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Auction Etiquette and Bidding Tips

Updated on December 31, 2012

Have you ever attended a live auction?

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Auctions Are Entertaining To Say The Least

Live auctions can be a lot of fun, especially if you like the thrill of finding a great bargain. It’s an opportunity to meet new people, learn about items you may have never seen before and have a chance to purchase something you really want. Depending on interest in the item, you could possibly buy it for a really great price.

Some auctions use "bidding paddles" with numbers on them.
Some auctions use "bidding paddles" with numbers on them. | Source

Basic Types of Live Auctions

There are four basic types of auctions.

  1. English Auction – this most common type of auction is typically used to sell items such as antiques, artwork and other household goods. The bidding begins at a reserve price, if there is one, and ascends up from there, usually in predetermined increments if there is interest from a bidder. The auction continues until there are no other bid increases. This type of auction is known as a first-price auction because the winner pays his bid.
  2. Dutch Auction – is known as a descending first-price auction. It begins at a higher price than the item is believed to bring in. The price is decreased by an auctioneer until a bidder claims “mine” and that is the price he will pay. If there are multiple items offered in the auction, the same process continues until all the items have been sold. This method of auction is faster than an English auction and preferred in some markets.
  3. First-Price, Sealed-Bid Auction – is a bidding strategy where bidders submit a single bid placed in a sealed envelope. Once the bidding is closed, the envelopes are opened. The highest bidder is announced and receives the item for his bid price.
  4. Second-Price, Sealed-Bid Auction – is also known as the Vickrey Auction. It works the same as the first-price, sealed-bid auction above. The only difference is the winning bidder does not pay his bid. He pays the second highest bid instead. This auction type is rarely used.

Auctions are typically held as:

  • Public Auctions
  • Estate Auctions
  • Police Auctions
  • Government Auctions
  • Seized Property Auctions
  • Charity Auctions
  • Fund Raising Auctions

The quilt in this photo sold for over $1,300 at a church charity auction.
The quilt in this photo sold for over $1,300 at a church charity auction. | Source

When to Attend an Auction

Many people attend auctions on the weekend when there is more chance for bidding wars to occur. Attending an auction mid-week usually has a much smaller attendance allowing you a chance to get the items you are interested in for a decent price.

When to Begin Bidding

It is not always the best strategy to be the first to place a bid. If you start your bid later in the game, other bidders may be inclined to pull out because they feel the price will go out of their range. Be patient.

How to Make an Auction Bid

If you want to make a bid at an auction, you cannot be shy. You must be prepared to be in the spotlight, at least momentarily. There are several different ways in which people bid at a live auction. The two most common are either raising your hand or your bidder’s paddle.

If it seems as though you are unable to get the attention of the auctioneer, you may need to wave your hand or paddle “bigger” or even shout “yes” or “here” to place your bid. After your first bid is taken, the auctioneer should continue looking your way. Just a nod of your head or a hand gesture accepting a higher bid will usually suffice.

Making a Movement That You Did Not Mean as a Bid

It is common to fear making some sort of motion, like scratching your head, being construed as a bid from you. Although it has happened, it is rare and you will not be held responsible.

Keep in mind that most auctioneers also fear accidentally accepting a bid that was not meant to be. They are usually very careful and may even stop for a moment to ask if they are uncertain.

How High Should You Bid

Always have a top bid that you are willing to pay before an auction begins. If the bidding reaches your limit, stop. To be sure the auctioneer knows you have stopped, you can shake your head “no” or even turn away.

Many people get caught up in the frenzy of an auction. It can be very easy to bid beyond what you are willing to pay and/or what you can actually afford. It is important that you remain in control so this does not happen.

Once You Hear the Word “Sold”

You can stop bidding anytime during the process. But when you hear the word “sold,” if you won the bid, it is yours and you are obligated to pay for the item.


What if You Cannot Attend the Auction

If you’ve had the opportunity to preview auction items ahead of time and you are unable to attend, there are many auction companies that accept proxy bids. They will place a bid on your behalf not going past the bid maximum that you specify. This verbal agreement is considered a legal contract and you are responsible for payment if you win.

Join Auction Mailing Lists

Sign up for auction mailing lists to receive advance notice of where, when and what will be auctioned.

Plan to Have Fun!

Auctions can be fun and sometimes profitable too. But even if you do not buy a thing, you are guaranteed to be entertained. Enjoy!

This is Sharyn's Slant


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    • Sharyn's Slant profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Smith 

      8 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Martie,

      Sorry it's taken me so long to get back here and respond. I'm so glad this article helped you learn more about auctions. Now you don't have to avoid them. Definitely try out the one on Wednesday's near where you live. You'll have fun. Thanks so much for stopping by!


    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 

      8 years ago from South Africa

      To be honest, Sharyn, this is now the first time I understand what's going on at an auction. Yes, I had an idea, but the info you've provided in here finally verified my idea.

      Because I didn't know the procedures, I avoided auctions, but always envied people who bought the most interesting stuff at auctions. We have one every Wednesday a couple of blocks away from me. I am going to check it out, armed with the info you've given in here.

