often when you sell, you often lose a portion of your Unrealized Profit margin. Often this is from online listing fees. Even sales made in person often involve some discount against market prices. After all cash is the greatest asset. Most of the time, unless I'm supporting a local game store or hobby store, I spend very little cash.
Why Trading is Better Than Grinding Sales
First of all, trading is what you are meant to do with these cards. You trade cards you don't need for those you do. Whether you're into trading cards for playing or purely in it for financial reasons, or some of both, trading has so many benefits. Trading players and collectors and vendors for store credit is how I've built dozens of expensive decks from literally random cards.
Here's the thing. Say you buy a card for 5 bucks. It becomes popular and its market value hits 10. You can sell it and net maybe 8 at best after seller fees and the most basic shipping. A lot of people demand tracking after 10 dollars. You're only breaking even at this point. That blows.
But if you trade that card for another 10 dollar card that still has room to grow, you increase your Unrealized Profit margin by one hundred percent. You double your value
But I want cash, you say. Well, then the 10 card hits 12.50. If you sell then, you actually profited on the 5 dollar card. Say you still need to offer tracked shipping. That's maybe 2 for selling platform and PayPal fees, and 4 for shipping and materials. So you net 6.50. But you're still up on your initial investment of 5. So, you actually improved your situation by trading.
Until you actually sell cards the Unrealized Profit lingers. Now, that sucks to lose so much on fees and shipping. Usually, you can get away with untracked shipping for cards or orders 20 or less. So in most cases, that one trade already improved your return on Unrealized Profit by a substantial margin.
So how do we know what we should be trading for and away?
Knowing What's Hot or Not
One of the best ways to liquidate cards that are doing nothing for me is to trade them to a vendor for store credit. Most of the time there's a bonus for choosing store credit when you buy list cards. I prefer to sell to local buy lists first, because you eliminate shipping and packages getting lost. But the major vendors online that give 20 or even 30 percent higher for choosing store credit can make the risk of shipping your cards worth it. Still, I only ship to buy lists when it's worth it to me to insure the package.
But locally I always find places that buy cards at fair prices. Some places only pay cash. And these are the places that get my bulk rares, uncommons, and commons. I usually just pocket this cash and use it for entering a Magic draft tournament or something.
But when you can get bonus store credit, that's where you can actually make money. I watch the spread between the TCGplayer market price and the price offered on my favorite buy lists. Not the retail price. I only go by what people actually pay for the card.
Now I do watch the spread between market and retail price however. Whenever the market price is within 10 percent of the retail price, I recognize a very healthy market for that card. If the market price actually exceeds retail prices, specifically the tcgplayer median for magic YuGiOh and Pokemon cards, then that card is likely going to have a surge in price shortly.
When Store Credit is Great
If I have cards that will net me as much or more in store credit than having to sell them and shop them myself, I'm usually going to take the credit. After all, I always have targets that I'm willing to pay retail for if I'm paying with credit.
I love this for a couple reasons. First, I'm helping out a good business in keeping their stock liquid. I'm actually making them a profit, so if I profit too everyone is happy. Secondly, I'm dumping stock that I feel has little more Unrealized Profit to be gained. Lastly, when I get cards in this way, they tend to perform the best financially. Yes that last bit isn't true for everyone, but it's good to note.
When Do I Sell Cards for Cash?
If I can get the most for my cards selling on my own, I will do it. But only if I can't trade them first. If a card is doing well financially, it's because people want the card. Naturally, you should look to swap. Chances are, you'll both profit in a transaction that's a trade.
I also sometimes trade for eBay and Amazon gift cards. I even trade for gift cards that have nothing to do with buying cards. I've gotten free Chipotle this way. I'm still profiting by not spending money I would've spent anyway. One time, I traded 50 bucks worth of Pokemon cards for a 100 dollar department store gift card. I can't recall which one. I sold the gift card online for 75. Think outside the box when looking for value I always say.
And actually, the other person made out on that trade. A couple of those cards shot up in price. Good for them. I don't get mad. I get glad. I made something good happen.
I Only Buy Cards When…
I make cash directly from card sales, store credit, or gift cards.
And what do I buy? Cards that have low buylist to market or market to retail price spreads. Or I need it for a deck. That's not often because I trade for those. I usually only play formats where cards never rotate so I increase my overall collection that way too.
(In YuGiOh cards don't rotate but some get banned in tournament play and the reprint risk is higher. But that game is s whole other article.)
Trading is Better for the Hobby
The best reason besides that trading was the whole point of the cards on the first place? Buying and selling causes inflation. For people and vendors to actually make money, card prices inevitably rise. But if you trade more, it lessens the need to have to pay third party transaction fees. It cuts down on the cost of the hobby overall. You're still going to have expensive cards of course but the demand curve will be more organic and not based on the idea that you better buy this card now before it gets too pricey to be worth it.
I trade stuff I'm not playing so others can play with it. I rarely have more than eight of any one card, except that time I had like over 100 Nightveil Specters and Underworld Connections. That actually ended up going well. In fact I traded many copies away at discounts even when the specter hit like 10 bucks because I just wanted to put them in players hands. I actually made more money off those trades than the ones I sold.
The moral of the story here is that trading benefits everyone. If you need the cash, selling is great. If you want to do trading cards as a business, buying and selling is definitely a big part. But if you're just interested in getting the most value out of your cardboard, invest in trading.
Who knows. Someone may give you a great deal on a Bed, Bath and Beyond gift card. Those are more valuable than you might think.