Data Dive

Is there really a Bring a Trailer premium?

by James Hewitt
8 October 2021 5 min read
Record sales—like this Porsche Carrera GT that brought $1.315M—have become a regular occurrence on Bring a Trailer. Photo by Bring a Trailer

Not long ago, a Mercedes-Benz E63 S AMG went on Bring a Trailer after going unsold for months on Autotrader. In seven days, it sold for 10 percent higher than the original Autotrader asking price. We’ve all heard stories like this, especially of late. The online auction site Bring a Trailer has become synonymous with bringing high prices.

We wondered, however, if these high prices extend beyond the well-publicized breakout sales. The site currently averages more than 450 lots a week and accepts an astonishing array of consignments, from six-figure Japanese supercars to four-figure Firebirds.

“We have more premium and restored cars now, for sure, but we also have more drivers and projects and race cars submitted,” said Randy Nonnenberg, the site’s co-founder and president. “There is just more of everything.” 

To what extent, if any, does a Bring a Trailer premium exist across the ever-growing number of cars being offered?

To estimate that, we started with two key pieces of data:

  1. Vehicles that sold at a different venue then sold on Bring a Trailer within a year.
  2. Vehicles bought on Bring a Trailer then sold at a different venue within a year.

We found 1034 such sales dating back to 2016. Sure enough, vehicles going from a different venue to Bring a Trailer within a year sold, on average, for 8 percent more on Bring a Trailer than the previous sale price. Vehicles going from Bring a Trailer to a different venue within a year sold, on average, for 20 percent less.

Note that the drop-off in values from Bring a Trailer to a different venue has held within a similar range over the years, but the premium paid for vehicles on Bring a Trailer has drastically shot up in the last 18 months. In 2021 so far, vehicles bought elsewhere and "flipped" on BaT have sold for 24 percent more than their previous sale price, up from 9 percent in 2020 and 4 percent in 2019.

In short, the value buyers are putting on the Bring a Trailer experience has only increased in the last year, and has been exaggerated by the COVID buying demand.

These flips offer compelling evidence that there is a Bring a Trailer premium, but we weren't yet convinced, so we brought in another, even larger dataset—the Hagerty Price Guide. By comparing selling prices to the HPG value for the vehicle at the time of sale,* we can get a sense of BaT prices compared to standard market value averaged over a large sample size.

A challenge here is that our price guide offers different values based on condition—something we can't consistently assess for vehicles sold online. So, we ran the numbers according to two condition ratings—"Good" (#3 in HPG parlance) and "Excellent" (#2). The chances the cars on BaT are collectively better or worse is pretty much zero—you generally find Condition #1 cars only at concours events, and Condition #4 cars have serious, easily spotted defects.

If we assume the average condition is "good" —the safest assumption since nearly half (49 percent) of the thousands of classic cars we inspect fall into this category—the average Bring a Trailer premium is huge. Between 2016 and 2019, the average premium above the price guide value for a vehicle sold on Bring a Trailer was 36 percent. In 2020 it jumped to 55 percent, and in 2021 to date it sits at 72 percent. This is double the average from 2016 to 2019.

If we assume that the average vehicle condition is "excellent" (#2), the case softens considerably, with a premium appearing only in 2021. Let us be clear, though, that it's unlikely the typical vehicle condition is actually this high. True, BaT attracts low-miles cars—mileage averages around 25k, per our analysis of listings. But we define Condition #2 as "Like-new, showroom quality," a standard few classic cars meet. For reference, even the vehicles at this year's Monterey auctions, on average, fell a bit short of this mark.

No matter the case, we see evidence of the narrative that during COVID in 2020 and continuing into 2021, Bring a Trailer saw a large ramp-up in buyers who wanted a certain car—right now—and were willing to pay for it. Often above what outside viewers would see as the market value. If you think this is just evidence that prices overall are presently increasing fast, well, you're correct, but nowhere else are we seeing such disparities: Other major online auction sites see a premium over HPG value, too, but it is on average just one-third as big as Bring a Trailer's.

