All You'll Ever Need To Know About Attending An Auction

All You'll Ever Need To Know About Attending An Auction

Sarah Rae Smith
Sep 28, 2010

In the past I've made a mention (or two or three) about my love for auctions. Long gone are the days spent trolling the thrift stores for an occasional find, now I study auction listings and head out of the house after the exact pieces I'm looking for. I've never been more thrifty and am convinced that everyone should be partaking in the awesomeness that is attending an auction. Ever been? Here's all you need to know!

During my time at Apartment Therapy, I've been rather vocal about my love for auctions. It's probably not a secret for regular readers, but to make sure everyone is on the same page, I'd love to recap some of my favorite auction posts from days gone by and then give you a few tips and tricks to make each auction you attend a success. I promise it will be more fun than it sounds…ready? Here goes:

When I was auditioning to be a contributor, my first ever post was all about auctions. It was titled, I've Got 2, Who'll Give me 3? To this day, it's still one of my favorite representations of auction day and even though I'm sort of over all the little things that find new homes (usually I'm on a hunt for furniture only) it's a great look at some of the oddities you'll find.

Next I moved onto bigger auctions, ones held by colleges and universities. The things they put on the auction block are straight up ridiculous. There's everything from lab gear to wardrobes to card catalogs and go carts. Many universities across the country (and we'd think world) have something like this, so get in touch with the one near you and find out what website, mailing list or phone chain you need to get on to take part. Take a tour of this auction in Lincoln, Nebraska and be amazed!

• On What To Look For: There's also lots of information to be had about what to look for when you're at an auction ready to bid on furniture, make sure to check out this post on some of the sneaky ways to investigate your furniture without letting on that you're interested (the less people bidding the better!). Be on the lookout for chips, dents, cracks and holes before you get a piece home!

• The Government Auction Site: Government auctions are always happening and they're really isn't much word of mouth on them outside of this one particular site. Find everything from worktables and computer parts to vehicles and giant chalkboards!

• Commercial Auctions: Usually these auctions are for restaurants and businesses. Most often there will be one or two auction houses in town that will buy up closed establishments and then re-auction their goods. We've found washer and dryers, chairs and kitchen prep equipment for some serious bargain basement prices! Check out this post with a little more information on attending.

• Auctionzip: This is the first place to start with finding auctions in your area. All you do is key in your zip code and how far you're willing to drive — and up come the results. Make sure to check auctioneers personal websites for extra photos and details about payment.

10 Tips & Tricks To Making Every Auction Awesome

1. Food & Beverage: The key to standing in the hot sun or chilly snow in hopes of scoring some Eames chairs for less than a Big Mac is food. It sounds silly, but once you're there, you're invested. Eat before you go, bring a large drink, pack some snacks, pack a whole lunch in a cooler if you want! Sometimes things will move fast and other times you should plan on spending 4-5 hours waiting.

2. Dress For the Weather: Bring scarves, hats, gloves, mittens, or even a pair of shoes that you don't mind getting wet or dirty in mud. Usually the grounds for an auction will have been trampled during the set up, so any grass will now be mud — and if it's rained recently, it's worse. Come prepared, it's not a fashion show, though we will say there are advantages to dressing unassumingly or like you have some cash to spend. One lets you sneak by on people's radar, the other makes you look like you're ready to do some real bidding.

3. Bring ID, Cash & Check: All auctions will require some form of identification. Make sure you have it on hand when you register for a number. There will always be a table, trailer or booth set up to take your information and give you a card with your bidder number on it. Some auctions are cash only, others take check and credit/debit cards. Check online or call before you go so you know what you're in for and be prepared to pay up to 10% in buyers premiums at some places.

4. Don't Draw Attention to Yourself: Being able to fly under the radar means people don't bother with you. You don't appear to be a threat and therefor they are taken off guard when you start bidding on something they want. If you're checking out a Mid Century dresser and giving it a really good once over and people see you doing so, they mentally prepare themselves to do battle with you if they're after the same piece. Instead, calmly check over things while walking through the grounds and tables in a casual manner. Be quick, specific in what you look at and move on. There's nothing wrong with going back through a few times, but try to avoid pointing, talking loud or making phone calls about what you'll be bidding on (seriously, it's a battlefield out there).

5. Master "The Stare": One of my prized possessions (that I've since sold) was a Saarinen dining set. The husband and wife team that wanted to put it outside on their patio to hold plants (be still my heart) were dressed head to toe in Garth Brooks leather jackets from his last concert. They kept talking about how they wanted something that didn't cost much and they could trash in a few months when they bought something from Sears. I had to rescue the pieces didn't I? I did! The ability to have a cold dead stare without looking to a significant other for approval of price and bidding is a powerful thing. To keep eye contact without connecting with them — showing no fault or chance of backing down — stopped their bidding at $40 for the set, instead of the several thousand it should have gone for.

6. Mix Boxes: Often times things will be set in cardboard boxes or lids so like items are grouped together, or so things can be sold in lots. Instead of having to buy up 6 boxes you like one item in, try being a little sly and mixing and matching so you can fight for the one you want. Even if you have to pay more it's worth it!

7. Speed Dial: Have a friend's phone number (who has a truck) on hand, the number to your closest U-Haul or someone advertising delivery services on Craigslist. There's lots of people that will move a dresser for $25 and when you bought it for $2, then it's money well spent.

8. Let The Bidding Go Low Before Starting to Bid: Most auctioneers will start bidding on an item at the price they would like to get for it. Sure, if we were all nice people, we would just start bidding then, but instead, they'll go lower, all the way down to a dollar or less to get an auction started. Let them, then buy your new sofa for $5 instead of $50!

9. Kill the Chit Chat: Even if standing around for a few hours seems rather boring, it's almost a proven fact that the second you start talking, you'll miss something important. We've had auctioneers buy up items themselves when we weren't looking, missed entire bids or even skipped over items we'd like to have bought. Texting is always good (or emails), even if it's just being sent to the person standing next to you.

10. Pee Before You Go: Sometimes auctions will allow you to use the facilities on site, sometimes they don't exist. Going before you get there is always a bonus. At larger auctions this shouldn't be an issue, especially if you're going to a specific auction house with higher end items, but for a typical estate and personal property auction, it's best to go before you get there!

Do you have any tips to add to this massive run down of auction information? What have you learned over your years of auction hunting? Let us know in the comments below!

Images: Sarah Rae Trover

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