Friday, September 25, 2015

How to value a firearm for a private sale

I've had a few questions from readers about how to determine a fair price for a firearm when buying or selling one privately.  There are many ways, but here's how I go about it.

First of all, we're not talking about collectors' pieces here.  If you can prove that your Colt Single Action Army revolver was made in 1873 (the first year of manufacture, when very few were produced), you can slap a mid-to-high-five-figure price tag on it right away.  If you have documented provenance that it was carried by one of Custer's men at the Little Bighorn, make that a six-figure price tag.  However, those 'grail guns' aren't what people like you and I tend to buy or sell, so we'll ignore them for the purpose of this exercise.

Let's begin by finding a 'baseline price' at which we know the gun is, or has been, available for sale recently.  You can do that by comparing prices at local dealers, but that isn't always valid or accurate.  Many dealers price their guns high, then negotiate a lower price to make the buyer feel he or she is getting a bargain.  (Needless to say, the dealer still makes his profit.)  I've traded guns to dealers for a price I considered low, only to see them put it behind their counter at double the figure they gave me.  Generally, one won't get accurate information about value from local dealers.

I use three sources where I know I can find the lowest prices on the US market, new and/or used, across the board, irrespective of location.  The first is CDNN Sports.  They buy up stock from other dealers who are going out of business, or who offer discounts to move something that isn't selling well in their area, and then they re-sell it at bargain prices.  For example, they're currently advertising Ruger's new 9E pistol for only $299.99.  That's about $75 cheaper than I've found it on most other Web sites.  It's a good deal for a good pistol.

The second source I use is Bud's Gun Shop.  This online dealer offers both new and used guns, so one can see what a used example has actually fetched in the market (as opposed to its asking price).  They currently list the Ruger 9E, new, at $330.00 - still about $45 cheaper than most other dealers I've found online.  To take another example, the Taurus Tracker .44 Magnum 5-round revolver can be bought brand-new from Bud's (at the time of writing) for $471.00 in blued steel and $546.00 in stainless steel.  They also list several used examples of this gun that they've sold recently.  Clicking on each used listing reveals the price for which it sold:  $375, $348, and so on.  It's therefore clear that a used Tracker .44 is considerably cheaper than a new one.  Not all guns are like that:  a used example of one that's in high demand may cost almost as much as a new one.  It depends on the firearm involved.

My last resource, and probably the most comprehensive, is  This is one of the biggest online firearm auction sites, and has thousands of listings from both dealers and people like you and I.  If you do a search for the make and model of gun you want, you can sort the listings by price or any other key indicator, look in detail at individual listings, and see over time whether or not they sell (many don't, because their reserve price is set too high).  If they do sell, and you've been watching them, you can learn what the real selling price was (as opposed to the asking price, or what other vendors may be asking for a similar firearm).  This gives you a very good indication of bargains that can be had, if you're willing to wait for them.

(As an example, I recently bought a used Ruger SR45 on Gunbroker for under $300, simply through being willing to accept one without the original factory box and all accessories, and showing a little surface wear on the slide.  Those 'negatives' had no effect on its function or accuracy, of course.  Other sellers were advertising their used examples at the same time for $350 to $405.  I won't pay that much for a used SR45, because CDNN has brand-new SR45's available for $369.99.  Why pay as high or higher for a used version?)

Over and above the prices you find on such web sites, you have to factor in shipping and handling charges, what your local dealer will charge you to run the background check and do the transfer, and any other related costs.  I usually budget $75 per transaction for such charges.  Sometimes it's less (although not by much), sometimes it's a little bit more.  Add that figure to the price you know the gun has been sold for in the past, and you'll get an idea of what you'll have to pay for one in the market today.  If you're looking to sell yours, you don't need to add those costs on to the price, of course.  The buyer will have to pay them.

(Also, be willing to pay a little over the average used price for a gun if it won't carry those extra costs with it.  I did so recently when I bought a revolver for about $40 more than the average used price Bud's Gun Shop listed for it.  However, it was a local face-to-face deal, so I didn't have to budget my usual $75 for shipping, background check, transfer fees, etc.  Also, the gun was in like-new condition, justifying a slightly higher price.  That made it a worthwhile deal for me overall.)

I find many sellers are either uninformed or greedy.  They want to get a new price for their used gun.  That's not going to fly unless it's a very rare or desirable model.  Checking the Web sites listed above will soon demonstrate what price is realistically achievable.  Other sellers are fixated on recovering costs that most buyers simply won't pay.  An example is someone who's spent a lot of money on a custom finish for a gun, or paid to have a trigger job done.  People want to buy a gun - not a finish or a trigger job.  Their minds are on the firearm itself.  If you ask them to pay for the custom work done on it as well, you'll price yourself out of the market, because other sellers will advertise the gun at its base value without such extras.  I've several times tried to discuss this with sellers, only to find them adamant.  "I've got X in it, so I want to get X out of it!"  Well . . . good luck, amigo, but you won't get X from me.

Finally, whether as a seller or a buyer, be patient if at all possible.  I keep my eyes open for firearms that my disabled or handicapped students might find useful.  There aren't many makes and models that I trust and recommend to them, and those that come up for sale are frequently overpriced (particularly for buyers who are living on a disability income and can't afford much).  I counsel them to wait, keep their eyes on listings such as the local pages of, or the sports equipment section of, or a national resource such as, and search for the type(s) of guns they want.  As and when they find them, if the prices are ridiculous, ignore them;  if they're not ridiculous, bid on them, or negotiate with the seller (easier to do when the deal is local, of course).  It's been my experience that sooner or later, something worthwhile will turn up for those prepared to wait for the right deal.

I hope this helps those of you who are considering the private sale or purchase of a firearm.  If you know what you're doing, there are some great deals out there, on both sides.



Old NFO said...

Great list Peter, and one other one I use is the BLue Book.

It also has grading criteria, and does in most cases have those 'limited' addition runs, including serial number ranges.

dave said...

I understand not paying extra for most trigger jobs, but how would you approach, say, a 1911 with a trigger job by Jim Clark, Sr., and papers to back it up? It seems like that wouldn't quite go as far as "collectible," but would certainly be better than work by Bubba Joe, Gunsmith.

Peter said...

@dave: If you have a genuine Jim Clark Sr. gun, you can effectively double the value of the base gun just for a start. If it's one of his longslide bullseye guns, you can probably triple it, perhaps more.