I used to be really intimidated by auctions. I grew up going to auctions with my parents, who are antique collectors, but I never paid enough attention to learn anything; I’ve just had to learn these things through my own experience. When my mom, sister, and I started a booth space at Logan Village Mall in Historic Downtown Noblesville, I got talked into attending an auction with them. We offer unique home decor, furniture, antiques, gifts, and handmade and repurposed items. There really is no better place to find these things, especially for great prices, than auctions. Once you go to one (as long as it’s a good one), you’ll be hooked! Now I attend auctions for things for my own home, in addition to items for our booth.
You can find all kinds of stuff at auctions—tools, lawn care and farming equipment, sporting gear, kitchenware, furniture, antiques, collectibles, and even automobiles. Don’t count out an auction just because all the stuff is old…yes, it’s old, and it’s even USED! I can totally understand why people might be turned off by that, but if you’re thrifty, let me tell you—just give it a chance! If you like the thrill of a great deal, this will be your new hobby. And P.S., you find new and next-to-new items at auctions, too. They’re not just for those of us in the vintage realm.
Auctionzip.com is your best friend. You can put in your zip code and find auctions in your area. The auction services list the types of items and post pictures of many of the items they will be auctioning. You’ll definitely want to check out the pictures to see if this is an auction you’re interested in attending. I usually look for auctions that have many items I’m interested in, as I don’t want to waste my time going for one item with which I’m not guaranteed to walk out.
When you find an auction you’re interested in, here are some things to remember:
Show up about 15 minutes early, if you can. That way, you’ll have a chance to look at all the items up close before the auction actually starts. Once the item is sold to you, it’s final. I’ve bid on items impulsively before that I can only see from my seat, only to be disappointed when I got them in my hands and realized they were broken, stained, etc. Most auctioneers will let you walk around and inspect items during the auction, but you might miss something, as they won’t be taking a break while you’re perusing!
Bring cash and/or checks with you, as well as a valid ID/driver’s license. Some auction companies will allow you to pay for your items with a card, but they will likely charge a buyer’s premium. It’s a good idea to check the information on Auctionzip.com, as accepted forms of payment are often mentioned in the auction listing. One good thing about cash is that it ensures that you stay on budget–once it’s gone, it’s gone. If you bring checks, you may just bid your little heart out and then feel it coming up in your throat when you’re writing your check and realize how much you’ve spent.
Get a number from the clerk. This may seem obvious, but you can’t bid without a number. They will usually ask to see your ID and for your telephone number. This is so they can track you down if you’re a scoundrel and leave without paying or write a bad check. Don’t do that.
While you’re getting your number, look for a sign describing the auctioneer’s policy on buyers’ premiums. Beware the buyer’s premiums–an extra percentage that is charged on each item you purchase. Not every auctioneer charges a buyers’ premium, but this charge is often used to cover his or her costs of the facility and such. They usually range from 5-10%, and this can certainly add up. Most auctioneers will also post on their auctionzip.com listing whether there will be a buyers’ premium and how much the buyers’ premium will be.
Decide in your mind what your top bid for an item is before you start bidding.
Wait to see if an auctioneer will go lower before raising your number (and if you didn’t know, this is how you bid. Other acceptable forms of bidding are raising your hand or yelling, “YEP!” Unless you’re an old man in overalls and cool enough to do this, I would suggest just raising your number like a normal person.) . For example, if the auctioneer starts out with a high number (even if it seems reasonable or is below the top bid you have in mind), wait to see if anyone bids at that price. If not, the auctioneer will be forced to offer a lower price, and a lower price again if no one bids. Don’t miss out on the item, but give it time to see how low the price could get. The auctioneer may be forced to go all the way down to $1 before anyone bids. You don’t want to bid at $20 if you could’ve gotten it for a $1…see what I mean? Are you smelling what I’m stepping in? Are you drinking my sake, Kimosabi?
