Bidding and winning at auctions can be a fun and exciting way of shopping for antique and vintage items. Last weekend, I joined a couple thousand bidders at an Amish farm for a consignment auction. Lavern Yutzy and his team auctioned off furniture, household items, plants and trees, yard equipment, farm implements, vehicles and livestock. All of the property had been brought to the Yutzy farm to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Although most of the items there I had no need for, there were a few things I was immediately interested in and they brought me back for both days of the auction. Being a successful bidder at an auction is a great way to buy unique items at discounted prices. Follow my simple tips and you can be bidding and winning like a professional in no time.
The first step in auction success is to attend a preview. You will want to check out all the items being offered in advance of the start of the auction. This will allow you to carefully inspect anything you are interested in without the pressure of having to decide in less than a minute if you want the item or not. Pick the item up, turn it over, look for labels or clues as to its age and origin. Will it need repair or has it been repaired in the past? The condition of the item should impact its value. Bring along a camera and take pictures of the item so you can do more research at home. Bring along a notebook and a pen to record the items you are interested in as well as their lot number (a number that identifies the specific item during the auction) so that you can track them later once the auction begins. You may also want to bring along a measuring tape to record the size of something. This is especially important with furniture. You may be viewing it in a large space which will make it harder to correctly assess the scale of the piece. You want to make sure that it will fit into your car, through the door and to the spot you envision it in your home. Remember to check into what the payment terms are at the auction so you bring along enough cash, credit cards or checks as will be needed.
Back at home, do research on the items you are interested in, especially those of greater value such as antiques. Look up manufacturers and read reviews. What do other people think of the item? Has theirs been a good buy or do they regret it? Check on eBay or Amazon and see what similar items are currently being offered and at what price. All of this information will tell you if you should continue to be interested in your find or if you will abandon this particular item. If you know you do want to buy this item, this is the time to establish in your mind what your maximum price would be. Doing this at home will help you make rational choices that aren’t feed by the excitement of the auction environment.
Also while you are at home, prepare your auction kit. You will want to put together everything you need to safely bring home the items you won. The auction site is not responsible for providing bags or packaging. You may want to bring along some old newspapers or bubble wrap to cushion breakables like china or glass. You may need to bring some shopping bags or boxes to cluster together smaller items you buy during the sale. This will make it easier to bring them back to your car out in the parking lot. If you plan on buying furniture, you may want some blankets to cushion around the items and prevent them from knocking into each other in your vehicle. Whatever you expect to bring home, you will want to have a plan for getting them home safely. Make sure to bring your list of items, lot numbers and pricing info you created with you to the auction.
On the day of the auction, you will need to register as a bidder and receive your bidding number. You can expect to fill out a form that lists your name, address, phone number and drivers license number. Guard your number closely and don’t lose you. You will be held responsible for any bids won under that number and will be expected to pay for everything. My neighbor in the seat next to me at the auction last weekend, put her bidding number into one of those name badge and lanyard combos you always get at conferences. I thought that was a great system as she always had it ready to show when she won an item. She also kept her item list in there as well so it was easy to get to.
Blend in while at the auction and don’t draw attention to yourself or the items you are interested in. You can expect that within the crowd there will be some professionals who attend auctions to find items for their antique stores, flea markets or eBay shops. They do this for a living and they are experienced in finding items of value within quantities of junk. Your goal should only to be to acquire what you like and what you know about. Your first auctions are not your time to speculate on values and hope to flip an item and turn a profit. When you have found something you like, spend as much time with it and show as much interest in it as you do with everything you could care less about. The more attention you give an item, the more it sends up a flag to everyone else that there is something of interest. That will only increase your rival bidders and the eventual price you will pay. This is another reason I like to go in advance of the auction when there are less people milling about. When you win or lose an item, do so graciously. Celebrate or vent later, after the auction. You do not want to stimulate anyone’s competitiveness so that they want to beat you in future bids.
Once its time for the auction to begin, get a seat up towards the front so you can easily pay attention. Just like in school, you will have an easier time at the front, instead of the back. Listen to the auctioneer closely so you can tell how he offers items, what it sounds like when he offers higher prices, what his version of “going, going, gone” is so that you won’t misunderstand when its an item you care about. Start by bidding on an item you have “lukewarm” interest in so you can try it out before it really counts. Hold your hand up, nod, make eye contact with the auctioneer or his staff. Make it clear when you are bidding so they know how to read you just as you learn how to read them. If they don’t see you, speak up or stand up. If they miss you and the item sells, you are out of luck. Bidding is the time to make yourself be known.
