Grading Strategies

The first and most important thing a person can do to increase returns when grading cards is to become better at predict card grades. Most cards will not even return grading costs when they come back an 8, so it is important to get better at determining which cards will come back a 9, 9.5 or 10. Here are some ways you can do that:

Purchase a card centering measurer here. These are very cheap, effective ways to determine the centering of a card. Then compare the centering of the card to the grading rubric you are sending the card to.

▪ Purchase an eye loop magnifier. These can stand alone or attatch to your phone camera. These magnifying glasses will help you determine any scratches or dings on the surface, edges or corners of cards.

▪ Practice. Once logged in here, there is a tool that will show you 5 different PSA graded cards (from a few thousand) without their labels. You can then practice by guessing their score and you will receive feedback on how well you did. Keep practicing.

▪ Experience. Submit cards for grading. See how you do! Failure or success is always a good educator!

▪ Evaluate your submissions. After your submissions are returned. Use the tools in points 1 and 2 in conjunction with the subgrades to determine what exactly were the flaws in the cards you submitted.

Company Differences

The reason to have a grading strategy is because there are differences between the different grading companies. While the grades from each company are probably equally accurate, the cost, return times and resale value all differ. Since all these aspects impact investment and return value they are important to consider when shipping out cards for grading.

It is well known that in the trading card world, PSA has the best resale value, especially at the high end. This means that a PSA 10 will sell for more than its equivilent counterparts from other companies (BGS 9.5, HGA 9.5, CSG 9.5, SCG 10). This does not mean that it is always best to send it cards to PSA, as it may not provide the best return value after everythign is taken into account. Take for example any card which would sell for $500 for a PSA 10 and 60% or $300 of that for an HGA 9.5. Now, it is typically much more expensive to get a card graded by PSA than HGA ($150 vs $25). The actual total differences in the return value of the cards isn't $200 but really just $75.

We could look at the same example a little further with BGS instead of HGA and the current grading prices ($150 BGS, $300 PSA). The final PSA 10 sells for $1000 and the BGS 9.5 sells for $800. There really is only a $50 difference between the two after grading costs are taken into account.

Expected Value

We showed above that in a very basic scenario, the resale value of PSA is not as high as it initially appears after we factor in grading costs. Lets take this example a bit further by working with the concept of expected value. The expected value of a graded card is the value we expect the card to sell for after it is graded even when we don't know its grade. If we knew with a 100% guarantee it would come back a 10 then we would be able to look up comps on the card even before we sent it in for grading. Before we send it in however, we only hope that it will return a 10. However, given what we learned about error and reliability in the techincal grading section, a 100% guarantee on any grade is impossible. What we can do is estimate what its likely return is using a given population report.

Lets say you have a high quality Lebron James #221 Topps Rookie Card. It is pretty much guaranteed at least 9 or a 10 (for simplicity). You want to maximize your return and can either send it to PSA or BGS. First, lets look up the price of each of the grades by going seaching up how much the card in each grade has gone for. The table below shows this info

Grade PSA Price BGS Price
10 Pristine NA $15000
10/9.5 $3500 $2000
9 $780 $750
The BGS pop report states that this card has a ratio of 9's to 9.5's to 10's to 10-perfect of 2180:1746:39:4. We can figure out the percentage (and therefore probability) of getting each of these grades by dividing each section by the total amount and add this to the table .

Grade PSA Price BGS Price BGS Probability
10 Pristine NA $15000 1%
10/9.5 $3500 $2000 44%
9 $780 $750 55%

With these numbers we can actually calculate our expected value of sending the card into BGS. The equation is:

(probability of 9 x sale price of 9 + probability of 9.5 x sale price of 9.5 + probability of 10 x sale price of 10) - grading cost.

(.55*650 + .44*2000 + .01*15000) - 250 or the estimated value of BGS for this card is $1137.5

Lets add PSA to the table and make the same calculation!

Grade PSA Price BGS Price BGS Probability PSA Probability
10 Pristine NA $15000 1% 0%
10/9.5 $3500 $2000 44% 11%
9 $780 $700 55% 89%

(.11*3500 + .89*780) - 300 = $779.2. Sending the card into BGS nets you almost 358.3 MORE dollars than sending it into PSA. If you would like to know where I got the probabilities for PSA, it is from their population report from the last year. Please see my article on PSA for more details.

Where to send in a card is not so cut and dry as "always send cards into PSA". In fact, it can change from card to card and in reality, PSA may rarely be the best company to send card to despite conventional wisdom.

Pricing Differences

Pricing has a huge impact on the return value of cards. For this reason alone companies like BGS and PSA may not be the best submission places in the current climate. The introductory submission level for these are $250 and $300. There are many economical options that are better choices. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that if card sells for $100 in perfect condition you shouldn't spend $250 to get the card graded. Sending low to mid tier cards to HGA, SCG or SGC is a much better decision.

However, these lower cost options are also ideal for improving your return value on even the most expensive cards. As I have stated multiple times, all grades are probably pretty compareable in terms of quality. Given the fact different companies sell for different prices, cost different amounts and have equivilent grades means we have a great opportunity to test out cards before submitting them to more expensive options!

Lets resume our discussion of the Topps 221 Lebron Rookie card, but instead of just one we have 10. Lets also imagine that HGA ($25 per submission) has perfect crossover potential to BGS, meaning a HGA 9.5 has a 100% chance to grade over to a BGS 9.5. Just for reference, an HGA 9 sells for around $500. With a 9.5 selling for around $1200, far short of the BGS price of $2000. Lets Add HGA to our table.

Grade HGA Price BGS Price BGS Probability HGA Probability
10 Pristine NA $15000 1% 0%
10/9.5 $1200 $2000 45% 37%
9 $500 $700 55% 62%

Submitting all 10 cards to BGS or HGA would net 6 9's and 4 10's on average from both. The total resale value after taking into account grading fees for BGS would be $9700. For HGA it would be a much lower $7500. However, lets say we took advantage of the crossover potential and resubmitted all the HGA 9.5s to BGS. The total net profit for the hybrid HGA to BGS would be $9750. It is only $50 more but $50 is $50 and this scenario could net MUCH more money for different cards. Hybrid approaches for mid-tier cards ($100-$300 cards) almost always net more value than a simple single grader approach.

We can do all the same math for a crossover with PSA as well, assuming a crossover probability of an HGA 9.5 to a PSA 10 of 50%. If you submit all 10 to PSA, the return value would be estimated at 7020, actually less than the HGA value which is surprising. However, if we were to submit to HGA first and crossover to PSA at a rate of 50% we get an estimated value of $9010. The estimated value of the HGA-PSA approach under these conditions is actually the best of any combination. It should be noted that if the HGA-PSA crossover is only 50%, then the estimated value is the worst. The crossover rate is very important.

Unknown Values

We have discussed two major ways of estimating the value of submitting cards to card grading companies. It is painfully obvious however that the values required for these equations are usually not known. We may not have accurate population reports as seen in the PSA case. Or we may not have accurate crossover information from companies like HGA-PSA or HGA-BGS or BGS-PSA or CSG-PSA or any other combination of crossovers. In theory, they should work great. However, in practice it is something entirely different.

We need to work with equations with known values. Some peopel may be willilng to trust the theory but others will not. However, I will tell you one thing. With just a bit more information I can build very good estimates the crossover tables between the different trading companies. All I need is (lots of) high quality scans of graded cards from every company. Through this site when you log in there is a way to submit high quality scans that I can use in this reasearch. When I collect enough I will build the tables for all users. Which will undoubtably help out all users who have submitted card images. Please help out and we can all profit more!

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