Ten Important Things to Do Before Bidding at an Auction

The following list of good auction house bidding practices will prepare you for an auction. This list of things to do before biding will give you the knowledge to help you protect yourself from making big mistakes at an auction and in turn will save you money.

1. View the catalogue

Auction houses will usually have their auction catalogues available one week prior to the auction date. Most auction houses offer their auction catalogues on the internet or a hard copy that is mailed out or picked up at the auction house. Hard copies usually have to be purchased. The average cost for a catalogue is $10.00 to $25.00. This fee is to cover the cost of printing the auction catalogue.

2. Figure out what lots you are interested in bidding on

While you are looking through the auction catalogues, mark the lots you wish to bid on. I usually make a mark or highlight the lot in the catalogue, doing this will help you find the lots that you are interested in easily at the preview and while the auction is taking place.

3. Pre preview research

After you have finished looking through the auction catalogue, research the lots you are interested in bidding on. The auction house will provide a description and sometimes a picture of the lots being auctioned. Use this information to research the lots before going to the preview. This way you will have an idea of what to look for during the preview.

4. The Preview

It is important to attend the preview and give yourself plenty of time to preview all the items you are thinking of bidding on. Even though you previewed the catalogue, do not forget to ask if there is an addendum to the catalogue. Most of the time the auction house will add lots after the catalogue has been published. While at the preview, you should inspect the items you want to bid on. Make sure to inspect the item for any damage, things that don’t look original, maker marks or signatures, quality, and that the lot number is correct. While viewing the items at the preview, decide which items you want to bid on and which ones you don’t. You should do these prior to the start of the auction. There won’t be enough time to do these after the auction starts. Most lots will sell in 30 seconds during the auction.

5. Questions

Do you have any questions about the items you are interested in? If you do, then this is the time to ask them. Auction houses will have their specialists and staff ready for you at the preview so that you can have all your questions answered prior to the auction. Remember no question is a stupid question; do not be afraid to ask questions.

6. Do your homework

Now that you have narrowed down the items you want to bid on, you should spend some time researching them properly. Here is a list of some things to consider while researching:

  • Age
  • Authenticity
  • Maker marks or signatures
  • Condition: What effects it has on the value of the item.
  • Is the item original?
  • Is the lot complete?
  • Price

7. How much should you pay?

This is a very important question to ask yourself. Setting your maximum bid is essential. I mentioned before each lot of an auction sells in about 30 seconds. In this time you do not have the time to determine what you want to pay for an item. You are guaranteed to over pay for an item if you do not set your limits for each item prior to auction start. It is very easy to get caught up in the fast pace of the auctioneers chant or bid calling. You should take into account the following things when determining your maximum price:

  • Any condition issues.
  • Buyer’s premium that will be added to the hammer price.
  • Any tax.
  • Shipping or transportation fees.

If you like more information on how to set your maximum bid price read my article on how to bid at an auction.

8. Buyer’s Premium

Make sure you find out if there is a buyer’s premium and how much the premium is. The average buyer’s premium is 10 to 25 %. If you plan on leaving absentee bids, bidding on the internet, or paying by credit card you should ask if there is an addition buyer’s premium or any charges that applies.

9. That’s not going to fit in the trunk; do I have to take it with me?

An auction house expects you to take your items with you. Most auction houses require you to pay for the item(s) and remove them on the same day. If you are buying small items this should not be a problem. If you are buying large items such as furniture or artwork you should make shipping and transportation arrangements prior to the auction. I know exactly what you are thinking… “I don’t even know if I am going to win the lot! Why should I make transportation arrangements?” This is true but you need to be prepared if you do win the item. You don’t want to incur storage fees from the auction house. I know the next question that you have in your mind… “How do I arrange shipping for an item that I don’t own”. The answer is simple; most auctions houses have shipping and delivery departments or a list of local shippers that knows the shipping needs of the buyers. To get a shipping estimate, all you have to do is tell them the lot number and give them a few details about where it is going to go and you are done.

10. Pre Register

Most auction houses will allow you to pre register. This is usually done at the preview of the auction. You might be asking yourself, “why should I pre register?” the main reasons you should pre register are:

  1. So you don’t have to stand in line on the day of the auction especially if you are running late and about to miss your lot.
  2. If there are tying bids, auction house will use the lowest bidder number to break them. Pre registering usually gives you a lower bidder number.
  3. You won’t have to stand in the line. The time you save can be used to do some last minute checking on the items you are interested in or find something to add to your bidding list.