Phone Bidding 101

gavelBidding by phone can be a great choice when you’re unable to attend an auction in person.  It allows you to be right in the middle of the action, and ultimately you have complete control over the price that you pay.  When it comes time to bid, you’re assigned to an auction house employee who will call you several minutes before the item comes on the block.  When I’m bidding with buyers on the phone, I view myself as your advocate, representing your interests in the room.  While I am an employee of the auction house and hope that you are willing to pay a significant amount of money, its my role to make sure that I communicate with the auctioneer and accurately represent your bids, not to manipulate into paying more than you want. To make sure that we are both successful and you come out as the top bidder,  there are a few things that you can do to before and during the auction to make sure things go smoothly.

First, when deciding whether or not to phone bid, think about the reasons why you want to bid by phone.  If your reasons are that you want to simply see how the lot goes or get it for cheap if no one else is bidding, then you should absolutely NOT phone bid.  This is a waste of your time and of the auction houses resources.  If those are your reasons for phone bidding, you should watch the auction online to see how the bidding goes (and jump in if you want) or simply leave an absentee bid for the opening price, just in case no one else bids on it.  If this is an item that you very much want to bid on, you plan to bid within or above the estimate, and want to have complete control over the bidding, then phone bidding is the right choice for you.

Second, once you have decided to phone bid, think very seriously about the maximum amount that you’ll pay for the item.  Remember to factor in buyers premium and tax (if applicable) in formulating your top amount.  Deciding on a max bid may seem obvious, but I can’t tell you how many people hem and haw on the phone when asked if they want to bid the opening bid or even if they want to bid at all. (Obviously the larger the increment or if you’ve gone beyond your maximum amount, it will take a bit longer to decide.)

Third, as you sit anxiously by the phone waiting for the auction house to call, make sure that you have read up on the terms and conditions from the auction house, understand the bid increments, and are in a quiet place that allows you to pay attention to the phone bidding.  NOTHING is more frustrating than competing with background noise and distraction for an auction house representative who is trying to hear you. When the representative asks if you would like to bid a certain amount say YES or NO very clearly so that there is no misunderstanding.  You are likely to lose the item if you are unclear or not paying attention.  Take your phone bidding seriously, the auction house does.

Every bidder and every auction house has a different method of phone bidding.  Personally, I ask the bidder, if there is an amount that they would like me to bid them up too, without having to come back to them at every increment.  Not everyone wants to do this, but as your advocate, giving me an initial maximum amount to take you to allows me to jump right into the action. I will only bid take you to your maximum if pushed to it, and I certainly won’t start the bidding at your maximum. My reason for doing this is simple; another bidder could get to your high bid first, and then you lose the item. If we reach your top amount, I’ll come back to you for subsequent bids.  Especially for items that have a lot of activity, its easy for you to get lost in the chaos of phone, absentee, and internet bidders. If you’re more comfortable letting the bidding calm down first, that’s perfectly fine too!

Typically what happens during very active bidding is that the auctioneer will go between two people until one of those bidders is out. Many phone bidders prefer to wait until the competition between the other bidders is over in order to ask for your bid.  Make sure to give a firm answer as to yes or no and the faster the better so you can get in on the action.  Once you say no, the representative may not return to you, so be sure that when you say no, you’re serious.  You might get another opportunity at last call, but you’ll need to be quick.

Once the bidding is over the representative will tell you that you are the winner or they’ll tell you the selling amount. Either way, if you follow these simple steps before and during phone bidding, you won’t feel like you lost the item because you didn’t understand what was happening or were confused. Most importantly, be calm, confident, and sure of your bidding, and you’re likely to take home that piece that you want.

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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.

One thought on “Phone Bidding 101

  1. […] or absentee bidding. There are advantages and disadvantages to both phone and absentee bidding.  Phone bidding allows you to be in on the action, and a bit more control over the bidding, but you really have to […]