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Bid at Auction

10 Things to Know Before You Bid at Auction

Experienced bidders will tell you that live auctions can be a great way to acquire something rare and wonderful. But, like any opportunity for great reward, there are some risks involved with participating in an auction. To be successful, it’s important to fully understand the rules before you begin.

  1. Look for a quality description provided by the auction house. The description should include the type of item, its historical design period, the date of the object, the material or materials it is made of, the name of the artist, if known, the measurements, and multiple clear photos.
  2. Read the description carefully. Look at the photos. Words like “style” or “manner of” mean that the piece is not period, but rather a later copy, replica, or simply similar to a known style or work. If there is no date in the description, it is likely that the piece is 20th century.
  3. Confirm the size of the piece and if it is a piece of furniture or a rug, confirm the size of the space you have. One of the most common mistakes made in bidding at auction is buying something that doesn’t fit.
  4. Get a condition report from the auction house. If a description does not include condition information, this does not necessarily mean that the piece is in mint condition. Always request a condition report and ask specific questions if you have them. Do this early so that the auction staff has a chance to respond before bidding begins. Most auction catalogs are online for ten days to two weeks before bidding begins.
  5. Be sure to register for the auction you are interested in if you are planning to bid online. Simply having an account with an online bidding platform does not mean that you are automatically registered for a specific auction on that platform.
  6. Understand your bidding contract. Bidding at auction is not like other types of shopping. A bid at auction is a contract. If you bid and win, you are legally obligated to pay for the object and to remove it from the auction house. There are no returns. All auction sales are always final.
  7. Understand the different options for placing your bids. There are generally three types of bidding available to bidders at auction.
    1. Bidding Live
      • In the room – this means that you are attending the auction to bid in person for your items.
      • Online – this means that you are using an online bidding platform to bid in real time. When the auction ‘goes live’, meaning when it starts in the gallery, it will also start online.
    2. Absentee Bidding – If you know that you are not willing to pay above a certain dollar amount when bidding on an item at auction, then an absentee bid may be for you.
      • Contact the auction house directly and ask to leave an absentee bid, or place an absentee bid via an online auction platform.
    3. Telephone Bidding – If you are unable to attend the auction in person, but want to be absolutely certain that your bid is being handled by the auctioneer, then a telephone bid may be for you. Contact the auction house and tell them you would like to telephone bid. There will be paperwork to fill out so do this early. On the day of the sale, a member of the auction staff will call you 5-10 lots before the lot(s) on which you wish to bid. When the lot comes up, you will direct the staff member on the telephone to bid on your behalf, usually by saying yes or no to the increments the auctioneer is calling. This is a fast process so be sure to speak clearly. Keep in mind that some auction houses limit telephone bidding to items over a certain value or to the number of telephones they have available.
  8. Understand your charges. When you win an item at auction the cost of the item will be the Hammer Price – which is your winning bid, plus the Buyer’s Premium. The buyer’s premium is an amount the auction house charges buyers in order to bid, and covers some of the cost of offering items for sale. Typically it is between 20-28% of the hammer price. So, if you win an item for $100 at auction and the buyer’s premium is 21%, then the total amount for the item will be $121. By law, any applicable sales tax will be charged on this total amount.
  9. Know your shipping costs. Consider the shipping costs before you bid. Request a list of recommended shippers from the auction house and get a quote before bidding.
  10. Discover something absolutely fabulous, and enjoy!

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