Grading is without a doubt one of the most important factors in collecting trains. I can't tell you how many people tell me ‘everybody grades differently'. To some degree this is true, but for the most part this statement should be totally false. I think most people make this statement when they are trying to be polite when they disagree with your grading. I know of some people who grade one way when they buy, and another way when they sell. There is a lot of profit potential in that practice!
I used to deal in coins many years ago and I knew of several dealers who graded ½ to 1 full step below what the coin should be graded with every mail order sale. Of course they received many returns, but surprisingly many people kept the over graded coins also. These dealers weren't expecting an enormous amount of repeat business. But surprisingly they had their share. That just goes to show you that (at least back then) there were many coin collectors who didn't know how to grade.
As a matter of fact the problem became so enormous in that industry that the ANA (American Numismatic Association) took action and started a grading service. And that was great for a while. But then without warning they changed their grading system and it became so rigid that they totally changed the overall coin grading system leaving millions of unsuspecting coin collectors with collections that immediately dropped drastically in value.
As time went on other private companies got into the grading business. This is basically when I was getting out of coins, but the last that I remember there were at least five different entities grading coins for profit. It got so bad that no one was making money in the coin business except for the coin graders.
To make matters worse every grader was grading coins differently. One was over grading, one was under grading. It was a total mess. You could buy a coin that had been graded by an under grader, send it in to be graded by an over grader, and in many cases literally make hundreds of dollars on that one coin.
Fortunately I am not aware of any problems that resemble those of the coin industry in our hobby of train collecting. Most of the dealers that I have met and have had the privilege of doing business with are very honest and reputable. Unlike the coin industry where a good percentage were bad, there might be a very, very small percentage in trains.
One of the practices you should be aware of and avoid is called get the order, then get the inventory. In other words the person will advertise an item for sale, get the order, then run around town trying to find that item. Now this is OK to a certain extent until grading becomes an issue. It is hard to advertise a 773 Hudson in Like New condition and fill that order. Let's face it, even in New York City there are only so many 773's around at that standard. So in order to fill the order the individual finds the closest condition he can and sends it. When ordering something though the mail I would advise that you ask if the item is actually in stock and when it will be shipped. If they tell you it will be shipped in two weeks, maybe you have a problem. Also make certain that they have a return policy.
Your best bet to make certain that you are receiving correctly graded items is to study grading. Sure Joe Shmoe might define ‘excellent' condition one way, and I may define it differently. But who is correct? There can't be two or three different definitions of grading as there has been in the coin industry, as that could be very damaging to our hobby.
Take grading seriously. Make certain that you are receiving correctly graded items from whoever you order from. But on the other hand, don't be a pick wart. A pick wart is fairly rare, but it is easy to spot them. They are the guy who orders an item graded very good and hopes to receive the item in excellent condition. And then sends it back when he doesn't. Or he orders an item described as excellent, finds two extremely minute scratches and returns the item. The only winner with a pick wart is UPS. They win both ways!!
Of course we offer a return privilege for grading reasons, and as long as you call and ask for a return authorization within the 7 day return privilege, there is never a problem with returns at Train City. And while you are at it why don't you check out our grading definitions..
One of the reasons I got out of the coin business was their bazaar grading problems. One of the reasons we will probably be in the train business for a long time is our excellence in grading and our fair policies. I realized that this was such a big problem in the coin industry that I have made fair grading a very high priority for our company.
In short, whoever you do business with, make certain that you understand their grading system. And don't ever let anyone tell you ‘well everyone grades differently' Because they shouldn't!