      Thanks a lot!

    • Sharyn's Slant profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Smith 

      8 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hello girishpuri ~ it's great to meet you. I appreciate you stopping by to read and comment. Have a wonderful weekend!


    • girishpuri profile image

      Girish puri 

      8 years ago from NCR , INDIA

      This is very useful, auctions are real fun, thanks for the wonderful piece of advice.

    • Sharyn's Slant profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Smith 

      8 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hiya B!!! Thank you so much for stopping by to read comment. Hope all is well with you.


    • b. Malin profile image

      b. Malin 

      8 years ago

      This was such a Fun, Educational read Sharyn. Good Tips and very Sound Advice, girlfriend...And different Auctions...I didn't know there were so many. Thanks for sharing.

    • Sharyn's Slant profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Smith 

      8 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi CC ~ auctions are a lot of fun. I love watching the people. Thanks so much for your feedback. Open you get some great bargains!!!


    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Calhoun 

      8 years ago from Western NC

      I love auctions! They are really fun. I always find so many wonderful things. It's a great idea to go during the week. I need to find more that occur during the week for sure because the weekend ones DO have those bidding wars you speak of. :) Great hub!!

    • Sharyn's Slant profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Smith 

      8 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      seanorjohn ~ I would love to buy a house at an auction. That's great about the 19th century print, getting it for much less. Thanks so much for your feedback.

      Susan H ~ I've also been worried about making a "wrong move." Especially cuz at times I was laughing and not seriously paying attention (which is NOT good). Thanks for your feedback, votes and shares.

      Glimmer ~ Yeah, if you're not careful, you can get carried away and pay way too much. That's happened to me too. Thank goodness I was outbid.

      Mary ~ Aw, I'm glad you found this so much fun. I appreciate your votes.

      Susan Z ~ Definitely you have to try being on the other side of things. I would like working an auction if the stuff selling for big bucks was my own :)

      Lesley ~ How were bidders allowed to change their mind afterwards? That isn't right. I think it definitely was a poorly run auction that you attended. I'd try again.

      lemonkerdz ~ ha ha, that's so funny. Not knowing that you were actually bidding against your wife. Lucky the auctioneer let you change things. I agree live auctions are much better than eBay.

      Paula ~ I agree that auctions are quite interesting even if you are not bidding. You see a lot of really unique "stuff." And definitely you want to go to auctions where the company running them has a great reputation. Yes, etiquetteguy really wrote an article in itself. I really appreciated his feedback and your too, as always. I don't know if you'd make a good auctioneer. I think you might have people laughing too much. hmmmmm :)

      Sis/Angela ~ Thank you so much for your complimentary feedback. Very much appreciated. It's great to see you!

      HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE! Thank you so much for stopping by.

      Now, go to an auction . . . and enjoy!

    • Sharyn's Slant profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Smith 

      8 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi etiquetteguy ~ sorry it's taken me so long to get back here to respond to comments. Wow, I think you wrote an entire article in your comment. I really appreciate what you have to say. You added some things that are great to know for the readers. I thank you very much!


    • Angela Blair profile image

      Angela Blair 

      8 years ago from Central Texas

      Auctions are great fun and your suggestions and advice is very sound. I'm always amazed at how one auctioneer can keep everything running so smoothly -- and yes, I know he has helpers but he really has to pay attention himself! Excellent article and very enjoyable read. Best/Sis

    • fpherj48 profile image


      8 years ago from Carson City

      Sharyn...Interesting topic! I've been to some auctions nearby, mostly at huge estates or large farms. I enjoy them, even when I do not participate in the bidding. Some of the articles at an auction are amazing...antiques, well-preserved and some just items of necessity you can pick up for a song. It's a really good idea to know a little something about "value," although, the people who run an auction are usually quite knowledgeable and the bidders only concern is how

      honest & reputable they are.

      WOW! etiquette guy's comment is like a hub within a hub! Sounds like he's quite the expert. I think I'd love to be an auctioneer! "Going once, going twice...SOLD!! to the gentleman with the huge belly, smoking a stinky cigar!!...UP+++

    • lemonkerdz profile image


      8 years ago from LIMA, PERU

      I used to go to an auction Ënglish auction"in England of household goods, one day the item i wanted for my wife was going for much more than i wanted to pay....only to find out the only other bidder was my wife at the other end of the room, kindly the auctioneer who knew me set the auction again when he realised who the other bidder was.

      Auctions are great i love the experience, better than ebay.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I have only ever been to one auction and that was to sell something. I was so fed up with the auctioneer as I felt that he didn't promote our product enough. Two people bidded so we were happy with that, but afterward they changed their mind. Arrgh... lol

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 

      8 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I've only ever been to one auction and I was working at it registering people, handing out the numbers and collecting money. It was fun and I'd like to go to one to be on the other end of things.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      8 years ago from New York

      Your hub was almost as much fun as a local auction. Thanks for the explanations of different types of auctions...something I never knew. Auctions can be fun and if you get what you want for the right price, rewarding ;)

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Claudia Mitchell 

      8 years ago

      This is really useful! I got carried away at an auction once and before I knew it had bid way more than I wanted to pay. Thank goodness someone wanted it more and outbid me. It is amazing what kind of deals can be found at the right auction.