Keep track of the things you purchase and your total. You can write these things on your number card. When you are the top bidder on an item, the auctioneer will need to see your number, and an assistant or clerk will write down the information. That’s how they will know what to charge you when you pay to leave. I suggest writing your own information down, A) so that you know which items to collect before you leave, how much money you’re spending, and how much money you have left to spend, if you brought cash, and B) to make sure your total matches up with what the clerk is charging you in the end. Don’t forget to include sales tax (unless it’s an estate sale, in which case no sales tax will be charged, at least in the state of Indiana) and buyer’s premium, if there is one.
If an auctioneer has several like items to sell, he may say that he’s auctioning these items “choice.” That means that if you’re the top bidder, you’re able to pick any of those items you want, and you can even take as many as you want. Just remember that the price applies to each item. For example, let’s say an auctioneer is selling five chairs, “choice”, and you’re the top bidder at $10. You can pick out one of those chairs for $10, or you can take as many as you want for $10 each. The slimmer the pickings get on those items, the lower the bids will most likely be. You can choose to bid higher when more of the items are available and have the best choice, or you can choose to bid lower and get a deal on what’s left over. Make sense?
If you purchase small items, you can go up and get them as soon as they are sold to you. If they are larger items that will need to be loaded in the car later, they will usually put those items off to the side or leave them sitting for you to take at the end. Don’t forget them, though!
That brings me to another good thing to keep in mind: don’t purchase things that won’t fit in your vehicle. If you don’t have a way to transport the item, even if it’s awesome—sorry, pal. You just can’t buy it. I’ve gotten in a bind where we’ve had to make calls on the spot and borrow trucks and such before. It causes a lot of stress, and we were just lucky to have people willing to help us right away. It is very rare to find an auction house that is willing to let you keep large items at the facility to come back and pick up at a later date.
If you are purchasing items to resell, keep in mind that you’ll want to make a profit. Don’t overpay for items. If you don’t think you’ll be able to get more than $20 for an item, don’t pay more than $10, especially if there’s any work that needs to be done to the item (painting, repairs, etc.).
Another tip for those who are purchasing to resell: bring your tax ID number and business license. As a vendor, items purchased for resale are tax exempt, but the auction service must have your business information on file.
You can leave before the auction is over, but you must pay before you load your stuff up in the car or take any items off the premises. My sister and I stayed at an auction for almost 8 hours last weekend, to the very end. I wouldn’t recommend it, but we wanted those deals and there was stuff we wanted that wasn’t for sale until the very end! I’ve never been to an auction that lasted that long, so don’t worry–it usually doesn’t require that much commitment!
Just have fun. Don’t get too bummed if someone bids you out on something you really wanted. Just buy some nachos at the concession stand and move on.
This is a useless tip, and really not a tip at all, but if there are Amish people at the auction, you know it’s going to be good. The coolest thing is when Amish people buy all these antique tools and butter churns and stuff and you know they’re going to go home and actually USE them. I like to imagine what they are thinking… “What the heck are these English people going to do with a washboard, hang it on the wall?! WHY?!”
Have fun, guys! I’m off to what looks to be a decent auction tomorrow night, myself! Let me know about your auction experiences in the comments below!
*These tips are based on lessons I have learned going to auctions in the state of Indiana. I’m assuming that auctions are pretty much the same everywhere (with the exception of getting in bidding wars with Amish people over antique tools), but I could be wrong.
Just a few examples of some of my favorite auction finds in my house. I bought the couch and chair together for $25…that’s $12.50 each. I mean, where else can you find a clean, like-new couch for $12.50?!
Our entertainment center–12 dolla bills, ya’ll! It had been a light wood stain with ribbons and flowers painted on the doors (your ’90s girly bedroom called and wants its cabinet back), but I saw the potential and threw some of my favorite Annie Sloan Chalk Paint in Old White on it. HEYO!
Old mirror turned chalkboard–$10! I sprayed painted the mirror with Krylon Chalkboard paint, and what do you think I used to paint the frame, that had been gold? Surprise! Annie Sloan in Old White :). So trusty!