Buying at auction

Most of my posts address selling items at auction, but today’s article will focus on the buyers. I’ve been attending auctions for over a decade. I have attended as many as 4-5 a week although it’s usually more like one every week or two. Along the way I’ve learned some things about buying at auctions.

  • Arrive early enough to check out the merchandise being sold. I normally try to arrive at the auction site an hour before the auction begins. That gives me time to get my number and look over the items looking for damage or anything that will give me insight on its worth. This also makes it easier for the auctioneer to start the auction on time. There’s nothing worse than having about 30 people still in line for bidding numbers when the auction is supposed to start. Auctioneers don’t like the possibility of losing that many bidders and might start later, and those who arrived early become aggravated when the auction doesn’t begin on time.
  • If you plan on being a regular attender at the same auction company’s auctions ask if they provide permanent bid numbers. This saves you a lot of time waiting in line for your number at each auction. I’ve now got permanent numbers at four different auction companies.
  • Most auctioneers post their auctions on or their own websites. These listings often include pictures and a brief description of the items. Before the auction check out what similar items are selling for. E-bay can be a good source of information, but be sure to check what the items actually sold for, not what people are asking. There is often a large difference. Just because someone is asking $100.00 for a particular items on E-bay doesn’t mean they are selling for that. It’s possible they are actually selling for $15.00. However, by checking values before the sale you have a better idea of what you should pay.
  • Set a price in your mind for how much you’re willing to give for an item you are interested in buying. This will help you avoid paying too much. Once you reach your maximum price, stop bidding. Yes, I know you want the item, but chances are good you’ll find it at another auction. However, if the item is relatively rare you might want to buy it when you see it as long as it doesn’t go for a ridiculous amount.
  • Don’t get caught up in the emotion of the auction atmosphere. It’s easy to pay more for an item than you planned simply because you got caught up in the emotion of the moment. I’ve done it, and so has anyone else who attends auctions.
  • Mistakes happen at auctions. Don’t get upset if the auctioneer misses your bid and sells the item to someone else. It happens. There are other things to buy and other auctions at which that same item will be available.
  • Don’t be afraid to start the bidding. Many auctions would end much earlier if people would just start bidding. Auctioneers can’t sell something until someone sets it in so don’t be afraid to throw a number out there.
  • Have your bidder number ready to show the auctioneer when you buy something. A lot of time is lost at every auction because some people have to search through five pockets trying to find their bidder number after winning the sale. If you’re bidding on something you should have your bid number in your hand ready to show the instant the auctioneer sells it to you.
  • Be prepared to pay sales tax on your purchases unless you have a tax number from the state. I was at an auction once when an out-of-state buyer purchased a large quantity of expensive glassware. When she left the pay window she was complaining to anyone who would listen that they made her pay sales tax. Uh, yea…that’s standard in every state I’m aware of that has sales tax laws. I didn’t see anyone who felt bad for her!
  • Try to take everything with you that you buy. If the sale is held on site there might not be anyone who will be able to watch your stuff while you come back for a second load or get a truck to haul your purchases home. If you’re at an auction house you can probably schedule a time to return to get your purchases if you can’t take them the day of the sale. However, some auction houses give you one week or the items become the property of the auction company. If you do need to return to get the remainder of your purchases, be sure to talk with someone from the auction company to make arrangements. When you schedule a return, be sure to show up at the agreed upon time. Most auctioneers are busy people and cannot take the time to wait for someone who might show up an hour or two later than when they said they would be there.
  • Have fun. Auctions are fun experiences so enjoy the experience. Many auctioneers and their ring people are very entertaining even if you don’t buy anything. Enjoy the experience.
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