SOLD! How to Buy at Auctions
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Going Once, Going Twice!1 of 11
By Andie Huber
Tired of the same old boutiques, flea markets and online sources for cool home decor? Then turn your eye to auction houses—a great place to find one-of-a-kind items for less money than you might think. Here, we demystify the intimidating world of auctions and share tips for scoring deals like an insider.
Open House2 of 11
The common misconception is that auction houses are solely for the wealthy. Not true. Anyone can view, attend and bid at their sales. You can also attend an auction even if you aren't planning on bidding. Simply going and watching all the action is part of the fun.
Do Your Homework3 of 11
Deciding what to buy will be the biggest challenge. Auction houses sell everything, not just art and antiques. Sports paraphernalia, wine, books, and jewelry are all popular auction items. Decide what area of interest you would like to focus on and start researching recent sales. A quick search on the auction house's website for "prices realized" (final price on a sold item) and the Internet will give you a sense of the going rate. Pay attention to the artist and the condition as the top factors that effect it's value.
Lots More4 of 11
Once you've found an upcoming auction, look through the catalog—the guide for the entire sale of that particular lot—and decide which pieces you would like to bid on. The catalog can usually be found online, or you can request a printed copy for a cost. It will give you a thorough history, dimensions, material and condition of the item. These easy reference guides may also lead you to discover a new piece—generally auctions stick to a particular theme.
ON CHRISTIE'S: Jean Prouve (1901-1984), Gueridon "Cafeteria" circa 1950
Price Check5 of 11
Don't be discouraged by the estimated bid. Houses set an expected amount based on the history and what they think the market value is—but they aren't always right. Erin McAndrew, head of communications for Christie's in New York, says, "Some sale items are offered with no reserve, meaning the auctioneer is not bound by a minimum starting price. I’ve heard stories of eagle-eyed bidders who zeroed in on a find—a beautiful chair—and won it for as little as $100."
AT CHRISTIE'S: Two French clocks, Cartier, 20th Century
Priceless Preview6 of 11
If you can, go to the auction house during the preview—a set time that the house gives potential bidders a chance to view the items up close and in-person. McAndrew says, "At Christie's, all the property goes on display for four days prior to each sale." This is when you can decide if that piece in the catalog is worth more or less than you previously thought. You can also get a sneak peek at the competition checking out the goods!
AT CHRISTIE'S: A pair of horn and hide-covered side chairs, 20th Century
Sale Away7 of 11
"For those not in New York, we have a website and iPad app that lets you zoom in on each item, send images to your decorator, roommate or spouse, or request a condition report," says McAndrew. At most houses, you can participate in real-time via an absentee bid, online or on the phone.
Artistic Frenzy8 of 11
The day of the auction is here! You'll need to register which simply means bringing along photo ID and a bank reference (a letter from your bank describing the status of your account, length of relationship and sometimes account balances). You'll receive a numbered paddle and await the calls of the auctioneer.
ON CHRISTIE'S: Fulvio Bianconi (1915-1996), A "Pezzato" vase, circa 1950
Happy Bidding9 of 11
Remember to set a top bid for your pieces and don't go over no matter what—part of the excitement is the competition among buyers that drives the price up. It's very easy to get swept up in the frenzy—leaving you with an item at a higher price than you were originally comfortable with.
Hammer Time10 of 11
Hooray—you've won your first item! In addition to paying the hammer price (winning bid) there may be fees due to the auction house. You can check these beforehand so there are no surprises. If the item is large, there may be shipping costs to get the item back to your home.
Investment Value11 of 11
Most items that can be found at auction will increase in value rather than decrease, so ultimately it's worth the investment and the time spent browsing these markets. And who knows? Maybe you'll zero in on an item and score an antique chair for $100!