<<< Continued from previous page

Part II:
Finding Available Collections

Because your time is limited, you are going to want to figure out some way to determine which house calls to make, and which to pass on. One way is to develop a set of questions to ask the owner.

  1. The basics: how many books (individual counts or count of boxes), and location (how far will you have to travel). What kind of books - hardcover vs. paperback, fiction vs. non-fiction, recent vs. older, book club editions, etc. Is the collection themed or specialized in any way - in other words, does it consist of general books accumulated over 30 years of reading, is it the working library of a retired academic or professional, is it the collection of someone who specialized in polar exploration, etc.

  2. Is the person you are talking to in a position to actually make the sale? You don't want to get into a situation where you've committed time and effort in looking at a collection, only to find that there are other people involved who will have to be consulted. Another way to put it: If you decide to buy the books, would you be able to take them with you that day? On one of my most frustrating trips, I actually went with the elderly owner to a storage unit and loaded the boxes into my truck, then drove them back to her apartment and carried them up for her. I spent a couple hours looking at the books, and left to do some research - a strategic mistake as it turned out. I called her the next day with an offer, to learn that she had spoken with her out-of-state son and that he was driving up that weekend to take all of the books. My point is not that I missed out on purchasing the books - they were hers to do with as she pleased - but that I wasted the better part of a day in doing so.

  3. Where and how are they stored? If boxed up, how long have they been stored? Five hundred books out on shelves will be easier and faster to go through than the same number stored in boxes. Twenty boxes of books stored in a basement for 10 years could be a problem. I once went on a house call where the books had been stored for a few years in a backyard shed. They were in remarkably good shape, but there were several instances of insect and even bird activity in the stacks.

  4. Why do they want to sell the books, and how soon do they want the books gone? If the seller is highly motivated to get rid of the books, it is more likely that an offer will be accepted. The motivation for the person cleaning out the house of a deceased relative by the end of the week is very different from the part-time eBay book seller who wants his garage back but also wants to get as much money as he can for the books. Which leads to the next question:

  5. Is (or was) the owner a bookseller? It could be a bad sign if the collection represents the leftovers from an online business - in other words, the stock that didn't sell. They may also have an inflated idea of what the books are worth. On the other hand, it might make your job easier if they have a computerized inventory available. And if they understand the business they should not be surprised (or offended) by an offer of 10% to 25% of resale value.

  6. Has anyone else looked at the collection, and has anyone "cherry picked" it? Will the owner allow cherry picking or is it all or nothing? Highly motivated sellers who are willing to take a low offer will usually want the whole collection to go - yesterday. And while it is often true that just one percent of the books may more than justify the entire purchase price, that still leaves 99% to be handled and ultimately disposed of.

Again, this is not meant as a definitive list of pre-house call questions. There may be others that make sense given your particular circumstances. At the same time, the weight you assign to each of these questions will vary. For example, a seller with a brick and mortar store might well look at a collection of books very differently than an online-only seller.

In the next and final installment of this series, we'll look at the actual visit. I'll go over some general rules of thumb for evaluating a collection, useful in a situation where you don't have the luxury of researching titles. Finally, I'll discuss the factors that go in to estimating potential value, and arriving at an offer price.

Read Part I of this series here.

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