How to bag a bargain at auction houses – your guide to online bidding

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Do you like unique interior decor? Love the classic style of vintage clothing and accessories? Are you forever pinning Mid-Century Modern furniture on your ‘dream home’ Pinterest board? Enjoy hunting for a bargain? If any of this applies to you, yet you’ve never bought from an auction house before, why not? It’s a fun, action-packed second-hand shopping experience that could save you ££s in the process. Here’s how to start buying at auctions without – and here’s the best bit – leaving the comfort of your own home..!

WHY BUY AT AUCTION?

You probably have an idea of auction houses in your mind and already know that they’re the place to go to discover unique items that you wouldn’t find anywhere else. Not to mention the fact that you can bag yourself a bargain. I’ve been to many live auctions and it’s one of my favourite days out – I actually bought all the plants for my garden and the furniture for my bedroom from auctions! However, there’s more to buying from an auction house than the fun of finding a hidden treasure. Here are some more factors that you perhaps haven’t thought of:

  • The expertise of the auctioneer listing the item – you can be confident that the item has been looked at by a professional and can trust that the auction listing is accurate.
  • Ease of access and bidding thanks to technology and online bidding – you don’t have to be in the sale room to bid on your dream piece of furniture or jewellery.
  • Because the items you’re buying are second-use (or even third- or fourth-!) it’s a sustainable way to shop.
  • Bidding and winning is downright fun – but more on that later!

HOW AUCTIONS WORK

But isn’t it all high-priced antiques or junk from someone’s loft? Not necessarily. The items in an auction could have come from any number of sources and can be anything from low-cost upcyclable old furniture that needs a little TLC to vintage crockery or 100-year-old heirloom toys. The items could have ended up at auction after someone has sold their house and can’t fit that farmhouse sideboard into their new home, or councils could be selling off assets and serious collectors could be putting their rare finds into auction. Auctions certainly aren’t scary – they’re not all Christie’s and Sotheby’s with items going for thousands of pounds! In fact, in this blog post I’m specifically talking about the bargain secondhand items you can find at auction rather than the expensive antiques.

WHERE TO FIND RELIABLE AUCTIONS

If you’re interested to find out more about auctions and buying unique pieces, you could start by going to your local reputable auction house. Most large towns have them. And now, it’s easier than ever to buy from auction houses as many auctioneers allow you to bid online so you don’t have to take time off to be in the sale room when the auction occurs. You can still go to view the items ‘in real life’ to check that they’re the real deal (or if you’re just looking for a bargain piece to upcycle, to measure up for your project!) and then bid from home on the auction day.

I found these Stag drawers by John & Sylvia Reid at auction

You can either bid on their own website, through mobile or via an aggregator/search auction site like thesaleroom.com or i-bidder. This type of website opens up so many more possibilities and items to buy as you’re not limited to your local area (although, of course, it would be easier to view the goods ‘in real life’ pre-auction and pick up your items if you stick to a local search). The good thing is that by using an online aggregator you know that all the auction houses on there are reliable as they have been vetted before the listings go live.

THE SEARCH PROCESS

If you have a particular item in mind that you are looking for, you can search and find hundreds of items online, with the ability to refine your search by location and price. Personally, I’m always on the look-out for Mid-Century Modern furniture so I search by brand (such as Ercol, G Plan, Remploy and Ladderax) to add more genuine pieces to my 50s home.

I wouldn’t have as much luck finding these classic items elsewhere: since the explosion in popularity of mid-century design, you no longer find these items at car boot sales! They’re much more likely to be put into an auction and, seeing as I can’t go to every auction house in the country to find them, I would miss out if I wasn’t able to bid at auctions online. Of course, it’s not possible to see the condition of the item if you can’t get to the sale room in advance but I’m talking about finding such a bargain that you don’t mind doing some work to it if it’s in a sorry state.