Be an ethical bidder. Put in a bid early so the floor knows that you are interested in an item. You don’t have to hang in there going toe-to-toe with all the others, as that will drive up the price, but people should know you are interested and bidding. Do not dive bomb in at the last minute and place your first bid when the sale is close to closing. It may result in the price staying lower but it will be a good way to alienate other bidders and make them want to see you lose in the future.
When the auctioneer presents an item and opens bidding, he will suggest an opening bid price. If no one accepts, the price of the item will continue to go down until someone is willing to start the bidding. As someone new to an auction, I would suggest you let more experienced people start with the opening bid. They can help establish where things start from. If you jump in too early, the result may be a higher final bid and it will cost you more across the sale. Remember, in the end, the only bid that matters is the last bid not who was first to bid.
What’s a fair price? There are a lot of factors that go into determining what a fair price is and it will be different for each person. The auctioneer and the seller want the price to be as high as possible as that will give them the most commission and profit. The buyer wants the price as low as possible as that will bring the most savings. If the buyer is a dealer or store owner, the price they buy an item at has to be low enough for them to be able to resell an item with overhead expenses and profit added in. That will work to your advantage as you will be able to outbid the dealers as you want a price that is lower than you would pay if you purchased the item in the store. If you are buying something special that say completes a set such as the last plate needed in a collection to be able to seat eight at your table, you may be willing to pay more than market value because the item is dearer to you. Ultimately, the fair price is one you can feel good about paying for the item you want. The organ pictured above was sold for only $2.
Keep in mind that you will not, nor should you, win every item you bid for. Sometimes the bids will increase to a price higher than your preset limit. If that happens, you should make yourself stop bidding. Maybe others know something you don’t and the item is worth more than you projected. If your budget only allows for you to spend so much on an item, you should honor that limit and not bid beyond it unless you are willing to not bid on other items coming up later that will require the money. If you have a hard time sticking to limits, you should consider only bringing cash with you so that when you are out, you are out. Do not let yourself get drawn into the excitement of the auction and bid away with abandon. Also don’t bid just to win or because you lost the last time. You only win when you buy what you want at a price that is fair and you can afford. Remember, sometimes winning at auctions means walking away from an item and not taking it home.
Keep a running list of bids you have won. You will want to track for yourself the details of your winning bid. Record what the item is, its lot number, how many of them there were (if you bought multiple items) and the amount of your winning bid. When you visit the cashier at the end of your bidding day, it will give you a double check with the records of the auction as to what you have won and the total price so that the day can end happy for everyone. Be sure to hang on to your receipts, too. You will need to show those as you exit the site with your car to prove you own everything within it. You may also want those records later when you are establishing value of your property for insurance or resale purposes.
Looking for other ways to gain some confidence before you head out to your first auction? Consider watching some professionals at work. There are many reality TV shows now that feature people at auctions. You might want to check out ‘Baggage Battles’ on the Travel Channel or ‘Storage Wars’ on A&E. Both programs feature experienced professionals bidding on lots of items. The shows feature items being examined in advance of an auction and follows them through the bidding process and appraisals afterward. The people featured share their experience with the viewers on what they look for, what excites them and when they walk away from something. You can learn a lot from their successes and failures.
Wondering how my bidding turned out? I certainly didn’t win every item I bid on. I did win both the items that were my main goals. The first was a camel saddle, which is the odd looking wood item with the pommels on each end pictured three photos from the top. I’m not exactly sure how a camel saddle ended up at an Amish Farm Auction but I did get it for a very cheap price, especially by what I found them offered for on the internet so I know I came out way ahead on this one. The other item I really wanted more than all the others was the loom pictured above. It’s funny that the loom and the camel saddle happened to be next to each other on the display table. Ever since I took weaving lessons in Laos last year, I have been wanting more opportunities to practice weaving. Now I have a loom of my own and am excited to take some more lessons locally to learn more about this particular model. I did buy some smaller items that came up during the day such as some Roseville pottery jugs, bean pots and canisters for extraordinarily prices. I also purchased some vintage marbles in special colors and some antique rug beaters. The largest item I came home with is a wonderful antique rocker that was too beautiful to pass up at just $35. Now to find a space for it!
I hope you are encouraged to try visiting an auction and bidding on some items. Especially if you like vintage or antique treasures, an auction is a great way to acquire pieces for a much lower price than you would pay for them in a store. Plus attending an auction can be a lot of fun as well as rewarding. If you would like to learn more about the auction I attended, please see my previous post Explore an Amish Farm Auction.
Have you ever attended an auction? What was your best find? What item got away? What are your tips for winning at auctions consistently?
Until we shop again,
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