First time auction buyer? Eight tips to make your first auction a success!

By Renee Corbino

gavelBuying at auction can be a very intimidating process. Popular culture represents auctions as comedic situations, where a simple blink of your eyes or a scratch of your nose will result in the winning of a million dollar painting you can’t afford. Rest assured, auctions are not nearly as complicated or risky as that, and almost never does someone buy something by accident.  But, there are a few simple things you need to know about bidding at auction and in order to ensure that you have a good experience, here are a few simple tips.

Tip# 1: Understand the terminology. Hammer price is the amount at which the auctioneer says “Sold!” This amount is most likely not the full amount that you are responsible for.  Most auction houses add a buyers premium which is a percentage of the hammer price added to your total. Don’t get caught surprised at the register with a higher bill. Local taxes and credit card fees can also vary so keep that in mind when you decide to bid.

Tip #2: Pay attention!  I cannot express this enough.  Auctions can be very loud, busy, and social occasions, but the auctioneer is counting on you, the bidder, to know what lot you are bidding on. If you bid on the wrong lot, you are still responsible for paying for it and taking it away.  Understand what lot the auctioneer is selling and what the bid is so you don’t get stuck with a bill for an item you don’t want.

Tip# 3: Remember your bidder number and keep your paddle with you at all times. Knowing this number will prevent a mix-up during the bidding if the auctioneer calls out the wrong number during the auction. Make sure to speak up if the auctioneer calls out your number mistakenly or says the wrong bidder number when you think you are the winner.  Many auction houses won’t be willing to fix a problem after the fact.

Tip#4 : Evaluate the condition of the object you want to buy ahead of time. Examine the piece from all angles, ask questions, and remember that the auction house has items on preview for a reason.  Most auction houses will not even consider return on pieces that you have viewed in person. Keep in mind that restoration, reupholstering, and repairs can be quite costly, and you should factor that into your bidding. Condition drastically affects resale value and you are unlikely to recoup any restoration costs if you plan to resell the item later.  That being said, projects can be a lot of fun and if you have the time and money to invest in a piece that you love, go for it!

Tip#5: Decide BEFORE the item goes on the block how much you are willing to pay. Auctions typically move quickly, and if you hesitate you could lose the item.  Also knowing your limit ahead of time will help you from getting carried away. Remember to include the buyers premium when forming your maximum amount.

Tip#6: Use eye contact to indicate that you are interested in bidding. Hold up your card to get the auctioneers attention and they should return to you for subsequent bids.  A firm nod or shake of the head will let the auctioneer know that you are continuing to bid or have reached your maximum.  You can jump back in at any point, getting the auctioneers attention using your bid card.

Tip#7 : Take your purchases home with you immediately. Plan ahead by bringing help and a large vehicle if you are hoping to buy large furniture or rugs. Once the hammer falls, even before you pay, you are the new legal owner and all liability shifts to you. Don’t count on the auction house to care for your items the way you would like, and even if the item goes missing, most auction houses won’t refund your money for loss or damage.

Tip#8: Most importantly, buy what you like, not something you think will be a good investment.  9 times out of 10, the piece will not significantly increase in value, and you’ll be stuck taking a loss.

Finally, enjoy the process! Auctions can be a great deal of fun! The more comfortable you get with the process, the more you will want to continue the treasure hunt. Don’t hesitate to talk to the auction staff and other bidders about the objects or the process. The auction staff is there to help, and its in their best interest to make the process go as smoothly as possible for you so you return again and again. Many experienced bidders love to share their knowledge and can give great tips.

Happy Bidding!

About Renee Corbino
Renee Corbino has a decade of experience in the auction industry. Her expertise covers a broad spectrum of fine and decorative arts and antiques including: paintings, silver, ceramics, furniture, netsuke and more. She received her Bachelor’s degree with a double major in classical studies & art history from the University of Maryland, College Park and her Master of Decorative Arts from the Smithsonian & George Mason University.

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