If you don’t have a specific item in mind, you can search by category, such as vintage fashion, lights, art, collectables, rugs, jewellery, furniture (mid-century and antique), architectural salvage, ceramics, handbags and so much more. You might find something that’s just right for you or your home, but that you didn’t even know existed before you spotted it in the catalogue.

Things to consider before an auction:

  • What am I looking for?
  • How much am I prepared to spend?
  • What is the estimated guide price?
  • Is that already over my budget or would I be willing to pay more?
  • How am I going to transport it if I win it?
  • Or am I happy to organise and pay for delivery?
  • When buying antiques, what’s its potential? Old items that are in fashion will command a higher price than perfectly good pieces from other periods, so there are bargains to be had if you browse the catalogue thoroughly and find things with potential.

PREPARING FOR THE AUCTION

You can find out about upcoming specialist sales – such as TW Gaze’s iconic toy sale before Christmas or Clarke and Simpson’s Art Deco & 20th Century Design auction – which group together similar pieces and makes it easier for you to search out the particular items you’re looking for.

I’m a Picquot Ware and Black Velvet collector so I add to my collection from auctions

As the date of an auction draws closer, the auctioneer will list the items for sale in the catalogue. Here you can read descriptions carefully, checking for disclaimers. Because the information is published in advance of the sale, you’ve got time to contact the auctioneer if you’d like any further information about the item, for example dimensions, condition and a detailed commission report, if they’re not already given.

Once you’ve found something you’d like to bid for, you need to register with the auction house, which is when you give your name, contact details and payment information. This doesn’t tie you in to anything at this stage but is a necessary step because once you’ve won an item you are contractually bound to pay for it. Find out your payment options and commission fees before bidding takes place – these are added on to the hammer price so don’t get caught out. It’s also a good idea at this stage to become familiar with the rules, regulations, terms, and conditions of the auction you’re planning to bid on.

BIDDING

You’ve found an item you’d like to buy and registered for the auction. Now what? There are two options for bidding online – either do it in person on your computer, or you can set a maximum bid in advance. This means you don’t even have to be online when the auction occurs for your bids to be placed. The auction website will only ever bid enough to keep you in the lead, and only bid up to your max price. This is a handy way to ensure you stick to your budget if you know you’ll be tempted to over-bid otherwise!

If you’re going to bid live, it’s an exciting time, sometimes with live audio and video feeds. Even if you’ve set a max bid, you might want to view the auction live, just in case you’re outbid and want to change your mind about the price you’re willing to pay. BUT don’t forget that the auctioneers will add on commission to the sale price at the end of the auction so it WILL cost you more on top. Of course, you will have already checked the fees involved before you bid, right?

Real live auctions are FAST, so here are some tips to get the best from your bidding experience:          

  • Turn on your computer and log into the auction site with plenty of time to spare. Grab a cup of coffee and wait for your item to come up.
  • If you’ve never bid in an online auction before it’s a good idea to observe a one or two live auctions without bidding to gain confidence and to see the process. It’s actually quite exciting to watch!
  • Stick to your budget – it’s easy to get carried away and spend more than you intended to, especially if you don’t want to lose the item. Even so, there has to be limit otherwise you might regret your purchase if you over-spend on it. 

WINNING

Winning is great fun! When that hammer falls in your favour you can give yourself a mini high-five and do a celebratory dance (not something you would probably do if you were at the auction house itself!). When you’ve won, you will be contacted by the auctioneer to arrange payment and delivery/collection of your item. Congratulations!

I hope today’s blog post has given you the confidence to start buying from auctions and maybe you’ll be able to find your dream vintage item if you search and bid online. Let me know if you’ve bagged yourself a bargain at auction in the comments below, I’d love to hear what you found!

I upcycled this old leather chair and now it’s a favourite piece

PIN IT FOR LATER…



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Cassie is a freelance writer with a Masters degree in lifestyle promotion studies. She loves to 'get the look for less' so regularly shares thrifty fashion posts, DIY interior design ideas and low-cost recipes on her blog.

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