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How to buy and sell at auction

How to Buy at Auction “Who will start me…?” Auctions are one of the most exciting ways in which to buy antiques and collectables but beware; you might catch the collecting bug! Many first-timers feel intimidated when attending an auction, but there’s no need to be. Our advice is first to familiarise yourself with all the procedures before you decide to take the plunge and make a bid. You don’t want to wake up from “auction fever” and find you’re walking away with something you’ll need a second mortgage to pay for.

We would recommend that you first attend a couple of sales at your local auction house simply as an observer and note how they proceed and how the auctioneer operates. Salerooms are a great place to learn about antiques, and you’ll meet some fascinating characters who frequent the place. Make friends with them and they’ll teach you a great deal. Look up regions on to find a saleroom near you. In addition to auctions of fine art and antiques, most of them include general sales in their calendars at which you can find anything from bicycles to bric-a-brac. Most auction houses provide a catalogue prior to the auction listing all the items for sale. They are obtained either directly from the auction house or viewed or downloaded from a web site such as www.ukauctioneers. com.

The catalogue may be a typed sheet which is given away free, or a glossy illustrated brochure costing several pounds, but all have the same things in common. They contain valuable information about the items for sale including a description, provenance and estimates.

Many catalogues also print estimates - a price range showing what the auctioneer expects each lot will make at the auction. These estimates are intended only as a guide. Sometimes a lot sells well above the printed estimates, depending how keen bidders are to acquire it. Most lots have a reserve price. This is the minimum price at which the owner is prepared to sell his property. Reserves are confidential between the seller and the auctioneer. They are agreed before the sale and are never disclosed to buyers.

Objects are occasionally offered “without reserve”, indicating that they are for sale at any price, however low that might be. Note:

All catalogues should include the saleroom’s Conditions of Sale. You should read these carefully as they differ from company to company. In addition to disclosing the fees charged by the auctioneer to both the buyer (buyer’s premium) and the seller (vendor’s commission), the Conditions of Sale also indicate your rights as a user of the saleroom’s services. The rate of buyer’s premium varies from saleroom to saleroom but is usually between 8% and 20%. Value Added Tax at the rate of 20% is charged on the premium, and in some cases, also on the selling price (hammer price) but in such instances this is clearly marked in the catalogue. Remember to take into account these additional charges when you are deciding what your maximum bid on a lot should be.

Bidding at Auction There are different ways you can bid at auction:

In person

If you wish to attend a sale and bid yourself you will need to register first. Some salerooms get very busy just before a sale, so allow yourself sufficient time to complete the process. Most salerooms will ask for your name, address, contact numbers and some other form of identification such as a driving license in order for you to receive a bidding paddle, usually a numbered card. You can then use this to bid during the sale, and if successful, the auctioneer will ask for your paddle n u m b e r. In some salerooms you will need to fill in a form only when you have bought something.

Arrive early if you want a seat, but remember that lots are usually sold at a pace of approximately 100 - 130 lots an hour, so it may take a while to get to your lot. The sale always operates in lot number order. When your lot comes up, the auctioneer will invite bids and call them out in regular increments as buyers respond. These depend on the value of the piece being offered and can

Bidding at Auction be increases of £5, £10, £20, £50, £100 or more at a time. Listen to other lots being sold and you’ll soon get the hang of the bidding increments. If you wish to join in, bid clearly by raising your paddle. Be forthright. If necessary, wave your paddle or catalogue to attract the auctioneer’s attention. If he still fails to see you, speak your bid by saying the figure, or say “here” or “bidding”. This is unlikely to be necessary as the auctioneer is trained to spot all bids. Once he has taken your first bid, he will return to you as other bids are placed, by which time a nod of the head or raising your paddle will suffice. Remember the auctioneer can take bids from only two people at one time, so be patient. And if the bidding goes higher than you intended to pay, indicate that you have dropped out by a clear shake of the head. Whoever enters the final, highest bid wins the

item and this is indicated by the auctioneer who knocks down his hammer on the rostrum and announces the buyer’s paddle number. The selling price is known as the ‘hammer price’. The auctioneer or his clerk then record these details and the bidding moves on to the next lot. Finally, it’s easy to get carried away, so remember your maximum bid and stick to it! And don’t worry that a careless movement of your hand or an ill-timed sneeze will land you with a valuable piece you can’t afford. It won’t!

Bidding at Auction Key points for attending the auction in person:

1 You’ll need to register and

provide bank card details and proof of identity to receive a numbered paddle to bid with

2 The auctioneer will open

the bidding. When the auctioneer calls out a price and you wish to bid, look directly at the auctioneer and raise your paddle

3 If your bid is accepted, the auctioneer will look at or point to you, and will bounce increasingly higher bids between you and other bidders until one wins

4 Bids increase in amounts

of £5, £10, £20, £50 or £100 depending on the sum. Nod or briefly wave your paddle to accept each bid. (don’t leave your paddle up between bids just because you haven’t reached your limit yet)

5 When you want to stop bidding shake your head, lower your paddle and look away

6 If you win an item,

remember you will have to pay a “buyer’s premium” on top of the hammer price. This ranges from 15-25% of the hammer price. Other taxes and VAT may also apply

7 Once you’ve paid, take the

item away with you on the day or collect it as soon as possible, otherwise storage charges may apply

8 Check out the Auction

houses delivery options before the sale; as they will rarely deliver items but are usually happy to recommend couriers who will

We recommend trying

Bidding at Auction Leave a Commission or Absentee Bid

If you cannot attend the sale in person, or you’d rather not bid yourself, you can leave a “commission” or “absentee bid”. This will also ensure that you don’t go over your maximum bid! You can do this either at the saleroom, or online at www.ukauctioneers. com. Simply complete a bidding form with your details

and the lot(s) you want to bid on, putting the maximum amount you are prepared to pay (hammer price). Don’t forget the buyer’s commission is then added on top of the hammer price, so bear this in mind when working out your maximum total price. The auctioneer will then bid on your behalf and will try to secure the lot(s) for you at the lowest price possible as other bidding permits.