That "above market" spending brought massive growth to the site. In the first nine months of 2021 Bring a Trailer sales hit $483M, double its total in all of 2019.

So, let there be little doubt: People are paying more on Bring a Trailer, especially now. The follow up question is why. There's more than one answer.

Bring a Trailer, naturally, credits itself.

"The engagement of our knowledgeable BaT Community, the quality of our listing descriptions, and our obsession with the truth are real differentiators that you can see right away, and they increase bidder confidence," said Nonnenberg.

There's truth to this assessment. With curated listings, professionally written descriptions, and a simple interface, Bring a Trailer figured out how put a slick, Web 2.0 spin on what is for many an intimidating experience. And the community, some 450,000 and counting, helps potential browsers feel confident enough to bid. Those commenters can, at times, crush a car's prospects. Yet they also can act as cheerleaders, promoting a car and creating a party-like atmosphere that encourages bidding.

"When something really special or exceptional pops up, it most often leads to a vibrant discussion with sometimes hundreds of comments on a single listing," noted Bring a Trailer head of auctions Howard Swig in a recent interview with UK Hagerty Price Guide publisher John Mayhead. "It's common for a competitive bidding dynamic to ensue as the auction crescendos to an exciting finish." 

All true, yet other online platforms can now claim similar features. That's where reputation comes in. Bring a Trailer benefits from the fact that it is the best-known player in this emerging space, thanks to its longevity and the fact that it is now owned by a large media corporation. Whether this or that feature is actually superior to competitors'—accurate or not—becomes less important than the simple fact that many classic car shoppers now think of BaT first, in the same way it no longer matters if Google is objectively the "best" search engine.

Indeed, Bring a Trailer likely benefits from its own success. The very perception that it's a place to make more money on a classic has, no doubt, attracted more sellers, which allows Bring a Trailer to remain selective in what it lists, even as it dramatically scales its business.

"We get to have our pick of many amazing listings now, where at the beginning, when we were the first to prove this curated online concept, some skeptical sellers were holding back a bit," said Nonnenberg.

Going back to the average mileage of listings, we see they've remained constant since 2018. That growing quantity of quality cars, naturally, attracts more buyers. Call it a virtuous cycle. Or a feeding frenzy. Either way, it's obviously good for Bring a Trailer. Sellers are quite pleased, too, even if they occasionally grumble about unruly commenters and post-sale snafus.

But what if you're buying? That might depend on what you're looking for and how much time you have to look. If you're looking for the lowest price, there are now more online auction sites than ever, not to mention myriad private sellers (who still make up the vast majority of the collector car market). That said, we know plenty of successful businesses—both within and beyond the classic car world—that are able to charge more simply because their customers feel they're not wasting time and aren't being ripped off. Bring a Trailer, with its consistent online shopping experience and legion of commenters, has managed to create similar conditions.

Comments

  • Thomas Cleland says:

    I tend to agree, I see a lot of stuff bringing big bucks, but this does not seem to extend to Canadian sellers. I had a really nice, very low mileage rare corvette that I wanted to market on B&T in Oct that didn’t get to bat till last Dec, that didn’t even make the modest ( negotiated) reserve.
    I sold it 2.5 months later in Canada on kijiji with over 50 really excited response calls, for 2.5 times the B&T reserve. ( “negotiated”, meaning they wanted me to set it even lower)
    I wasn’t impressed with the B&T experience. Or some of the stuff that they allowed non bidders to say in the bidders comments about bring vehicles to the US from Canada that wasn’t true. And that they wouldn’t censure.
    I watch B&T all the time , and I enjoy it but I would never attempt to sell another vehicle from Canada on it.

    • John Wiley says:

      I have noticed that cars sold in Canada on the platform also seem to sell for a discount, but haven’t tried to quantify it.

  • Dave Johnson says:

    Love this article. I sold one of my cars on BAT in the last 60 days. Very happy with the sale price. The sweet spot I believe is certain car right now willing to pay!!! My car was between #2 and #3 but so few of these that 11 bidders in last 10 minutes. Winning bidder was happy. No calls after sale closed and I told the guy to call me if any issues! Mid 5 figure car. Funny thing there was a live auction same day same car same color maybe closer to #3 and sold 2 hours after mine for half the price. Key to this success was that I used a dealer who knew how to navigate BAT taking several hundred high quality pictures answering questions rapidly and with honesty. Also no reserve. I have 3 more that may all end up here at some point.

