The Liggans netted about $28,000 in 2004 on eBay auctions. Liggan buys the vehicles at auction, has them inspected and repaired and keeps them on his front lawn. According to him, the eBay auctions are revolutionary because they eliminate the part of the car buying experience many people dislike: the in-person haggling over price with a salesman.
"You and me all of our lives go to a car lot and play this stupid game," he explained. "What will you give? What will you take? We've all been there. On eBay, finally, if somebody's got a no-reserve auction, they don't have to give none of that bull. [The buyers] are going to have the final say and nobody is arguing with them."
Unlike many eBay sellers who set a minimum opening bid or a reserve price, Liggan sets no reserve for any of his auctions. The high bidder gets the car. Period. Following eBay rules, he occasionally cancels an auction before it's over because there's little bidding action, but he usually follows through regardless of whether he turns a profit.
Liggan is something of a hybrid between the "for sale by owner" sellers and storefront auto dealers, each of which account for about 50 percent of the eBay Motors listings. Liggan has a dealer's license, but lower overhead than most dealers. He doesn't need to move as many cars as the usual dealer, either. All eBay sellers, whether a dealer or neighbor Ned selling the old Buick, pay the same amount to move a vehicle. The fee is $40 at the time of posting and another $40 at the time of sale. The fee was raised from $25 and $25 earlier this year.
The eBay system is good for buyers as long as they can get a car for $2,000 less than they would pay from a local source, Liggan said. Without the savings, it's not worth the gamble of buying a car sight unseen and traveling to get it, he continued.
How did I fare? The retail value of the Volvo ranges from $9800 to $12,100, according to three popular online auto valuation services. The Edmunds.com True Market Value® system is the most realistic of these free valuation services, according to Liggan. Edmunds came in with the lowest valuation for the Volvo, taking into account actual sales for the region where the car was purchased. Travel expenses of about $500 raised my cost to $8,600 for the Volvo.
"You gambled roughly $500 versus $2,000 in savings and a rust-free car, and that's a good gamble," he said. "Why would you take a chance on making a trip if you're not saving anything?"
As we were about to leave with the Volvo, Charlie handed Judy $40 through the window to buy an extra key for the car. We tried to give it back, but he waved us away.
"You can't take it with you. I ain't never seen a Brinks truck following a hearse," he said as we rolled out the driveway and headed 966 miles home.