A Beginners Guide To Auctions
I Really Want It.
There are many books and articles to help the beginner buy antiques and collectables at auction, but they do not always tell us what really happens, or how the system works. We hear many things about auctions and auctioneers but are they actually true? Do we for instance have to keep our hands in our pockets in case we purchase something we don't want, is anyone around us a member of a ring, determined to keep prices low and ensure that they are the only ones to get a bargain. If you are new to the auction scene it can all seem a bit bewildering, the auctioneer is taking bids but where are the bidders, he seems to be able to see things nobody else can but of course that's his job. How does he manage to resolve the problem of getting the highest price possible for the seller, at the same time as taking commission bids when he is trying to buy the item at the lowest possible price for his client? What is the protocol for bidding, do I scratch my nose furtively in a corner each time I want to make a bid, or shout out loud to make sure that the auctioneer doesn't miss me. It's all so easy for those who buy regularly at auction, in many cases the auctioneer may recognize the “regulars” and their idiosyncrasies and some of those regulars do take a rather patronizing or supercilious attitude to the less experienced, they forget they also had to start somewhere. Auctions are a place for everybody interested in antiques, collectables and fine art to start their collection, add to their existing collection, or just acquire knowledge about the items being sold. There is an excitement which is almost impossible to describe when attending an auction with the intention of trying to buy something you want. The adrenalin fix from achieving such a purchase is definitely addictive, once started you'll want to go on and in the following paragraphs I will try to introduce you to ways of achieving your goal.
Firstly perhaps, we should consider what our goal really is, some people attend auction sales almost for their entertainment value, rarely buying anything, but most are there because they have seen an item either in an online catalogue or they have already viewed the sale and decided on the lots that interest them. Why are they interested in those lots? Perhaps they are collectors who are focused on very specific areas, perhaps they are dealers purchasing directly for themselves, or “runners” who act as agents or buy speculatively, having a good idea where they can place the item for a profit. What this really means is that there are a lot of people wanting to buy at the cheapest possible price, but with different motivations about how high they are prepared to go. If two people really want something they will pay whatever it costs in some cases with no real reference to the actual value. This highlights the most important rule in buying at auction, decide before you start bidding how far you are prepared to go,(remember the price you pay is subject to a buyer's premium, you should determine what this is at the office, or it may be printed in your catalogue) and if you reach that limit then STOP. Sometimes you may be bidding against the auctioneer or a telephone bidder and with experience feel that one more bid will get the item for you, and then it may be worth breaking the rule, but only by one bid, remember your opponent is thinking the same thing as you. Most times when attending an auction you will have a list of the lots you are interested in, sometimes separated by quite a distance so be prepared to spend some time in the saleroom. If you are attending personally take something to read or, buy a newspaper and do the crossword, but generally speaking don't bother with the vacuum flask and sandwiches as most auction houses have some form of catering available. If you can spare the time to go to the beginning of the sale and stay until all your lots have been sold, then do so. Many auction houses have little or no parking so if you are early and can park your car in the saleroom car park you might save some money, public parking can be expensive if you are there for a few hours. Equally arriving early may let you find a seat, standing for several hours can be very tiring. If you can't arrive at the beginning of the sale remember that auctioneers will sell on average between 100 and 130 lots per hour this is a good rule of thumb method of calculating what time you should be there in order not to miss that really important item you want so badly, there is nothing so frustrating as being stuck in a traffic jam and arriving just as the item that you wanted is sold at a price much lower than you would have been prepared to pay. It is also worth remembering that if you are unable to “view” before the sale date there is usually a period early on the day of the sale were you can look at the items you are interested in. Actually looking at the object is a wise precaution even if you have an auctioneers condition report, it can save you money equally it may show the item to be better than you thought. I recently bought an expensive microscope which I only managed to view at the last minute and found that hidden in a compartment were a number of slides two of which were extremely rare and of considerable value, it made me increase my maximum bid, especially as I don't think anybody else had noticed. Once you have decided on the lots you want and the price you are prepared to pay mark your catalogue as it is all too easy to miss your lot especially if there is nothing else of interest to you nearby. Equally there may be several things that you want but can only afford to purchase some of them, then identify each one with a priority level, it is very annoying when the thing you really want comes later in the sale and you have to decide not to bid on an earlier item, even when it would be a bargain, remember your budget.
Now we've arrived, parked the car, found a seat and marked our catalogue after looking at each item of interest. What have we forgotten, we haven't registered, an easy mistake to make but one which could lose us our bargain, as most auction houses will not take bids unless you have a bidding number. If you have to rush to the office to register you will probably find a queue of people paying and by the time you complete the process you have just missed the very thing you came for. It is so easy in the heightened atmosphere of the auction room to miss a simple step like this. Our first item is next up, the auctioneer calls the lot number with a brief description as catalogued, make sure that he can see you, stand-up if necessary and have your bidding paddle or catalogue to hand which you can use to attract his attention. He may open the bidding on the other side of the room possibly between two people in the room or a telephone or commission bid which means he's bidding himself. If you're not involved at the beginning but the bidding stops it's your turn, attract the auctioneer's attention, he will be looking and will accept your bid, if there is then a bid against you he will tell you, if you wish to continue be positive make a decision as quickly as possible, decisiveness here may well deter your opponent. Usually an auctioneer will recognize a quick movement of your hand or a nod to accept your bid, a negative shake of the head will signify unwillingness on your part to go any further. If you win, mark your catalogue with the hammer price and remember that this price will be increased by the buyer's premium which may be anywhere between 10 and 25 per cent.
To finish this first article I will expand a little on some of the points made at the beginning. The inadvertent wave of the hand or blowing your nose syndrome, no it doesn't happen; an auctioneer will always confirm your bid by looking directly at you. The nearest I have ever seen to the inadvertent purchase is when someone had gestured accidentally, perhaps while talking to a companion and been asked by the auctioneer if they were actually bidding. Commission bids are carried out by auctioneers or their assistants on behalf of customers who cannot attend the sale and wish to buy, they leave the maximum price they are prepared to pay and bids are made for them. An auctioneer will not disclose the value of commission, bids and in the event of there being several people interested he will start the bidding at a price just in advance of the second-highest commission. In the event of more than one client placing exactly the same amount, the one received first will take precedence. An auctioneer has responsibilities to both the seller and potential buyer, he will try to encourage upward bidding but in the absence of a reserve he will sell to the highest bidder. Put simply a reserve, is a figure, below which the item will not be sold, sometimes reserves will be disclosed and sometimes the lowest part of the catalogue estimate (if there is one) will be the reserve, although this is not always the case. Just a word about dealers, more and more private buyers are attending auctions and encroaching on what the dealers consider to be their traditional territory. Why do they feel this way? It's because the private buyer may well push the price higher than the dealer wants to pay which reduces his margin, runners particularly feel this as they often buy speculatively with a plan in mind but no confirmed deal. When you are sitting in the saleroom look around, you may see small groups of people talking nonchalantly to one another but who move from one part of the room to another as items come up for sale, they are probably dealers, keep your eyes open, they will often try to crowd around the lots being sold. In the second part of this series of articles I will try to cover some of the ways that you can value and age items in the saleroom, as well as what NOT to buy.
R Mitchell. 22/04/10 ©
Created at: 2010-06-03 15:12:18
Updated at: 2011-01-02 19:57:40
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