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Tue Mar 27 2012 11:08:48

Offline Auction House 101

By: Julia Wilkinson

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Have you ever participated in an offline auction? You know the kind, with a real live auctioneer, a room full of people, and antiques, artifacts, and maybe even some regular old junk displayed around the room.

Here are a few pointers for the newbie, condensed from a piece at Worthpoint by John Londoner; and also a few success stories of items bought for a song and parlayed into big bucks on eBay:

- When you get to the auction house, you need to register, so they can assign you a bidder number, which is your unique identifier for the auction and will be shown to the auctioneer should you be the winning bidder of an item.. You'll need a photo ID and a valid credit card that they will keep on file for the auction.

- There is usually an opportunity to preview items, so you should get there within plenty of time to do this. At some auction houses I've been to, the preview is actually the previous day. At others, it's just shortly before the auction. You'll have an opportunity to walk around the auction room and examine items up close. Some book dealers take books that are interested in and bundle them with string, at one house I've been to. You also may be able to preview photos of the items online at the auction house's Web site.

- Auctions can last hours if you stay for the entire show, warns Londoner, "so get comfortable." However, I have also seen people leave once they win the item they wanted.

- Don't be the first to bid. "The auctioneer will start the bidding at a reasonable price but if there are no interested bidders at that level, the auctioneer might drop the bid to entice the floor." Another thing I was told? "Don't bid against yourself." Sounds funny, right? But if you're not aware that no one has officially bid after you, it can happen, especially in this fast-paced environment.

- At the end of the auction, you’ll need pay up with the house. Cash or check is usually preferred. "The house will usually offer a grace period to collect your winnings—sometimes up to two weeks—but be sure to understand their policy regarding pick-up," advises Londoner. Me? I like to walk out of there with my stuff that night!

- The bill includes taxes and the“buyer’s premium," which goes to the house, but is typically no more than 15 percent and is added to your bill.

Now what about the fun? Here are some of the great success stories I've heard from folks over the years:

- Amy Kagey, a perfume bottle enthusiast, found a rare Benoit figural stopper bottle for about $2 in a box lot at an offline auction, and sold it for over $2600 on eBay. She wrote it up for Antique Trader magazine.

- Sandy and her husband went to an estate/farm auction and bought a pallet load of misc. stuff straight out of the house, including six or so cardboard covered bins with food items like sugar and noodles. Inside one they found a Crown Royal bag with  several rolls of silver dollars, some uncirculated, and some other coins. "Turned out to be over $1500 dollars worth that we sold to the appraiser!" she said.
- Karen bought a huge lot of quilting books at a local antique/estate auction - at least 250.  She got them all for only $66.00, and had already made $800 after selling about 80 books.

Another regular attendee said her strategy is to wait til the end of the auction and bid on the odd box-lots at the end. She's found all kinds of treasures inside, and the other thing is there's less competition, because not everyone can stick it out 'til the end of the auction.

Have you been to an offline auction house, and if so, what have you found? Do you have a success story? Post a comment here!

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This user has validated their user name. by: Anonymous Annie

Tue Mar 27 16:42:18 2012

The buyer pays the commission? Hmm.

My only experience with live auctions is the TV show ''Auction Kings''... and the wording that's used in the opening intro credits make it sound as though the SELLER pays the fees which are taken out of the final selling price.

Did I misunderstand what's going on? (Or were the intro credits intentionally vague?) Or does the process vary between different regions and auction houses?

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This user has validated their user name. by: Philip Cohen

Tue Mar 27 18:00:49 2012

Seller pays usually pays a sliding scale commission and the buyer also pays a flat "premium"; it's been that way, throughout the world, for along time now.

eBay / PayPal / Donahoe: Dead Men Walking

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This user has validated their user name. by: silent anarchy

Tue Mar 27 21:04:06 2012

Alot of the auction houses near me get close to retail on some items but cheaper on others. Example german k98 bayonet rough shape $125, show price. Helmets and other militaria close to retail price. One auction i got a pile military unifroms resonable but due to the fact there were 3 aauctions that weekend, next week afew only wnet for 12 times what i paid.

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by: comet This user has validated their user name.

Wed Mar 28 01:55:46 2012

I grew up in a B&M auction house.  

The "House" collects as stated a fee from the CONSIGNOR (ie SELLER) that does in fact range on a scale.  If the item is expected to bring a large sum the level of commission might be lower but a fair cut of the total sales value will be collected.  Items with a "reserve" below which the seller will NOT accept a bid might also have a fee attached if the item does NOT sell to cover for the time and trouble.

