Best Time, Place, and Grades When Buying Sports Cards (Maximize ROI)

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tips for buying sports cards

The going price of a high-end collectible card will differ wildly depending on a number of factors. 

This is especially important if you’re hoping to maximize your Return on Investment (ROI), which is the case for the majority of collectors involved in the hobby. 

Must Read: Best Sports Cards To Invest In Now

Here’s everything you could possibly need to know about the optimal time, place, and grades to look out for when buying sports cards, with lots of tips and advice to get the best possible deals. 

 

The Best Place to Buy Cards

Traditionally, options like social media and hobby shops tend to be seen as viable locations if you’re looking for the best places to buy cards.

However, we’d advise against making any snap decisions when it comes to buying coveted items. 

Unless it’s a rare 1 of 1 or the only gem mint copy in existence, you’re always free to look for other options or come back on another day.

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After all, patience is a virtue, and card prices will ebb and flow depending on the time of year, and a variety of additional factors. 

Most sellers will have a rough idea of the value of a card, and they’re going to try their best to extract as much money from you as possible.

That’s not to say that there won’t be situations in which they’ll be looking for a quick sale, but it’s not often the case. 

As such, we’d recommend looking to eBay auctions for the best possible prices. 

 

Tips when buying on eBay auctions

  • We recommend you only bid on PSA 10, PSA 9, BGS 10, BGS 9.5, SGC 10 grades
  • Do not buy raw cards in most cases*
  • Before making a bid search eBay advance search to check what the card sold for in the past
  • Bid on cards from sellers with great ratings
  • Look for auctions with lots of bids
  • Most of your bids should be on HOF players as they are proven and values are not likely to fall
  • It’s OK to bid on rookies or 2nd-year players that have a high likelihood of great success (i.e. Luka Doncic, Acuna Jr., etc)

 

eBay Auctions 

The undisputed place to look for cheap deals has to be eBay. 

You don’t have to eat any of the fees as a buyer, while the platform has one of the largest selections being sold at any given time.


Top-Rated Investments:


 

Here are some of the main pros and cons we’ve experienced while buying collectible cards via eBay auctions:

Pros of eBay Auctions:

  • Lots of cards for sale
  • Cheaper prices on average – which helps to maximize ROI
  • Opportunity to check the reputation of the seller beforehand  
  • Can use any refund policy offered if you’re unhappy with the condition of the item 
  • Easy to communicate with the seller 

Cons of eBay Auctions:

  • Postage cost 

Overall, the pros do outweigh the cons, although you will have to have a little patience if you don’t think that the price is right. 

It’s easy to feel pressured into buying a card when the clock is running down, but there’s always going to be another time to get what you want.

 

Haggling 

If you don’t ask, you don’t get it. It’s always a good idea to ask for a discount on an item, even if the seller hasn’t mentioned anything in the listing. 

We’d stick with auctions for the lowest prices, but there are still opportunities if you’re prepared to send the seller a message. 

For the best results, look out for buy-it-now listings, or auctions with a high start price and no bids. (If they have lots of interest and numerous bids, they’re unlikely to lower the asking price.)

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You can use the contact seller button to do so or some listings will have a “make offer” option.

Many sellers are willing to take a slight hit, as long as you don’t come in with an obnoxiously low offer.

 

Best Time to Sell Cards 

If I was advising about the best time to sell cards, I’d recommend getting the final sale to coincide with a big game during the weekend. 

I’d also put the item up for at least a week, which gives more people time to actually see the listing, and add it to their watchlist. 

7 pm on a Sunday tends to be a safe bet, with lots of potential buyers at home or watching the game.

 

Best Time To Buy Cards

Head on over to our Best Time To Buy and Sell Sports Cards write-up.

 

Maximizing ROI

Grabbing cards at a bargain rate instantly improves the potential ROI in the future. 

The same is true for long-term investments, but what else can you do to ensure you get as much money as possible?

I’d start by checking out recent sale prices for the card/grade you’d like to buy, just so you have a better idea of what you’d ideally want to spend. 

Consider whether it’ll be a short, medium, or long-term play, and work out a rough budget that you will be able to stick to with a little leeway. 

Educational: PSA Grading vs BGS Grading vs SGC Grading

Look to identify the market, or check out one of our many investment reports for many top players. (If you can’t find a player, send us a request!)

There’s usually a no better option than a player’s rookie card. 

However, sometimes it pays to cast a wider net. I picked up a PSA 9 Haaland RC for almost 15% off the normal asking price by setting a reasonable bid, as it was set to finish at 4 am.

