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The Essential Pre-Purchase Checklist for Sports Card Collecting

The Temptation of the "Buy It Now" Button

Imagine this: after months of searching, you finally find that one elusive sports card that's been on your wish list. Your finger hovers over the "Buy It Now" button, excitement bubbling within you. But wait! A last-minute check reveals something crucial – the seller, despite having a mountain of positive feedback, has earned it all for selling used sports CAR parts, not sports cards. This immediately raises a red flag and you feel your stomach drop. Crisis averted and your budget is still in tact for the next card that pops up. It's moments like these that underscore the importance of a completing a sports card purchase checklist.

A pre-purchase checklist to complete before buying a sports card

1. Think About Where the Card Fits into Your Collection

Before diving into a purchase, consider how the card complements your existing collection. Is it a missing card in a specific set? Does it hold nostalgic value, or is it a strategic investment? What's your planned hold period? Are you looking to add this card because YOU want it, or just because its that player is on a recent hot streak? Understanding a card's place in your collection ensures that each addition is meaningful.

2. Review the Seller or Platform's Reputation

The reputation of the seller or platform is paramount. eBay has taken great strides in recent years to protect buyers, but it is still imperative to review a seller's feedback. You want to look for 99.8%+ positive feedback and comments related to sports card purchases or sales. As a general rule of thumb, stay away from any seller with negative feedback in the last 90 days. Major auction houses like Robert Edwards Auctions (REA), Goldin, PWCC, Heritage, and Mile High Auctions have proven their ability to provide a safe bidding environment for collectors and deliver cards to auction winners timely. Proceed with caution on new platforms that arise that don't have the reputation of security and safety to back up their guaranties.

3. Review Your Budget

Always keep your budget in mind. It's easy to get carried away in the excitement of the hunt, but remember, a great collection is built over time, not through impulsive purchases that strain your finances. If you don't have the liquidity available to purchase the card outright, there may be other options available to acquire the card such as trading or financing. Recently there have been services popping up offering to assist you in consolidating smaller valued cards in your collection for more expensive cards. Be careful to not over-extend yourself. There are no guarantees that the values of the cards you purchase will increase over time.

4. Inspect the Card's Condition and Authenticity

If the deal seems like it might be too good to be true, then it probably is. The condition of the card significantly impacts its value. Look for any signs of wear, fading, or damage and determine what imperfections you're okay living with. Some vintage collectors don't care about the grade of cards in their collection as long as it is well centered. Some modern collectors exclusively collect cards graded 10 while 9's are "Just fine" for other collectors. When purchasing raw cards look for hidden damage like surface scratches or wrinkles.

5. Check the Certification Number with the Grading Company (If Applicable)

All major grading companies have a "Certification Number" that can be verified directly. Scammers have been able to crack graded slabs and reproduce grading labels to pass off fakes or lower graded copies of cards as legitimate. At some companies, you may also be able to check the date the card was graded and compare it to the slab which may change over time. Links to the major grading companies certification verifications can be found below.

PSA Cert Verification Landing Page

6. Ask Fellow Collectors Questions

Don't underestimate the power of community knowledge. Engaging with fellow collectors can provide insights and second opinions that are invaluable in making a well-informed decision. Maybe you're looking for a second opinion on authenticity or maybe you're speculating on the next hot prospect. Connect with fellow collectors to get their thoughts if you aren't 100% sure about your potential purchase.

7. Determine Your Max Bid or Buy-It-Now Price

If you've made it all the way here on the checklist, congrats! All that's left to do is to buy the card or win the auction. Now is the time you can decide on your on your maximum bid or offer price. A slight caveat for purchasing cards in person at shows - Don't be afraid to walk away from a negotiation if you need time to figure out what price you're comfortable paying for a card. The goal here is to acquire the card you've had your sights on, but you don't want to unnecessarily overpay or get caught in bidding wars in the heat of the moment.


Use this checklist as a starting point and tweak it depending on the situation. You don't need to go through every step if you're buying a single from a dollar box at a show, but there are definitely extra steps to perform if you're contemplating a five or six figure purchase. Establishing and adhering to a pre-purchase checklist can greatly enhance your confidence when acquiring a card. More importantly, it will set you up to enjoy the cards you acquire guilt and worry-free. Happy collecting!


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