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Buying at Live Auctions for Resale On eBay, Amazon, Bonanza & Ruby Lane

Updated on February 4, 2015

So, You want to buy things at live auctions to re-sell for a profit? Here's how...

Are you an eBay, Bonanza or Ruby Lane seller who prefers to deal in collectible, antique, one-of-a-kind or vintage items? Have you already emptied your own attic, basement, garage, shed and barn of all of the valuable resale items? Are you tired of getting to garage sales and estate sales at 7:00 AM (or even earlier than that) only to find out that all the good stuff is already gone or, in the case of estate sales, that you're the 20th person in line for entry? Did the show Storage Wars on A&E make storage auctions too crowded for you?

If any of the above statements apply to you, then this guide is for you. Welcome to the world of live "country" auctions!

GOING,

GOING...

GONE!

A Little Background and History on Live Auctions

Then, down to business...your business!

Most people can name at least one "major" auction house - Christie's and Southby's are a couple of examples of major houses. These are the types of places where big shots like billionaire CEO and former Presidential candidate, H. Ross Perot buy and sell things like a genuine copy of the Magna Carta! There are regional auction houses that also deal in higher end furniture, antiques, and historical collectibles. Butterfield's is an example. Both types of auction houses announce an auction months in advance and print a catalog for review, often with full color photos of many, if not all pieces for auction. The catalogs themselves often cost $20 or more!

High end auction houses not only print catalogs, they also will often set aside several days for preview of the items available. People come from all over the world to attend the previews and/or the auction. While these auctions are fun to watch and follow, you won't find many bargains at either type of house.

Courtesy of Craney Brothers Auctions - Greenfield, IN
Courtesy of Craney Brothers Auctions - Greenfield, IN

Country / Local Auctions

What has always been known as the "country auction" has now gone mainstream. Every town of any size now has at least one local auction house. The houses used to advertise only in the newspapers and by word of mouth. The internet has given them much more reach. They can itemize everything they have and show lots of photos. Several websites list auction houses and link to them directly or compile calendars giving listings of all auctions in a given radius on a given date. This has made many small houses very busy. There are still bargains to be had though if you do your homework and you plan to be in it for the long haul to snatch up the bargains as the crowd drifts home to bed!

How To Find Live Auctions Year Round!

We use www.auctionzip.com to find live auctions in our local area. This site covers many areas of the country. T0 use it, you simply put in your zip code and how far you're willing to travel (the site goes up to a 50 mile radius) and you'll get a calendar with clickable dates with all of the auctions in that radius for each date. There are other similar sites that can be found using search engines. Many auction houses have their own sites as well.

Established local auction houses, especially very rural ones, that conduct sales on a set schedule do sometimes still put small blurbs in the local newspapers and free circulars. Check the papers often. Auctions happen somewhere daily.

What to Do Once You've Found a Live Auction That Interests You

1. Print the auction ad and mark all of the things that are of interest to you. Pre-research items on eBay and elsewhere to determine potential value. If the auctioneer lists a preview day in his ad, go to it. This is your chance to look at the items up close before the auction when the crowd will be much smaller. Things at auctions are always sold "as is". You'll want to check items out as closely as possible before you bid. NOTE: Many country and local houses don't have a preview day. Instead, they will open their doors an hour or two before start time for you to preview the items which is why pre-research of advertised items is so important.

*Take your reading glasses and a magnifying glass.

*Take your printed copy of the ad with you. You'll want to be sure to see all of the items you marked, at a minimum.

*Take a note pad and pen. Write down the things that you are interested in bidding on. Remembering your research, determine how much you would be willing to bid. A good rule of thumb is to bid no more than 25% of resale value. On high end items of known value, you can probably set this figure at 50%.

*Take a small flashlight if you have an interest in larger items that you may want to look under.

*Take a tape measure to get sizing on larger items you will have to transport and/or to see if they will fit where you intend them to go if your intent is to buy for yourself.

*Take a magnet if you specialize in metal items. You'll want to "test" them.

2. Introduce yourself to any auction house staff that is available and don't be afraid to ask questions. This will be your only real opportunity to do so. The staff will be very busy during the auction.

3. Check on the payment policies of the auction house while you're at the preview. Many country and local auction houses still take only cash or personal and business checks with a valid ID for payment. Some do take credit cards but those that do often charge you their fees for doing so, in many cases. Some facilities charge a buyer's premium (a percentage above your winning bid) and some have a minimum bid. These things are typically posted, but if they were not in the ad and you don't see them posted, ask. Auction house payment policies can affect how much you bid for the items you're interested in.

Auction Time!

Auction Time!
Auction Time!

Go To The Auction!

Get going! Get yourself to the auction house. If there was not a previous day preview or there was but you couldn't go, obviously you should go on auction day as soon after the doors open as possible.

Here's what you do first:

1. The very first thing you need to do is check in at the cashier area. This is where you will be issued your bidder number. You'll likely need a government issued photo ID. The cashier will take down your name and address. You'll probably be asked to provide your telephone number. If you have a vendor's license/a state sales tax vendor ID or whatever it's called in your state, present a copy of this to the cashier and fill out the form provided. You won't pay sales tax for any auction items you purchase for re-sale. You do have a vendor's license don't you?