  • Scott Crater says:

    I have bought 2 and sold 5 on BaT. All have brought what I thought was a fair market value price. I have never been lucky enough to have a real bidding war for one of the vehicles I have sold. BaT is a great venue with a huge national reach, and a terrific place to sell a German car especially. But I think the most publicized, above market value, sales are really outliers.

  • Redvette2 says:

    For me the site is real easy to use and presents the cars well. You can view hundreds of cars and for a caraholic like me that is quite habit forming. I like the so called experts with their good and bad comments as you learn things about the cars you are interested in. Very entertaining to watch the bidding frenzy at the end of the auction. That all said…I personally would not buy at an auction without seeing the car first in person.

  • Jim Rosenthal says:

    Very interesting that Hagerty saw fit to do all the legwork on this. BaT is a lot more than an auction site, though- it is a community where a lot of us enjoy hanging out and talking. That said, it is a better place to sell a car than to buy one, for the most part. You should also credit some very determined sellers who have raised the bar considerably over the average level of listings in the collector car market. Dean Laumbach, Wob, 911r, 1600Veloce, alec cartio- the list is long, and represents quite a lot of effort on the parts of those individuals.

  • Billy says:

    Their impossible anymore, they used to be easy to work with. Now? EVERY entry I send them they give you both an attitude AND a fight over the reserve. Yet, explaining to them they just sold TWO for 50% MORE than I want in the last 2 weeks, they simply ignore you from then on. Idiots. It’s not about helping you sell, it’s all about $$$. Like I said, didn’t used to be this way.

  • Robert Hardisty says:

    This is my first experience with BaT and it seems to be very interesting. How can I get details of this site to sell a classic car>

    Robert Hardisty

  • Michael's Collection says:

    Interesting and timely look at online auction sites. There are pros and cons of each vs others, as well as live venues. ALL have room for improvement (vetting cars, sellers & buyers, handling reserves, escrow services, etc.). I bid on a few and successfully sold one car on BaT after failing to meet a negotiated reserve. Yes, dealing with BaT was frustrating, due mostly to the time it took to post the auction after acceptance, submitting 260+ photos, and editing the description (which included an error that BaT corrected). It took six weeks at the height of rag top season. For me, BaT was the right auction venue, since dozens of similar years, makes and models were sold there in the three months preceeding at prices that I thought reflected their age, condition and mileage, outliers notwithstanding. I figured BaT has the largest number of informed buyers for this make and model. The biggest pro of BaT for me as a buyer AND seller is the knowledgeable community who post helpful, thoughtful questions & comments. As a buyer, they are informative about cars of interest, raising awareness about potential common issues. I can make an informed decision (albeit with only a few, single-sourced data points) whether I am truly interested in a car and what I’m willing to pay. As a seller, they keep you honest (…well, honest sellers anyway), and on your toes. Good example: the ONE thing I neglected to photograph before my car went live was the FIRST thing requested by the BaT community. Of course, I posted the requested photos. At the end of the day, assuming a seller is honest, they need to go the extra mile, do the work, and be transparent if they want to sell a car. I just returned from Fall Hershey, and was surprised that several sellers didn’t put fourth a little extra effort or expense to present their cars as best as possible for sale. If the wheel covers are oxidized or tires old, what else did they skimp on? Sellers also need to be flexible; my buyer and I “met in the middle” after the auction failed to meet reserve. Buyers need to do their research on BaT as well as Hagerty and other sites, know what they want, and decide how much they’re willing to pay. Here’s a radical idea: join a club or talk to someone who knows cars of interest. Thus endith the lecture.

  • H says:

    Re Canadians sales

    Nobody wants to deal with the issues of customs and a foreign seller. Including me.

    Bought 2 early on and listed 4. 1 consigned.