Bear in mind that the "House" has to cover for overhead---sometimes in actual fact "Overhead" like a building or tent;  the actual cost to itemize and catalog the items;  sending mail or email with pics of the items;  maintaining a web site which must be frequently updated; paying staff;  insurance;  advertising in many media areas; signage; permits; covering for damages;  clean up; storage of items that will be removed later;  sometimes maintaining storage areas to hold overflow or large items;  gas for vans---the list is fairly endless and it ALL comes out of the TWO sources---BUYERS PREMIUM and SELLERS COMMISSION.  

That said---a few tips

You CAN "Jump bid".  The other bidder might not like you for this but the old saying is--There are NO friends at an auction.  This means you can call out a bid to the auctioneer that is different from the "jump" he is looking for--say he is going up in $5 increments and you bump it up to $10.  If the auctioneer takes this and runs with it--all to the good.  Most will.  It may also confuse a rival bidder for long enough to make them lose their pattern.

Do not wave your paddle or whatever you are using to bid with wildly around.  It annoys the other bidders and the auctioneer and his "spotters" and he might just ignore your bid.  Raise your paddle and it is OK to ask if the auctioneer SAW you and that he IS counting your bids. If you feel he is NOT seeing you it is OK to move or to signal to one of the spotters and let them know---they will be happy to alert the auctioneer.  

It is VERY bad form to try and pool items or even to change the items around during preview.  This can get you kicked out.  Also some houses have a "reserved" space in front for the "Regulars".  You are not a regular and you have NOT spent many hot and sweaty days sitting there and spending thousands of dollars with the house.  These people HAVE and they do get a primo spot.  Don't poach their seats.   If you are lucky and can sit NEXT to one of these guys you can learn a LOT by observing and chatting between sales.

It is OK to ASK politely if some one wants to RE-SELL an item they bought and you did not.  Expecially useful for items in box lots.  I have more often than not sold enough out of my box lots to COVER for all of what I spent on the auction and still had plenty of stuff to take home.  

If you spy something good in a box lot do NOT act excited.  Or hysterical when the item comes up for bid.  And keep a sharpish eye on the actual box---many boxes look alike and you might bid on one you THOUGHT held your treasure.  And also some unscrupulous people steal from the boxes or re-pack them so a particular box holds "their" treasures.

I have bought boxes with sterling that the house thought held only scrap items--sold the scrap kept the good stuff and STILL made money.  I have waited til EVERYONE was gone and gotten more good stuff when the guys bring out the dribs and drabs.  I have also had many things given to me after the sale if people got stuff they took their treasure out of and wandered off.  

I have been given---a full set of chairs.  What turned out to be a rare---and very profitable-- pair of wooden jump skis.  Household stuff.  Books.  The table that the auction was being held on--that the small stuff was being set down on--TWICE.  Great tables both times!  Toys.  

Take a CUSHION and wipes for your hands---this stuff can be dirty---and some boxes and newspapers/bubblewrap/boxes in your trunk is always a good idea.  This will NOT be provided.  A HAND HELD FAN is a great idea---useful for actual fanning AND great for bidding.

LEAVE YOUR KIDS SOMEWHERE ELSE.  Some houses refuse to allow kids for many reasons.  Some will allow them (more often at outdoor events) if they are WELL BEHAVED. Charity auctions are more kid friendly if held in lets say the back yard at the local firehouse--then kids are fine.  In doors at a B&M house--not so much.  

DO NOT forget---you have a BUDGET.  Decide what you are willing/able to spend on an item AND DO NOT GO OVER THIS AMOUNT.  Keep a WRITTEN RECORD of what you buy---lot number, description, and price.  This will help at check out and keep a running tab of what you have spent.  

Some houses keep a permanent record for you and you get ONE number for ALL of their sales.  Makes it easy to check in every time.  

Can you tell---I LOVE AUCTIONS???

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This user has validated their user name. by: Al G

Wed Mar 28 09:04:38 2012

Can't reiterate - set a bit limit for a particular item AND INCLUDE THE BUYER'S PREMIUM!

If you want to resell the item, the premium will add 10-15% directly to your cost.

Don't get caught up in the "feeding frenzy" - auctions are fun, but you can get too involved & pay more than the item is worth.

A little subtlety can go a long way. If the auctioneer can see your paddle without having to stick it way up keep it out of sight from the other bidders. Good auction bidders can recognize if you are about to fold by just the way you hold the paddle. It's like poker.

And, if you decide to bail out, and depending on the auctioneer, a sign to that effect will be best. Some auctioneers will be so fast that you got the bid before you lowered your paddle enough.

It's a lot of fun though. Inevitably you come back with at least one treasure and one dog.  

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by: EssexEstateServices This user has validated their user name.
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Wed Mar 28 23:05:26 2012

Great discussion! We've bought at live auctions for the past 15 years. In fact, I have an eBay "Guide" about buying at live auction and reselling on eBay for profit. The link is here.

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