Bidding at Auction Live On-line Bidding

Many auctioneers now offer absent buyers the opportunity to participate in a sale by using live bidding services such as This enables buyers to bid from their own computers wherever they are in the world. This alleviates the need to leave a commission bid and allows you to still feel you’re taking part in the auction as you can hear and sometimes see the auctioneer throughout the sale. At as well as live bidding they allow you to leave an “autobid” which can be left before or during the sale. The system then bids on your behalf automatically up to your top bid and without the auctioneer seeing that amount; as he would in a normal commission/ absentee bid. The live bidding service allows you to bid at auctions all over the UK without the

travelling expenses and is still an exciting way to bid for lots; just remember to check the delivery policies of the various auctions that you may be tempted to bid at. There are additional charges for live bidding; once again see terms and conditions of the auction house you are bidding at and see charges of the live bidding provider when you register to use the service.

Bidding at Auction Key points for bidding live

1 Register to bid live in plenty

of time for the sale. You will be expected to leave credit/ debit card details as proof of ID before bidding.

2 Phone or email the auction

house if you require more information about a particular lot, this is especially important if you are going to buy online without viewing the item. The auction houses who use live bidding services should be geared up for dealing with this type of enquiry before the sale.

3 When bidding live you

can set alarms to sound and alert you just before your lot comes up for sale; handy if you have left you computer to make a quick cuppa.

4 You will normally receive an invoice by email if you are successful and you must then pay and collect asap after the sale so that you don’t incur any storage charges.

Telephone Bidding

With the growing popularity of live bidding, telephone bidding is being used less frequently. However, auctioneers still provide the service but because telephone lines are limited, telephone bidding may be reserved for the more expensive lots in an auction.

Paying for your lots

Payment options should also be checked in the Conditions of Business. Most salerooms accept payment by credit card and some impose a charge for providing the facility. Information is also given on how much time buyers are allowed to pay for and collect their purchases and what storage charges are incurred if purchases are not collected promptly.

Selling at Auction How to Sell at Auction If you have a desirable item you would like to sell, an auction sale is worth considering. Competitive bidding from dealers and collectors in an auction in which the piece is seen by a wider audience can result in a better price than selling through other sources, especially if it is sold in a specialist sale and is listed on the internet. However, you may have to wait some weeks for a suitable sale and there will be a further delay before you receive the proceeds, minus the auctioneer’s charges for his services (vendor’s commission). If you are selling a large item or many items, you can ask an auction house valuer for an appraisal at your home. This is usually a free service. Otherwise, you should take your items to the auction house to be valued. Some auctioneers put aside a specific time each week or month to conduct valuation

days but be sure to make an appointment to ensure the valuer is available.

As the valuer examines your property, he will ask you for any information you may have about it, such as how it came into your possession and how long you have owned it. Was it owned by a celebrity or did it come from a well known house or family? All this helps identify the history of the piece, known as its “provenance”, which can help in its identification and boost its value. Using his specialist knowledge, the valuer will explain what he knows about your property. He’ll tell you where, when and by whom it was made, as well as what he expects it could fetch at auction.

Selling at Auction Estimates are based on the condition, rarity and history of an object, as well as careful consideration of prices realised for similar objects. The valuer will also recommend what “reserve” price should be set in an auction. The reserve is the confidential lowest price at which you are prepared to sell and this is agreed between you and the valuer. The auction house sells your property on your behalf. For this service you will be charged a seller’s commission (usually between 10 and 20%, depending on the auction house), which is deducted from the selling (hammer) price. Value Added Tax at the rate of 20% is charged on the commission and insurance of your property while it is in the auctioneer’s possession.

If your item is photographed and illustrated in the catalogue, or website you may be charged a fee to cover the costs. The catalogues will then be mailed, posted on-line or e-mailed to potential buyers. Your item will then be included in the ‘view’ in the days leading up to the auction. This allows potential buyers to get a feel for your item and examine it before the day of the auction. If the piece does not reach its reserve in the auction, it will not be sold, and, depending on the auction house, you may incur an unsold fee. In such a case, you can either instruct the auctioneer to offer the piece in a future sale, but perhaps at a lower reserve, or keep it until its value rises.

Selling at Auction Key points for selling at auction

1 Your item/s will be handled

by a specialist who will value and advise of any reserves and make a description of it ready for auction

2 It will be viewed by potential

buyers through the auction house catalogue, websites and ‘view’ before auction day

3 The item will be sold on the day

of the auction to the highest bidder


Tel: 01244 345933 Mobile: 07860 123421 E-mail:


Eileen McCarthy




Tel: 01244 345933 Mobile: 07860 123421 E-mail:

Eileen McCarthy

How to buy antiques at auction  

A booklet of advice and hints and tips on how to buy and sell at auction

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