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Bidding and Buying at Live Auctions - Advice for Auction Virgins and Novices

Updated on November 17, 2010
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Although online auctions are today's buzzword, live auctions have a distinctively different appeal and can save you thousands of dollars, depending on what it is you are shopping for. Anything from box lots of books and gadgets to paintings, jewelry, antiques and home furnishings can be found at live auctions. Even livestock, food, plants and houses can be purchased at local auctions.

Interesting, exciting, entertaining and fun are just a few adjectives that describe the thrill of the live auction scene. If you are an auction virgin perhaps a few tips to put you at ease is all you'll need to venture into this unique platform for purchasing goods.

First, you'll need to know where and when auctions are being held. The classified ads of your local newspaper are a good place to start. If you would like a wider variety of venues try looking online at one of the auction search sites such as www.auctionzip.com. These sites will give you a listing of auctions within driving distance of your home. Most auctions will provide a detailed listing of the items being offered with photos and many are linked to auction house websites.

Once you have decided on the auction of your choice, make sure you allow yourself plenty of time to preview the items before the auction starts. This is a critical step in purchasing goods at auction. The glamour of a beautiful item often offsets the hidden flaws, so buyer beware. Most items at auction are sold "as is where is" which translates to once you win the bid you own it, with no allowance for returns. Look over any item you plan to bid on very carefully.

Another good tactic is to take along a pen and tablet to list the items you are interested in purchasing, notating any flaws so you can adjust your bidding accordingly. Some auctions hold previews a day or two before the auction, others offer previewing several hours prior to the auction start.

It is also advisable to take along several tools to help with examining items before purchase. A small flashlight, a loop (small optical magnifier for jewelry and other small items) and an average sized magnifier for examining china and other larger items. If you carry a device with internet access you will have the luxury of searching for the item's value and other helpful information online. A cell phone with a camera can also be useful for sharing an electronic preview if you are purchasing items that require the approval of a spouse or other absent party.

Carefully choosing your seat should be done prior to auction start so you have a good view of the auction floor. If you attend an outdoor auction you can take a folding chair and other items for comfort such as suntan lotion, a hat, and layers of clothing for chilly days. Many auctions are held rain, snow, or shine, so be prepared.

Assume you have previewed, you have your list and your seat and you know exactly what you are interested in purchasing. It's time to sign up for your bidder's number. You will need your driver's license or photo id to register to bid. Some auction houses take credit cards and checks, some don't, so check before you register. Also consider what is known as a "buyer's premium" before you bid. This is a percentage that is added on to your purchase price. Some auction houses tack on a buyer's premium and then offer a discount for paying with cash or a check.

Most auctions employ runners to show the merchandise and keep the auction flowing. If you have done your job and previewed before the auction the bidding process will be simplified. Trying to examine merchandise during the auction is tricky and often results in poor purchases of damaged goods. The runner should be utilized by the bidder only to identify the items being offered for bid, not to examine items during the auction.

Once the bidding starts you will want to pay close attention to the style of the auctioneer. Some auctioneers are very fast and before you know it you can get caught up in bidding and spend more money than you ever intended. Most bidders do not realize that if an auctioneer accepts a bid from you that you actually did not intend, you can stop and say no I did not make that bid. This must be done immediately. Once the gavel goes down and the item is sold there is no taking the bid back and saying no.

Box lots of merchandise are often sold by choice. This means you will be bidding for a designated section of boxes or lots of merchandise and get to choose as many as you like if you are the high bidder. Auctioneers will sometimes "salt" the box lots, which means they will include some highly desirable items within the mix. This encourages higher bidding. This type of bidding can be tricky since you don't know what the other bidders are after. The best advice is to know which lot or lots you want and don't go over your intended bid price. This bidding is generally done huddle style, where bidders gather around the items being offered for sale.

Another thing to be aware of when seated or standing, is the people behind you. Sometimes an auctioneer will appear to be accepting your bid when in fact he or she is looking directly over your shoulder to the person a row or two behind you. This is not intentional but it does happen on occasion. If it happens, let the auctioneer know immediately that you are bidding. It is always a good idea to make it clear that you are bidding by holding up your bidder number.

It is important to keep a detailed list of each item you win during the auction so you know exactly what you purchased and how much you paid for it. You will want to check your list against your bill when you pay for your items to insure that you are not paying for someone else's merchandise. The list will also be helpful when gathering and packing your items.

A note about packing your items. If you intend to purchase small breakable merchandise you should be prepared with plenty of paper for wrapping and some cardboard boxes or plastic totes. Some auctions provide boxes if they have an overflow, others don't. The best advice is to be prepared with your own packing material. You will also want to be armed with blankets and throws to cover furniture and other larger items to prevent scrapes and scratches.

Finally, be prepared to be entertained for several hours. If you stay until auction end you will be surprised at how prices get cheaper and cheaper as fellow bidders lose interest and leave. This isn't always the case, but as a general rule prices tend to be lower at auction end. This is not an accident since most auctions are structured to sell in a cycle that will garner the most money for highly desirable items which are usually sold about halfway through the auction. An auction agenda is usually set so bidders will know approximately when specific items of interest will be sold.

Attending a live auction is not for everyone. It does require patience and some diligence to hang around until that special item you have been waiting for goes up for bid. You can be assured of one thing -- you will have the opportunity to save hundreds of dollars by buying items at auction. But buyer beware, auctions can be very addictive. If you are like the thousands of auction goers who attend regularly you are in store for an exciting, entertaining and unpredictable experience.

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    • profile image

      carlajw 6 years ago

      I love auctions and this is really useful!

    • soozeqsh profile image
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      soozeqsh 6 years ago from Boyertown, PA

      Yes, I love auctions too. So much that I went on to get my auctioneer's license. Working at an auction is fun, especially when you are working the floor and can purchase while you are working.

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