Buying and Selling Equipment Online

Illustration by Doug Davis

I love a bargain. I love getting quality things cheap, and I love the hunt. One of my favorite places to bag a good sale is at online sales sites, so when my disability necessitated durable medical equipment, I turned to the Internet to buy — and resell — items I needed for daily living. I even check online auctions to find local services such as movers, electricians or carpenters. Doing this, I’ve saved and made money along the way.

In the eight years I’ve been shopping at online auctions, I haven’t been duped once, nor has my credit card information been misused. I’ve only seen one attempt at fraud, but because the Web sites I use clearly explain scams and fraud and have precautions set to dissuade criminals, I easily thwarted and reported a would-be scammer.

The Internet has changed everything for those with limited resources for buying equipment: Now you can find good new or used equipment within your budget, or even cash in on that old stander collecting cobwebs out in the garage. Some intrepid onliners have even established a second income buying and selling merchandise. With a computer, a camera, a checking account and/or credit card and some decent durable medical equipment — or the need for such — you can get started right away.

My Favorites
There are many online buying/selling and auction sites, including eBay, Yahoo, uBid, Craigslist, OnlineAuction, Goodwill, and a handful of DME sites. The sites I favor are eBay, Amazon and my local Craigslist.

I began using DME in 1998, when my muscular dystrophy symptoms increased. About two years ago, I had surgery and needed more equipment to help me through my three-month recovery. I needed a hospital bed, a couple of lift chairs and lots of gimp aids, all of which I either bought or resold online.

I work from my home. Last year I found a woodworker on Craigslist to build an accessible office desk, and even had him raise the height of our sofa and shorten our kitchen island chairs for transferring. Recently, I found a mover on the same site to help my husband shuffle some furniture from our house to our cabin and from one of our antique spaces to another. I now have a list of honest, reputable “freelance” movers and handymen we can call on when needed and whose prices you can’t beat.

Buying and Selling
In 1998, I purchased a used Quickie manual chair for $75 at a DME store and sold it on our local paper’s classifieds Web site for $150. Two years ago, when my older sister was looking for a new accessible van, I encouraged her to check eBay — she found a 1997 Dodge van with a wheelchair lift, in Kentucky. Two of her friends drove down and picked it up for her.

Because my insurance coverage was inadequate at the time of my surgery, I had to purchase a used hospital bed ($200 on Craigslist), some gently used twin sheets ($4 on eBay) and a used lift chair ($300 on Craigslist). Out-of-pocket purchases included miscellaneous gimp aids.

After recovery, I sold the hospital bed on Craigslist for $175, moved the lift chair to our cabin and bought another gently used lift chair for our living room, via our paper’s online classifieds. I’d also bought a bed shampooer for $33 and a $35 one-handed butt wiper. I sold the shampooer for $25 and the wiper, which I didn’t use, for $32 on a since-closed DME Web site. I’ve sold a couple grabbers, a bedpan, a few bed pads and unusable grab bars for a few dollars each on eBay. Prior to having surgery, I purchased a brand-new Sealy Posturepedic “twin XL” king bed at an estate sale for $125. This year, because I now need an adjustable bed, I put the Sealy on Craigslist and within one day sold the box springs for $150 and a few weeks later sold the mattresses for $50 each.

I now regularly sell items we don’t need or those found at garage and estate sales on eBay and Craigslist; I constantly buy and resell used books, CDs and DVDs or VHS tapes on Amazon.com

Getting Started, Staying Safe
The first step to buying and selling online is to open a Paypal account. It is very safe and offers protection on all of your transactions. While there are some sellers who only take checks, money orders or cashier’s checks, which cost extra to purchase at your bank, the majority accept all of the above and Paypal. I suggest using one credit card solely for online transactions. If you have e-mail and a checking or savings account, you can open a personal Paypal account to send money or buy online. With a credit card, you can set up a premier account and buy and sell on merchant sites for a small transaction fee. Paypal debits or credits your financial or credit accounts monthly, when transactions occur.

