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Auction Bidding for the Intelligent Antique Collector

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If you love collecting antiques, then you absolutely must consider buying at auctions. However, for those not familiar with how auctions work, you need to know a few things before you start bidding. Understanding what to expect will put you in a great position to add wonderful pieces to your collection. Armed with some good information will also help you get the best deals.

This article is intended to help antique collectors who are new to auctions. Topics covered include:

Before the Auction Event

  • Auction Previews
  • Determining Your Bidding Strategy
  • Before Bidding Begins on Auction Day
  • Bidding Against Dealers
  • Bidding during the Auction
  • After You Place a Winning Bid
  • Summary of Tips

Before the Auction Event

To make the most of an antique auction, you need to find out as much as possible about the event prior to attending. For example, the term antique covers a broad range of items. If you’re collecting Victorian furniture, you probably won’t be interested in an auction offering only vintage jewelry.

When you get a feel for what’s being auctioned, you can decide whether you want to attend. You can gather most of the information about a particular auction from the auction house’s website.

If the items being offered are right up your alley, then you can start to research values. Using online resources is the quickest and easiest way to learn about items. However, you can also purchase books or visit your local library for information.

It’s a good idea to print references and jot down your notes. Then, put all your reference materials in a notebook you can take with you to the auction preview and live event.

Auction Previews

Almost all antique auctions will offer a preview a few days prior to the live event and usually right before bidding begins on auction day. Attending a preview is a must-do for anybody who wants to get the best deals.

Live auction events are fast-paced and it’s difficult even for seasoned bidders to miss something. And, all auction items are sold as-is – if you’re the winning bidder, the item is yours for better or worse. So, it’s not a good idea to bid on items you’re seeing for the first time at the actual auction event.

During a preview, you have an opportunity to closely examine items of interest. You can inspect antiques for flaws like scratches, cracks, chips, or dings. Any imperfections will affect value. And you need to know everything you can about an item before you can determine its true market value.

You also want to look for manufacturer marks and other clues about the item’s background. Make sure you bring along a magnifying glass, jeweler’s loupe, tape measure and other tools to help you thoroughly evaluate an item.

Also, don’t forget to look through box lots. Lots contain several items the auction house groups together because they may not sell for much if sold separately. However, there’s always a chance you can find a treasure tucked away in one of those lot boxes, so look carefully.

Last, make sure you take notes on the items you’re interested in. You can then do further research after the preview but before the live auction. Jot down all the things you noticed about the item’s condition. Take some digital photos, if possible, for further reference. All this information is needed to develop a sound bidding strategy. You may also be able to register for the auction and get your bidder number during the preview.

Determining Your Bidding Strategy

If you’ve done a good job during and after the preview, you know what you want to bid on and have researched values. Your goal is to get a good deal, so you want to set a target bid below the average market price.

You also need to factor in the buyer’s premium. To cover the auction house’s cost of managing the auction, typically a 15% buyer’s premium is added to the final bid amount. So, determine the most you would be willing to pay for an item, then deduct 15%. Note that some auction firms do not collect buyer’s premiums. Do the same with any state or local taxes that may apply. The total amount you’re willing to pay less the buyer’s premium and any taxes should be your maximum bid. Make sure you jot down your maximum bid figures for each item in your notebook.

Finally, you need to understand reserve prices. In some situations, the owners of items consigned to auction houses will require a minimum price for the item to be sold. This minimum is called the reserve. If the bids placed for an item don’t exceed the reserve price, the item will not be sold. The auction house may or may not inform bidders about the reserve price.

Before Bidding Begins the Day of the Live Event

If you haven’t previously registered for the auction event, you’ll need to do so on auction day. So, make sure to arrive early in case you have to wait in line to register and get a bidder number.

Typically, registration requires you provide a driver’s license along with another form of identification, a resale certificate if you are tax exempt and a credit card.

You may be required to place a deposit for bidding at auction, so be prepared. If you win any items, the deposit will be applied to the amount owed. If you don’t buy anything, your deposit is refunded. You should be aware of the auction terms after reviewing the auction company’s website.

After you’ve registered, secure a chair as close to the auctioneer as possible. You want to make sure you hear everything he or she says clearly. Before the auction starts, the auctioneer will usually make some announcements explaining how the auction will work. And, you want to make sure the auctioneer can acknowledge you easily when you bid.

Bidding Against Dealers

Because auctions are super venues for antique sales, you’ll find dealers in regular attendance. But don’t let this intimidate you! When dealers are bidding, you know the items have value for resale.

Also, dealers need to profit from reselling. So, their maximum bid may be much lower than yours. If you’re willing to spend a little more, you have a good chance of placing the winning bid. As a collector instead of a dealer, you’re actually in a much better position to win quality items.

Bidding during the Auction

If this is your first antique auction, you may want to watch the action for a short time so you get the hang of things. The auctioneer speaks very fast and you have to get used to the cadence. In fact, it’s not uncommon for over 100 items to be auctioned every hour.

In addition, you’ll want to know the bid increments. Are bids moving up by $1.00, $5.00 or $10.00, for example? You need to pay close attention so you don’t exceed your maximum bid or miss out on something you really wanted.

It’s important to remember you can’t un-do a bid. If you didn’t mean to place a bid, you’re still obligated to buy an item if you’re the highest bidder.

When you place a bid, make sure you hold your bidder number high so the auctioneer sees it. You need to be sure your bids get noticed. The winning bid is the highest bid that’s acknowledged by the auctioneer.

After You Place a Winning Bid

All winning bids must be paid for before you leave the auction. When you initially visited the auction company’s website, you should have reviewed the check-out procedures. If an item is large, the auction company may accommodate a pick-up a few days after the auction. But in many cases, you must pay and remove the item after you place the winning bid.

At the end of the auction or when you’re ready to leave, you finalize your winning bids at the cashier. You will be given a detailed list of your purchases, the buyer’s premium, any applicable taxes and the total amount due.

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