2. Find a good seat, find a good seat, and find a good seat! Auction seating at a local auction can be thought of as similar to the real estate mantra; location, location, location! Ideally, find one somewhere that has a straight line view of the auctioneers stand. If you're hearing isn't so good, sit near the front. Local auctions are often weekly community social events in venues with bad acoustics. It can get very noisy. Sitting near the front also affords you a better view of box lots. What's in a box when you preview it, might not be in the same box when the bidding begins. At most local auctions, boxes don't have individual lot numbers (often everything is from one estate). Things get moved around as people look at them. Unscrupulous bidders will seed many items of interest and value into one box.

3. Once you find a good seat, MARK IT. Put something on it. You'll want to look around more and chat with the people you meet and before you know it all the seats will be filled. Also very important: Take a seat pad (see the country auction house picture above). Many local auction houses use metal folding chairs. You'll be sitting for SEVERAL hours.

4. Chat with the people sitting near you. Many of them will be "regulars" at that auction house and they will be a wealth of information about it, other local auctions, the best houses for items you're interested in and so forth.

5. Pay attention to the announcements at the beginning of the auction. The auctioneer often gives out dates and locations of future sales, information about the origins of the items in the current sale, pick-up/delivery information and so on.

The announcements are over and the auction is finally under way - now what?

1. Listen to the auctioneer through the first few items before you start bidding in any new to you auction house. Get used to the sound and tempo of his patter. Many are very fast (to keep the auction and the bids moving). You won't understand a new, speedy auctioneer right away but you will adjust. Also, auctioneers do tire and switch off during the course of a longer auction. Styles in the same auction house can vary widely.

2. Pay attention to where the auctioneer attempts to open bidding and where it typically works down to before bidders jump in. Later, as you start bidding on "your" items, you can use this knowledge to your advantage to open the bidding a few dollars higher on more expensive items than where they would typically start. This will discourage other, more casual bidders.

3. Watch how other bidders make their bids. Often, the first time you bid you will have to raise your hand or your number and wait to be recognized by the auctioneer or a ring/floor man. After your initial bid, usually a simple nod will suffice for your subsequent bids on that item.

4. Watch for the accepted ways to halve a bid increment. If an auctioneer goes from $20 to $25 for example, and you want to bid $22.50, you can single this a couple of different ways. Typically it is done by waggling the hand back and forth with the palm down or drawing a finger across your chest. Sometimes it's done by drawing a finger across your neck. The auctioneer has the option to accept or not accept this bid.

Auction Bidding Primer

Some things to remember when you're bidding:

  • Remember your top price. Don't over pay. You'll surely regret it later.
  • Factor any buyer's premium charged by the auction house into your top price figure. Some houses charge a buyer 5 or 10% above final gavel price.
  • When you win a bid, write down what you got and what your bid was to include any buyer's premium. You'll want this information when you check out. It also helps you to stay on budget.
  • Watch for the collectors in the room. They want "it" at any price and will pay top dollar to get it...but sometimes, in the bidding frenzy, their top dollar can be lower than where YOU take them and you end up with an item you can't re-sell for what you paid for it.
  • Seasoned dealers will be at any advertised auction in abundance. Don't worry about these folks. They are focused on very specific items and will stick to strict value/budget guidelines. If you're in the market for the same items, you'll win some and the other dealers will win some. It's not the end of the world.
  • There are break points in the bidding process that many people won't cross. It's a "mental thing". You'll win lots of auctions if you're willing to break a five, twenty, fifty, or even a $100 dollar bill on an item! Bid $6, bid $22.50 or $25 (different auction houses raise incremental bids differently), bid $55, or bid $110.
  • Pay close attention when box lots come up for bid, especially early on. This is for the previously mentioned "switcheroo" reasons but also because, typically, the first round or two of bids will be for a "choice" of individual items in the box lot and not for the entire contents of the box. As the auction progresses, this tends to shift to cover the entire contents as soon as a box comes up for bid.
  • Often someone near you will bid against you on a box lot. As quite frequently happens to us, what each of you really wanted in the box differs. We "give away" and are given items from box lots often. This fosters much good will with your fellow auction goers. See how important chatting up your neighbors can be?! There will be times when someone will offer to buy something from you that you've won, especially if you buy a lot of mixed box lots. These side deals are, of course, frowned upon by management. If you're willing, and the price is right, make a deal quietly.

Amazon References We Love For Live Auction Treasure Hunts!

Check out some of these titles and get your juices flowing for your live auction adventure.

Ok, I've Got Bidding Down; What On Earth Do I Buy?

What has the most potential of making me money on eBay or Amazon, or Ruby Lane, or Craigslist...or anywhere else I sell?

Certainly, when buying items for resale, you should stick to the lines of business that you know best. We're "old paper" and book dealers and we primarily focus on those things at live auctions but we see lots of things that generate interest, sell very inexpensively, and do well for resale. Here are several examples of popular items for online resale that we often see at aucitons:

Art

Advertising

Autographs

Baskets (Longaberger is a huge auction seller in our area)

Beads

Beauty Items (Brush/Comb/Mirror Sets)

Bibles

Blown Glass

Bottles (Medicine and Perfume)

Breweriana (Advertising, Beer Lights, Bottles, Cans, Paper items, Swizzle Sticks...)