    • sholland10 profile image

      Susan Holland 

      8 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      I would be worried I'd accidentally make a movement that would be construed as a bid. I would also be the type who might get carried away at an auction. Your advice on having a maximum bid in mind and sticking with it definitely is wise. Auctions are a fun activity to participate in.

      Great information! Votes and shares! :-)

    • Sharyn's Slant profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Smith 

      8 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Peg ~ Yeah, people worry about accidentally bidding when they do not mean to. But rarely is it a problem. And you are right about not being the first bidder because some auctioneers intentionally begin the bidding higher to save time. You could get stuck. I really appreciate your feedback. Happy New Year!


    • seanorjohn profile image


      8 years ago

      Very interesting. Never come acoss the vickrey, second bid auction. I bought my house in a sealed bid auction. I used to go to auctions quite a lot. On two occasions I got into a bidding war and paid too high a price. On one occasion I was outbid for a 19th century print but bought it at a much lower price the following year off a dealer.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Auctions have been a part of my life for 35 years. After graduating in 1973 from Colorado College as an art history major, I landed a job at Sotheby’s in New York where they needed a preppy proofreader. What a great four years I spent there, learning enough about the art world to launch my own successful fine art and appraisal company. One of my jobs there was being an auctioneer, and I loved it. Auction rooms are made up of different groups of people. There is the auction house staff, which includes the auctioneer (who is the person who has control of the entire process), various record keepers, telephone bid staff, and people who physically move the items which are being offered for sale. There are also the buyers, a varied group made up of dealers (who may be buying for their own shops or inventory, or who may be buying as agent for a private individual, institution or museum. Auctions are very fast paced and there are certain protocols and etiquette which can make an auction run smoothly and make the experience of the buyer more enjoyable. I know for myself, that when I am bidding on an item, my adrenalin gets pumped up – the force is with me. My advice to anyone who is planning to buy something at the auction is to be sure to carefully examine the item before the sale. Ask any questions pertaining to condition, provenance, and possible reserve price and estimated value of the auction house staff. In other words, know what you’re bidding on. In many auction rooms, you will be required to register for a ‘number’ - a bidding card identifying you to the auctioneer when bidding. You may want to get there early so as to ensure getting a seat for the sale, which can last many hours. At Tim Isaac’s Auctions here in Saint John, you can call ahead to reserve a seat if you are known to him. I always like sitting towards the front of the room for most of the sale, but often times move to the back and stand up while bidding. When bidding, make sure you hold the number clearly for the auctioneer to see. Auctioneers are not psychics and blinks and nods can often go unnoticed and your bid may be missed. Do not talk in a loud voice during the auction and do not have your cell phone turned onto ‘ring’. If you must take a call, leave the room or speak in a hushed voice as this is distracting and disrespectful to others. Remember too that the auctioneer has the final say as to who the successful bidder is. Any disputes should be handled immediately. If you cannot attend the sale, you have a few options. You can ask a friend to bid on your behalf in person; you can leave a bid with the auction house staff; or you can arrange to have the ‘phone bank’ call you just before your item is coming up for sale allowing you to bid over the phone. Telephone bidding is a great way of handling this if you can arrange it. Be sure you have a clear idea how much you are willing to spend beforehand and bid quickly, because if you hesitate too long, the item may well be sold to someone else. There is most likely a conspicuous sign outlining the conditions of sale posted in the auction room or printed in your catalog. Familiarize yourself with these as they vary from one auction house to another. For example, at Tim Isaac’s sales there is no buyer’s premium. At most other houses there is one, meaning that the final sale price is greater than the actual hammer price by sometimes as much as 20%. If you are buying a ‘box’ lot - a variety of items sold together in a box, be sure to examine the contents carefully, and do not repack the boxes to your liking. Others may well have examined the contents of the boxes and are placing bids according to what they saw. Unfortunately it happens all too frequently that someone will take a certain item they want and bury in under a bunch of linens, trying to hide it so they can buy it for a song. This is like shoplifting and is in fact stealing from the consignor of the property. The best way for the bidder to learn about auctions, auction rules, and auction etiquette is to attend auctions regularly. Feel free to ask seasoned auction goers about bidding, removing of property you buy and any other myriad of questions which can arise. The auction house staff is also well versed in all aspects of the auction and is most helpful. Going to your first auction can be an intimidating experience. Go with a friend; plan to go to the exhibition ahead of time and stay for as much as you have time for. You will learn to enjoy these outings and may even pick up a bargain or two along the way.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 

      8 years ago from North Dallas, Texas

      Sharyn, these are definitely great tips for attending and participating in a live auction. I had heard that warning of not to scratch your head or you bought it, but it is true, the auctioneer will usually ask if they are not sure of your bid. The other reason for not jumping in immediately at the first number mentioned is that some auctioneers intentionally start the bidding off high trying to save time. Also the bidding will edge up if at least two parties really want the item. Very enjoyable read that took me back to the auction block.


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