The Neutral AH is an amazing tool in a gold maker's arsenal. When one has learned to use it effectively it is a gold mine. However, it's easy to get burned when learning the ropes and many people are so worried about the risks they never even give it a fighting chance.
I've been growing my Horde business by leaps and bounds lately. My problem is I don't have as much infrastructure set up on the Hordeside. Here's where the Neutral AH comes in. Today I bought about 80 stacks of Elementium on the Horde and prospected it all there. The problem was that I ended up with a lot of rare gems and very very few patterns. Rather than burden a guildie to cut them or tip a JC, I decided I would send them to my Alliance DK to cut then send them back to sell. This meant moving rather large amounts of rare gems across the AH, something that I'm never happy to do, but I've become more and more comfortable with over time.
Basically the way the Neutral AH itself works is both factions can buy and sell on it. However, unlike your faction's AH, the Neutral AH (Blackwater Auction House) will deduct a 15% cut of the take instead of 5%. In order to avoid losing out on large amounts of gold because of this cut many players like to post their items for very very cheap, such as 1c-1g for an item often worth 50-10000g!
Herein lies the risk. Other players, or often even bots, will watch the Neutral AH for someone attempting to move items like this and will "snipe" the item when it's up. Some may see a moral problem with this practice, but as far as Blizzard is concerned, they are not breaking the rules and have every right to snipe your auctions. (I agree with this. I don't like snipers and would not do it myself, but if you lose an item on the Neutral AH it is your own fault in the end.
The most foolproof way to avoid having your auctions sniped (besides never posting them, of course!) is to post them at a value you'd be willing to sell it for. Then, if someone does buy it, you didn't really lose out all that much. However, most people don't want to take that 15% cut and so it becomes a game of managing risk.
Some have probably heard me say I take a lot of precautions to avoid sniping on the neutral AH and have been mostly successful. I wanted to share these with you so that, hopefully, you guys can lower the risk associated with cross faction trading as well!
- Have instant communication with your accomplice. - Ideally you would be buying and selling your own auctions with a second account. However, if you cannot do that, you will likely be using another person to help you. Make sure that this person is in Vent/Mumble/Teamspeak with you, or better, in the same room! Communicate often. "I'm about to post up 14 Resplendent Ember Topaz. Posting in 5, 4, 3, 2, Posting!" This will make sure they're always searching for the right item quickly and can buy it before anyone else gets the chance to.
- Minimize clicks. - Using addons is great for this. With Auctioneer you can enable Easy Buyout so that you can Shift+Click (Or whatever you set it to) to buy out auctions quickly. With Auctionator you can buy large amounts of items by spam-clicking the Buy button. If you use the default UI frame you will find your self having to click on the item, click buyout, click accept, click next item, etc. All this clicking can mean a few extra seconds a bot is able to scan and snipe your auctions. Be sure your accomplice knows how to use these addons for this purpose too!
- Mix it up. - Do not schedule times to meet your accomplice to do this. If someone is watching you and sees these same two characters go to the Neutral AH every Wednesday at 4 AM they'll start connecting the dots. Make the transfers at different times and different days each time. When possible, use different characters at different Neutral AHs.
- /who the Zone. - Before posting you can /who Winterspring /who Tanaris /who Cape of. This will give you lists of the toons in the areas. Now, people may just be questing, but if you see my level 1 Mage Neutrality in Winterspring, a place a level 1 has no business being, you can probably bet that toon is made with the Neutral AH in mind and you may wish to be wary.
- Cover as many Auctioneers as possible. - Rather than meeting your accomplice in Booty Bay have him go to Everlook while you chill in Booty Bay or Tanaris. This way you can visually watch multiple auction houses for anyone slinking up to take a peek at what you're doing.
- Talk to the others. - If you see other pairs of people who appear to be flipping items extend a friendly tell. Not everyone is necessarily out to get you and they may be just as afraid that you're going to steal their auctions. Often I've found that politely approaching others has created a rapport and I've even found people who are willing to do gold trades (I give you gold on Alliance, you give me the same amount on Horde) to avoid the hassle of moving gold straight across. If the person gives you a bad vibe then don't risk it, log off and transfer your items tomorrow.
- Slow and steady transferring is key. - Twenty different gem cuts you say? Don't post them all at once. It's easy to create a TSM list and post up everything you want to transfer but it takes a large amount of control out of your hands. Which cuts will appear on the AH first. While you're frantically spam clicking to buy out all the Bold Inferno Rubies is someone else taking that time to snipe your Etched Demonseyes? Post one type of item at a time to reduce the amount of time your inventory is sitting on the AH.
- Off-Peak hours are best. - Many times when an item is sniped it wasn't by a "professional sniper" but by someone who just happened to be in the zone, saw you run up to the Auctioneer, and figured they'd do a search and see if anything interesting was happening. By transferring your auctions at, say, 3 - 5 AM you can often limit the amount of exposure your habits receive and lower the risk of sniping. This also allows the /who of zones to be more "accurate," as you're less likely to see large amounts of people out questing at these times.
- Don't be obvious. - Many people may end up making characters just to transfer via the neutral AH. Don't follow my lead. Neutrality was a funny and fitting name, but not very secretive. One look at a level 1 named Neutrality in Gadgetzan and you know what she's up to. If you make a Neutral AH banker give it a "normal" name, not a funny bank name or anything to do with transferring.
EXTREME AH TRANSFERRING
It's worth mentioning there are a few other things you can do when transferring that I do not do; either because my server is not built for it, it doesn't interest me, or I don't want to pay for it. They should probably be mentioned though.
- If you play on a PvP server you can watch the neutral AHs. If you see anyone nearby that you think may snipe your auctions get on a character of the opposite faction and continuously gank them to keep them from meddling in your AH affairs.
- Regardless of your server type, if you're willing to take a beating from the guards you can attack and kill Neutral Auctioneers. This would allow you to limit the "auction kiosks" available to only the ones you are using, allowing you to have far greater control on who can hurt your business in-game.
- Many of the sniping programs work by doing constant scans of the AH. If you post up tons of junk (20 pages of Skinning Knives, for example) the bot must scan all of those 20 pages, giving you more time to post/buy what you're actually transferring.
- I'm under the impression that you can flip items using the Remote Auction house without ever having to visit an in-game Neutral AH or mailbox. I cannot talk much about this since I do not use the Remote AH, but it's something to remember. Also, keep in mind, if competitors use the Remote Auction house there's not much you can do to "watch out" for them. Just be sure you limit the amount of time your items spend in their reach; make sure the item's bought within a few seconds of posting and you should do okay.
There may be other tactics to avoid having your auctions sniped. These are the tactics that I personally use or have heard a lot of other gold maker's talk about, I hope they help take some of the weight off when you're deciding if flipping across the Neutral AH is too dangerous to risk or too lucrative to pass up!