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WATCH Before You Buy Your Next UNGRADED Sports Card – 10 Mistakes Collectors Should AVOID

June 01, 2021 6 min read

WATCH Before You Buy Your Next UNGRADED Sports Card – 10 Mistakes Collectors Should AVOID


You are brand new into the sports card hobby and hearing about everyone sending off their cards for grading.  You see them getting all these 10s and making huge sales because of it.

You are thinking I can do that!  But you are scared to get started.   What if you make a mistake?  What are some things you should be looking for?  Things to avoid doing?

Today I will share with you 10 things I have learned in buying ungraded sports cards over the last 2 years.

We have all made a ton of mistakes buying ungraded cards with the hopes of sending them off for grading and getting a 10. 

How many of us have bought a card that we were sure was going to get a 10, then you finally got it in person and it looks like you sliced up some cucumbers on it.

Even if we follow these 10 tips it doesn’t guarantee us getting a 10.  However, it does limit the amount of money and time we waste buying cards that never had a shot at a 10 in the 1st place.

So, what are some things we should try to avoid when buying ungraded sports cards?  Let’s take a look at 10 of them.  Now keep in mind, the more experience you get in the hobby, the better you will get at picking out winners.

#10 Buying cards that are off center

How many times have you bought a card knowing damn well that card was off center and said to yourself, “well, maybe the surface, corners, and edges will 10, drowning out the 9 the centering will get.”  For me, all the time.  Not as much anymore.

Perfect centering contributes to the eye appeal of a card.  The more eye appeal a card has the better chance at getting a good grade.

Set yourself up for success and buy cards that are well centered.  Now this doesn’t apply to every card, for example picking up a Michael Jordan 1986 Fleer that is off center at a good price.  But for most modern cards it does.

#9 Buying cards with dark borders

Dark borders such as black, blue, or red easily show chipping which will contribute to a lower score on your edges.  White borders sort of hide those imperfections at times.

#8 Buying older chrome cards (ones that are more than 5 years or so old)

I have almost never had any success buying older chrome cards for grading.  They always seem to have scratches on the surface.  Generally speaking, these cards have probably been handled a few dozen times, probably shipped 4 or 5 times.  The chances of them getting a 10 are very slim.  Not saying it can’t happen as I have seen it happen, just not with me.  Always be careful buying older chrome cards.

#7 Seeing “Pack Fresh” in the item title or description and assuming that card is mint condition

We have all seen this on eBay.  If you open any number of packs, you know that most cards that come out of them aren’t in any condition to be graded.  Especially stuff like chrome and Prizm.  It can vary widely from set to set.  Just because it says PACK FRESH doesn’t mean you are going to get a 10 on it.

This also goes for seeing PSA 10?  People put that in the title so it pops up in search results.  Doesn’t mean anything in relation to the actual condition of the card.

#6 Buying off COMC

Let me first start off by saying I have nothing against COMC, they provide an excellent service, a very easy way to buy and sell cards.  A little slow on the shipping but it’s always fun to watch their IG feed and see people complaining about something they don’t have any control over.

Buying ungraded cards on COMC can be hit or miss.  People like me send their cards to COMC that they don’t want to grade.  In most cases because the card has an issue with.  However, some people don’t grade cards and do send quality ones to COMC or they send cards of people that aren’t currently stars but end up being them and the cards are already at COMC ready to be bought by others.

So, it is hit or miss.  My advice, don’t buy something from there and expect it to get a 10.  Assume a 9.  And don’t buy anything that is going to break your bank.  If you get the card and it is piece of junk, it doesn’t ruin your day or finances.

Again, not saying you can’t find 10s, but just know it isn’t likely.

#5 Not knowing what grading company you are using before you buy the cards.

With PSA currently shut down, there are a bunch of other grading card companies people have been sending their cards to.  SGC, CSG, HGA for example.

Before you buy your ungraded cards, ask yourself, who am I planning on sending this card to for grading?  Why does that matter? 

Well, buying cards with green colors in the design might look good in a CSG slab.  Ones that are black and white might look good in a SGC slab.  Having an understanding of where you plan on sending them will affect what you are willing to pay for that card.

#4 This leads me into my next tip, know your #s

If you are planning on selling these cards once you get them graded, you need to know a couple things.  What is the likelihood of this card getting a 10?  I.e., 1000 have been graded but only 100 have been 10s, probably not likely you are getting a 10.  What do they sell for once graded?   What does the grading company I am choosing charge to grade this card?  Take the sales price, minus the grading cost, minus any selling fees and % of profit you want to make and that equals the cost you should buy that card ungraded for.

The more you know your numbers the more confident you will feel about your purchase.

#3 Buying expensive cards ungraded

Don’t get me wrong, this can be very lucrative if you buy the right card in the right condition.  But for new people getting into the hobby, I wouldn’t suggest this.  I would rather have you make a $2, $5, or $10 mistake than a $200, $500, or $1,000 mistake.

It takes a bit of time to build up some financial funds, but also to understand what the market wants and what they are willing to pay for that card.

I remember the first card I got into buying was Zion Williamson 2019 Prizm card #248.  I had no idea what Prizm was.  I just heard people talking about.  Here these cards were at $200 or so and I was just buying as many as I could that look centered to me.  Fortunately, I was able to get mostly 10s, but I could afford the $200 hit should a card get a 9 or even worse.

#2 Speaking of expensive cards, if you do buy cards that you deem expensive, ask questions

Always do your homework.  Don’t be afraid to ask the seller a question.  “How’s the surface look in person?  Any print lines or scratches you can see?”  If they ignore you chances are there were problems and you just avoided a mistake.  But most will reply back and I have found most to be pretty honest about the condition.

I wouldn’t be doing this for $1 or $2 cards, please don’t waste someone’s time at that value.  But if the card is a big chunk of your budget and what you deem to be expensive, don’t be afraid to ask questions.

#1 Try and avoid buying ungraded cards from an eBay seller that also sells graded cards

Ask yourself, if they sell graded cards, why didn’t they get this one graded?  Now it could be they just haven’t gotten to it.   Or the player blew up and wasn’t worth getting graded before.  Lots of things could be why it isn’t graded. 

It could also be because it is a POS and probably would get an 8 or less if graded.  This is where asking questions comes in and leaning on the experience you have gained in the hobby.

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