Buttons

Catalogs

China

Clocks

Clothing (high end brand names and designer brands)

Coins

Comics

Coca-Cola Items

Crystal

Die cast/Metal Vehicles (Ertle, John Deer, Tonka)

Disney Items

Dolls

Glassware (Fenton and Fostoria are popular in our area)

Gold Jewelry

Golf Gear

Figurines

Fishing Gear

Halloween

Hand Tools and Power Tools

Hunting Gear

Kitchenware

Letters

Magazines

Maps and Nautical Charts

Marbles

Military Items and War Memorabilia

Movie Memorabilia

Music Related (Instruments, Records/Albums, Sheet Music, OLD Band Tee Shirts...)

Model Trains

Non-fiction Books

Older Costume Jewelry

Pens

Photographs

Pocket knives

Postcards

Posters

Pottery (Native American, Local)

Purses

Railroad Items

Radios (vintage)

Shaving Items

Signs

Stamps

Smoking/Tobacco Related (Lighters, Cases, Advertising...)

Sports Memorabilia (Cards, Equipment, Clothing, Programs, Pennants...)

Toys

Yearbooks

...And, much, much more. Search eBay categories that are of interest to you for high value sellers or check out items that are frequently advertised for your local auction house(s) and see if there is a market for them on eBay.

We would remind you what we said about bidding on items when there are collectors in the room. Sometimes you just have to refocus on other areas or, if that's not really possible, leave and save your money for another day. It's pointless to try to outbid a collector in any of the above named areas. We have gone to auctions where we had both heavy collector and heavy dealer competion in the room for the things up for sale that were of primary interest to us.

Most of the time, rather than just leave the auction, we left "our" items to those folks and focused on things in or close to our line that they might have overlooked in their quest to get their desired objects at any cost. They items may not have been what we originally intended to bid on, but we still usually found things that would get the juices flowing and make us a little profit. We've done VERY WELL with this strategy and avoided having a completely "lost day" at the auction.

The Bidding is Done (or I'm Out of Money), Now What?

When it's over, or when the last thing you were interested in bidding on sells, it's time to pay the piper. You'll need to get in line at the cashier's window or table and wait your turn. Don't forget to remind the cashier when you get to the window that you are tax exempt. Have that paperwork handy in case you need to present it again. The cashier will go through all of your tickets (most local houses have not joined the computer age but we're occasionally surprised) and calculate your total. Check this against your notes and check your tickets. Things do get mixed up sometimes.

So there you have it - everything you ever wanted to know about live auctions. Get out there, getting bidding, and have fun. Good luck!

Live Auction Lover?

Have you ever purchased items at a live auction for resale online?

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Important Links - SEE BELOW!

We have a couple of favorite links that we'd like to share with everyone:

Or, tell us what kind of auctions you like to go to and why. Do you have any new links to share to help us all find auctions (outside of your own area of course!)? We can all help each other just a little bit if we all share just a little bit. It all adds up to a lot!

Please Let Us Know What You Think of This Lens

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    • Dusty2 LM profile image

      Dusty2 LM 5 years ago

      Nice lens. Very informative information concerning live auctions. Thank You!.

    • Pam Irie profile image

      Pam Irie 5 years ago from Land of Aloha

      Very thorough information; good read!

    • MJsConsignments profile image
      Author

      Michelle 5 years ago from Central Ohio, USA

      @fraumullen: I did something similar once. I found a set of 15 books that looked interesting. I went home and looked them up. It turns out they were pretty rare as a complete set of 15. The base set was 10 and there were 5 supplements that were issued later. The bidding was hot and heavy on auction day from $1 to $15 where it stopped and I won them. I sold them on eBay to a man in Poland who was glad to pay me $650.00 for them and $170 more to ship them!

    • CamelliaPenny profile image

      Perrin 5 years ago from South Carolina

      Very informative. I feel I have enough info from this lens to attend an auction confidently.

    • artbyrodriguez profile image

      Beverly Rodriguez 5 years ago from Albany New York

      This is a good, informative lens. I went to an auction only once, and felt overwhelmed, so this is helpful information.

    • profile image

      fraumullen 5 years ago

      I go regularly to a local auction house, which specializes in estates. They have both high-end auctions and then the more common estate items. I have had a lot of luck at these in spite of some fairly stiff bidding competition. My routine is to look at everything in advance and list the items I think have potential. Then I go home (only 10 min.) and run most of the items through an Ebay search. This helps me see what is worth my time, and what is already in a saturated market. Some of my best buys have been: a lucite purse for $5, some earrings I purchased for $2.50 a pair (good markings - Eisenberg, Weiss, etc.) and I have already paid for that investment, selling 2 pair for $52 (from an initial $10 cost). Another recent buy: an antique repousse flask, which cost me $5, check it out: http://www.ebay.com/itm/330642646331?ssPageName=ST...