Making money at auctions

gavel  I enjoyed going to auctions so much a few years ago I got my auctioneer license and began conducting my own auctions. Whether you are sitting on the block conducting the auction or sitting in the crowd auctions are fun, fast-paced, and enjoyable. They can also be quite profitable for both the seller and the buyer. This post will share some tips on how you can profit from auctions regardless of whether you are selling or buying.


  • Do business with a reputable auctioneer that has a track record for honesty and quality service.
  • Sell good quality items. People do not want to buy your junk. When doing an estate sale an auctioneer will take the good with the bad in order to clean out the estate, but no auctioneer wants to spend an evening selling someone’s trash. I once helped an auction house whose regular auctioneer was sick. The best thing I sold that night was a box of tomatoes for $2.00, and the people didn’t get to keep the box! The auction house owner couldn’t understand why it was so hard to get people to bid. Although they invited me back, I never returned. Take your trash to the dump, not to the auction house.
  • Clean your merchandise. Most auctioneers do not have time to clean your items, and you should not expect them to do so. People don’t mind a little dust on some vintage and antique items, such as tools, but don’t expect top dollar if you’re selling china or quality glassware that is filthy.
  • Take your items to the auctioneer early enough that he or she can properly advertise it. Most auctioneers post their auctions, with pictures, on This allows potential buyers to see what will be selling which can bring in bigger crowds or lead to absentee bids. I once sold a piece of glassware to a buyer in California for $200.00 who saw the picture of the item online.She sent me an absentee bid for much more than that and was delighted to purchase it for that price. Sellers make a big mistake when they take something they want to sell to the auction just before it begins and asks the auctioneer to sell it that night.
  • Have realistic expectations of what something will bring. That antique chest may have been your great-grandmothers, but it didn’t belong to any of the buyer’s great-grandmothers. Don’t expect it to bring the sentimental value that it has to you. Also, just because you paid too much for something, don’t expect others to do the same. I was recently asked to sell a collection of collectibles. I asked the lady what she thought they were worth. When she said that they should sell for at least $25.00 apiece I asked how she would feel if they brought $5.00 each. She admitted she would not be happy. I encouraged her to keep them because they would probably sell closer to $5.00 than $25.00. She did.


  • Preview what it is being sold. Check out the listing on and check the values of the items you are interested in buying. This will help ensure you don’t overspend on something and will help you spot a bargain when they occur. I’ve seen used items sell for more at auction than they could have been bought new, and I’ve bought items for literally pennies on the dollar of what they were worth. Do your homework.
  • Arrive early enough that you can check out what is being sold. Good auctioneers will have things laid out so that you can easily check out everything. You don’t want to buy a bowl that’s worth $50.00 only to find that it has a chip in the corner. If you buy something that is damaged some auctioneers will let you turn it back in (I do), but others don’t. You are buying everything as is-where is. Check everything out to ensure that what you are buying is what you want.
  • Don’t get caught up in bidding fever. Many times I’ve made one more bid than I intended to. Sometimes I’m relieved when someone outbids me; sometimes I get to take the item home! It can happen to anyone. Determine what your limit is and don’t exceed it. I once saw a red, plastic oil can sell for $200.00. After the auction I asked someone, who turned out to be the owner of the oil can, what was so special about it. He didn’t know. He had bought it at a yard sale the previous week for $5.00.
  • Auctions are intended to be fast-paced so don’t hesitate too long before bidding on something you want. Once the auctioneer says sold it’s too late to bid. Every sale I see disappointed people who waited a second too long to bid and didn’t get to buy something they wanted. When the bid amount drops down to $2.00 or 3.00 increases I have a pretty quick hammer. It’s time to move on to the next item. It shouldn’t take long to decide if something is worth $2.00 more to you.
  • Make sure the auctioneer has your bid. It’s not uncommon for 2-3 people to bid at the same time. You may think the auctioneer has your bid when he or she has taken someone else’s bid. This happens most often if a ring person has your bid and the auctioneer has another person’s bid. The auctioneer’s bid will always take priority. Some auctioneers will accept tie bids and re-0pen the bidding; others won’t.
  • My final tip for buyers is to everything you can to keep the auction moving. Don’t be afraid to set in an opening bid at what you would like to buy the item for. Auctioneers can’t sell anything until someone bids on it. Personally, I don’t care where you start the bidding. Just start it and we’ll sell the item. Also, if you are bidding you should have your bid number ready to show if you’re the buyer. Don’t waste everyone’s time by having to search through five pockets trying to find your bid number to show the auctioneer. By moving the auction along we will get to the next item you’re interested in sooner.


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