According to recent statistics, one of the most common online merchant frauds is now cashier’s check or wire service scams that bilk money from your account. Safe merchant sites list frauds and give tips on how to avoid them. If you know the tricks and stick to the rules before you buy or sell, you will have safe transactions. If you get an e-mail that looks fishy or is from someone with whom you are not familiar, never, never, never respond to it. Instead contact the Web site with which it claims to be associated. Be aware that if there is a prolific scam, larger online merchants will contact you with a warning.

The only time I was threatened with fraud was via an e-mail “receipt” from Paypal for $600 worth of Pirelli tires. The Paypal logo at the top of the e-mail appeared pixilated, broken into squares, and was a bit fuzzy, compared to previous notices I’d received from Paypal. I reported this to Paypal via the site’s Security Center and was told that had I responded to the e-mail, the scammer would have next asked for my Paypal password to gain entry into my account. Also, I recently ordered a used book from a merchant on Amazon.com and never received the book. A quick note to Amazon’s dispute center and Paypal swiftly refunded my money.

Another caution: Be sure that when you get to the point of paying for your item, the Web site’s URL changes to “https.” The “s” signifies “secure” and the site should display a privacy or security seal; most sites pop up a warning that you are entering a secure area within their site. If this doesn’t happen, do not give credit card or bank numbers, and never send them via e-mail or supply them in a pop-up window.

Using Auction Sites
There are a few auction sites dedicated to durable medical equipment, including mobilityauction.com. I spoke with Joe Lopinto at mobilityauction.com, who acknowledged there is not much outside traffic on DME sites, and on his site, most of his sales are his store’s merchandise of brand-name wheelchairs and scooters.

Lopinto says he used to sell a lot of used equipment but not anymore — mainly because the import market drove the prices down. His site sells several brands, and because some manufacturers force him to list a certain price, to compete he includes sales incentives, such as free batteries with purchase of a wheelchair. After purchase, he pays your local dealer $100 to accept delivery, and the dealer’s network will service the chair. There are other sites that offer these types of transactions, and you will also find dealers selling their wares on eBay or other auction sites.

Unlike eBay, which states, “Whatever It is, You Can Get It on eBay,” DME sites and Craigslist offer limited choices. The benefit of Craigslist is that you can sell cumbersome items locally without the hassle of shipping and handling, or find home services. You can list large items on eBay as “pick up only” or you can ship them, but it limits the number of bidders because of location or shipping cost.

Craigslist and most DME-only sites are free, but eBay charges a small transaction fee for selling. To list on any of the sites, you need a good, clear photo of your product (I prefer digital for fast upload and no processing charges), a description and price, including shipping and handling costs.

To price your product, do a little research and see what other like items are selling for, then start bidding low, with or without a “reserve price.” A reserve price is hidden to bidders and is your bottom line price for your item. But, still list your item with a low starting bid — it encourages bidding wars and you will have a better chance of topping your reserve price if you choose to include one. A good idea before you start buying or selling online is to check out a local live auction. Here you will see how bidding works and learn the trick of low starting bids.

Also, check with a shipping service to learn about pricing and save all the boxes, packing popcorn and bubble wrap you receive. I now do not spend one dime on packaging and even wrap items in polyester batting I found in a “free” box at a garage sale and brown paper grocery bags.

Reputation Matters
Whether buying or selling, check out the seller/buyer’s “feedback” to determine whether to sell to them or bid on their item. On eBay, for instance, there is a number in parentheses to the right of the seller’s name. Click on the number — the next screen is his feedback history. After each transaction buyers/sellers have the opportunity to leave positive, neutral or negative comments. If there are unresolved issues, buyers/sellers can enter a dispute that eBay will mediate and help resolve the issue.

As a buyer, be sure you read everything the seller says about his auction. If he notes “As Is” on his auction, question him about what this means. If his description seems vague or he doesn’t list shipping costs, ask him to explain before you bid. As a seller, be sure you note everything that is included with your item: If you aren’t selling the cushion on the wheelchair, list that in your description. Better yet, don’t photograph it with the chair. If something comes to you damaged but wasn’t noted, you have every right to ask for your money back — including shipping, unless otherwise noted in the auction.

With rising costs of durable medical equipment and decreasing insurance coverage — if you can get it at all — it is a savvy consumer who looks toward online auctions and shopping sites for good deals. You might even make a few extra bucks.

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