I only set the bid as a long shot as I was looking at a different Haaland card at the time, but it’s always worth taking a chance if the current bidding price is still low. 

 

Spelling Mistake Spotters 

Most people can’t spell. (I struggle myself sometimes, and I’m paid to be able to do so!) 

The point is when it comes to confusing names, and lots of cards, people tend to mistype their eBay entries. 

It doesn’t happen often with premium versions, but be sure to capitalize on any mistakes by searching for typos. 

There’s also a variety of free spelling mistake search tools that can be used to trawl eBay for the best deals.

Most sellers will take special care to ensure that they’ve labeled everything correctly, but it’s always worth having a look for yourself.

 

Wrong Category Listing

Some sellers list sports cards in the wrong category which can result in a nice discount. A few months back we found a Luka Doncic Prizm card listed under Golf Cards… needless to say, we ended up getting the card for 30% less than it should have gone for.

 

Sports Card Grading  

Various grading services such as SGC, BGS, and PSA exist, along with newer alternatives such as HGA.

Depending on who you listen to, card grading is either a valuable addition to the hobby or another way to extract even more money from collectors. 

In either case, there’s no denying that a PSA 10 sleeve will cause an item to be worth multiple times more than an upgraded version. 

Here’s our take on whether card grading is worth it from an investment perspective.

 

Should I Invest in Graded Cards?

Graded cards tend to be a safe bet, and you’ll find many that have increased in value as mint copies become ever more scarce as time goes by. 

Of the three main grading companies, we’ve identified the very best cards to look out for below. 

  • PSA 10 Gem mint PSA copies are seen as the best possible investment options, although they are also the most expensive 
  • PSA 9 PSA 9 copies are more affordable, but still reasonably rare in most cases 
  • BGS 9.5 A BGS 9.5 will be close to perfection 
  • BGS 10 – BGS 10 cards will be wrapped in their special black label 
  • SGC 10 – Likely to be the most affordable of the trio, SGC 10 graded cards are still likely to worth more in the future compared to ungraded versions 

A genuine fear of mine when buying online is that the cards have been tampered with in some way, or that they could be damaged in transit. 

It’s harder to forge PSA slabs, as they have a code on the reverse which can be scanned with a QR reader, or you can check the ID number on the front to confirm that it matches with their registry.

In terms of damage during transit, there’s little chance of that happening if a card is locked away inside one of the sturdy grading slabs. 

*A Note in regards to buying raw cards. We have found a few cards that grade well raw. For example, Bowman Chrome baseball cards grade extremely well compared to other cards. We have had great success buying non-graded Bowman Chrome rookie cards from 2017 to the present and sending them into PSA (40% estimated PSA 10 return rate).

Graded cards do tend to have more traction, while it’s a universally understood standard for collectors. 

It’s always a great idea to look for graded options unless you’re planning to send off a few to be slabbed yourself. 

(To give you an idea of the difference in price, some collectors will buy cards that have been graded by less popular companies to crack open and send off to PSA or Beckett.)

Remember, with the greatest players, time tends to be on your side. 

 

Pitfalls to Avoid 

Being a bit impatient is common when you really want a card, but it’s always best to wait for the best possible opportunity to arise. 

You’ll also have to be aware of any deals which seem too good to be true

If a card is selling for a fraction of the price compared to others, it’s worth considering why anyone would be willing to part with something for way less than the market value. 

Take care to avoid the many scammers that plague any online marketplace, as you’ll be doubly disappointed when the card doesn’t turn up as advertised. 

If you’re planning to import rare cards from an international seller, you may have to pay additional export fees as well as delivery fees. 

“They do tend to add up, so be sure to factor in for any costs that may accrue along with the cost of the card itself.” 

 

Best Time, Place, and Grades When Buying Cards: Summary

Even if the difference in price is justified by the factor of a few percentage points, there are massive savings to be found depending on what you’re looking for. 

Put it this way. If you can save 5% on a $1000 dollar card, that $50 can be funneled back into purchasing another card. 

If you manage to do it 10 times, that’s enough to pay for a $500 dollar card. It all begins to add up.

It also helps you to work with finer profit margins, as you won’t be attempting to recoup as much money in the first place.

It’s hard to beat eBay as a buyer, especially if you’re looking for cards within a certain niche such as golf, or even vintage options.  

 

Bottom Line

We would recommend sticking with high-graded HOF players rookie cards whenever possible, while eBay auctions are the way to go to find the best possible prices. 

 

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James is a journalism graduate/freelance writer from London, who specializes in sports cards and technology. He has a particular interest in tech for good, and in his spare time, he enjoys playing video games.

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