  • Mike says:

    I checked out BaT when I was thinking of selling. Got lots of attitude from them. Decided not to go with them. They’re riding a high right now, good for them. But I suspect, like all things, this shall pass.

  • Mike says:

    I’ve bought cars site unseen that were inspected by 3rd parties and turned out excellent. I’ve bought them at auction where I went thru them as best you can in those environments and later found significant issues that cost $$$$$. I’ve had auction houses stand behind flawed marketing claims, and I’ve had them bail leaving me hanging. In my humble opinion, every car, regardless of miles, is subject to problems.
    Buyer beware is always the reality, and to me, the only sure way to avoid issues later is to not participate in any of this.

  • Ron Martinez says:

    Have sold a couple of cars on BAT. Experience as a seller has been mixed and seems to be deteriorating over time – excluding pricing driven by a crazy Covid driven used car market. Sadly, I have to agree with other comments regarding BAT customer service levels, send to be declining. I’ve also noticed a trend where dealers are dominating more and more of the listings.

  • Maestro1 says:

    I’ve heard a lot of comments about Bring a Trailer, evenly balanced between good and bad most of the time. I do not use them, nor any other site that claims to be honest, straightforward, and so on. I do what most people won’t do, which is be patient, take the time to cruise around to find what you want, or follow through on a classified by going to the car, putting your hands on it and let it speak to you. If you are laughing you haven’t been in the Hobby long enough. And you don’t love the cars for what they are.

  • Don says:

    I became involved with Bat after viewing some sales results in my MBCA magazine. I have since bought two cars through them in the last couple years. Yes, I probably paid a premium, but the convienience of finding a car that if not for BAT I would never have been exposed to. How many 25 yearly cars do you see with 3100 miles on the odometer? I’ve been attending live auctions since the 70″s and I feel that Bat gives me more information to digest with a week .to make a decision than any live auction. Both sales were through dealers so the paperwork was easily and professionally handled. Person to person sales might be a little more complicated. Overall a good experience. I can’t comment on selling.

  • Walter Smith says:

    BAT is a great site to buy and sell cars because of the knowledgeable vetting of the vehicle. The seller better be honest or the car will be picked apart by the experts. I have bought two and sold two and all transactions were fair. Yes, they are in it to make a profit and so they require a low reserve, but The seller pats $99 and the buyer pays 5%. Much better than the 10% at an auction with less vetting.

  • richard bradner says:

    Just sold my VW bus on BaT a week ago. I had listed two cars in previous years, neither met reserve; One of them was my Ferrari 330 listed five years ago and I believe it was probably one of the very first “high dollar” cars on a site that was mostly cheap & cheerful or basket case; it IS called Bring a Trailer for a reason you understand. Now I would hazard a guess that the average selling price is in the range of $50K, with at least a couple of 7 figure cars in the last couple of months; not many need a trailer anymore! I can say that by, if my recent experience is anything to go by, the quality of their staff has really improved over the intervening years, My ‘auction specialist’ Trevor was top notch, putting together an accurate, comprehensive listing that only needed a few slight changes before going ‘live’. Keep in mind they can only deal with the material you submit, so if you send them good photos and a detailed description you’re much more likely to get a satisfactory result!
    As for the ‘reserve’, they do press a bit too hard on that, but I think their rational is that the percentage of cars that don’t meet reserve don’t really generate any revenue, and buyers & sellers often put together a commission free deal after the fact via the ‘contact buyer’ link. If you have a truly reasonable reserve and push back, they’ll generally relent.
    They are on top for a reason; they sell cars & usually at a premium to market!

  • DHW says:

    The cost to sell a car on BAT is $99 with zero commission. Try to get that price from any other auction house.

  • T mikey says:

    Sad the comments about Canada but its a fact no matter how many times you tell a US buyer that customs is next to nothing and transport trucks of vehicles travel both north and south . That said US sellers should realize the US Homeland security makes it just as difficult for Canadians to purchase a car from the states, its not Canada customs. I won’t waste my time with BAT anymore as have found that Europe is much more welcoming and will pay the going price..

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