Almost every time someone wants me to have an auction for them they will ask what I think some item will bring. It’s often a family heirloom or some other item with sentimental value. Sometimes it’s something they have paid a lot of money for, and they’re afraid they will lose money if they sell it at auction. Regardless of the reason for the question, I hardly ever get out of someone’s house without being asked the question.
My answer is always the same. It depends on if there’s at least two people at the auction that’s interested in buying the item. If only one person is interested in it, the item may not bring much. If several are interested in it, it might actually sell for more than it’s real value. The problem is one never knows who will show up for a specific auction.
I’m sure my answer has cost me a few auctions. Some auctioneers will assure the seller that an item will sell for so much, but this creates an expectation that might not be met. I would rather be honest with the potential seller and promise that I will do my best to get them top dollar for the items they want to sell.
One of the problems people have selling items with great sentimental value is remembering that no one views that item in the same way. That may be your great-grandmother’s hope chest, but to an auction buyer it is a piece of antique furniture. They have zero sentimental attachment to it. They may want to own it or their interest in buying it is for resell. Sentimental value has no dollar amounts attached to it except to the current owner. That can be tough, but it’s true when selling at auction. If an item does have great sentimental value you might be better off seeing if a family member is interested in having it and giving it to that person.
There are some things a seller can do to help increase the amount people will bid for their items.
- Make sure everything is clean. Most auctioneers seldom have time to clean your items for you. It’s very frustrating when good quality items come in to sell at auction and they are so dirty that it distracts from their quality. Clean your glassware. Shine the silver. Nice vehicles should be taken to a detailing shop. It will be money well spent.
- Make sure everything works. If it doesn’t work it will have to be sold “as is” which will likely reduce what you get for the item. Replace batteries. On items such as lawn mowers be sure there’s some gas in the engine so it can be started.
- Get your items to the auctioneer early enough for them to be properly listed. I like to have everything at least two weeks before the sale so I can post pictures on auctionzip.com. I’ve shipped items to other states to people who saw those pictures and called me with an absentee bid. If you bring an item to an auction the day of the sale hoping the auctioneer can sell it for you, it’s likely you will sell it for much less.
- Don’t scrimp on advertising. If you are paying for the advertising set a realistic advertising budget. Your auctioneer can explain to you the marketing for your sale he or she would recommend. In many parts of the country there are likely to be other auctions on the same day as yours, so it’s important that your auction is well advertised.
- Don’t try to save money by doing the set-up yourself. Auctioneers have preferred ways they like to sell things, and their crews know how to set up the sale in accordance with those preferences. Those preferences will often maximize the amount you’ll receive, so if you try to save a few dollars in set-up costs it might cost you several hundred.
Auctions are true capitalism at work. It allows you to sell your items at what the market that day believes they are worth. Some things may sell a little low while others will sell for more. At the end of the day, things tend to balance out. Follow my advice and you will have done much to increase the amount you receive from your auction.