What you need to do and to NOT do at an auction

Thinking about attending your first auction? Good idea. Auctions are incredibly entertaining and provide for some great opportunities to find treasures at good prices. But there are some things you need to know before you go to your first auction.

Check the payment terms of the auction.

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Make sure the auction house accepts checks or credit cards if those are how you plan to pay. Some auction houses charge extra for credit card payments. Most auctions charge a buyer's premium on top of the "hammer price." Usually this is somewhere between 10 and 20% of the hammer price. 

Register as a bidder. 

When you get there, make sure to register and get a bidding "paddle." This usually only involves providing your name and a driver's license. You'll be given a piece of paper or cardboard to hold up when you're bidding. If you win something, it will be tracked by your bidder number. 

Do attend the preview.

Attend the preview to inspect the goods even if you’ve seen photos in an auction catalog. Seeing and touching make a huge difference. Make sure it’s possible -- and won’t cost too much -- to repair damaged pieces. And you can ask the auction staff questions about where the items are from and who has authenticated them.

Don’t show too much excitement.

Stay calm during the preview when you find items you want to acquire. You don’t want to announce your intentions to other bidders. You may end up increasing your competition if you call attention to specific pieces. If they didn’t notice your favorites at first glance, don’t give them a reason to go back for a second look.

Do set a maximum you’re willing to spend.

Set a maximum you're willing to pay for each item of interest, and then stick to it. It’s all too easy to get caught up in auction fever and bid far more than you intended. If you doubt your willpower, attend with a friend so you can keep each other accountable.

Don’t ​get into a bidding war.

Don't get involved in a bidding war just because you’re feeling competitive. If you get caught up in beating the other bidder, you may end up wishing you’d lost once the auction ends and you’re committed to a high price.

Do expect the best deals in the afternoon.

As early-morning bidders run out of money and energy, you’ll have less competition for the winning bid.

Do start bidding when your item is up.

Auctions move fast. If you hesitate too long, the hammer may come down before you’ve worked up the courage to bid.

Don’t bid if you’re not sure you want to buy.

If yours is the winning bid, you’re committed to the purchase. You can’t change your mind after the hammer falls.

Don't start nodding away at the auctioneer.

And whatever you do, do NOT nod away at the auctioneer. I once brought a friend to her first auction. She was interested in a room size antique Persian Bokhara rug that was on the block. The bidding started at $300 and went up in increments of $50. She raised her bidder number to secure the $550 mark. But then she kept looking at the auctioneer and smiling and nodding as other bidders keep bidding the price up. When the auctioneer cried out "SOLD" at the $850 mark, she had won. And she had no idea. Do NOT continue to make eye contact with the auctioneer unless you intend to keep bidding!

If you're ready to try your first auction, you need not go any further than Plainfield. There will be a Spring Estate Auction on Friday at the William A. Smith Auction house. See what will be going on the block here.


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