Going, going . . . . how to bid at auction – and why you should.

This weekend I went to an auction house for the first time in about a year – and remembered why I love them so much. Auction houses are absolutely the best way I can think of to furnish a home with style when funds are tight.

Six or seven years ago, on moving into my house with little furniture to my name, I went to auctions most weeks. I couldn’t understand then – and still can’t – why anyone would go to a store and spend £60 on a build-it-yourself chest of drawers when, for the same price auction rooms are offering items a hundred times better in terms of both quality and style.

Now, though always on the lookout for unusual furniture, I’m mainly interested in smaller stuff. This weekend I got a couple of interesting things for the bathroom. This little lady is slightly dusty, but when polished up she’s going to make the most glamorous soap dish you ever did see.

And I got four of these Art Nouveau coat hooks to hang dressing gowns and towels.

Right enough, I didn’t always love auctions. They used to scare me. I worried a lot about scratching my nose and inadvertently paying £500 for a set of miniature china donkeys. Now though I’ve realised that auctioneers are trained to recognise rookies. You won’t end up paying for a Ming vase by mistake. Here are some tips I slowly learned on my auction trawls:

How to bid at auction

1) Play it cool: Love that birdcage so much you’re prepared to hock your house for it? Don’t let on. Always start your bidding small – you might find there’s less competition that you’d expect.

2) Get there early: This gives you plenty of time to properly view the goods before the auction starts and to make a clear-headed judgement about what you’re prepared to pay. Many auction rooms offer a preview the night before the sale so you can decide which items you really want and what you’re prepared to pay before you get caught up in the thrill of the chase.

3) Set a limit: Then stick to it! Do not get drawn into a bidding war – no matter how much fun it may seem at the time. Auctions bring out your competitive side but will you still feel like a winner when you’ve paid £100 more than you planned? I once got drawn into a bidding war on a painting. I loved it and had set a limit of £150. So why was I still sticking up my hand when bidding reached £400? Because I didn’t want to lose. Thank God my competitor had more money (or just more nerve) than me and kept bidding till the point when even I recognised it was getting out of hand.

If shabby chic’s your thing you’ll do better at auction than Ikea

4) Stick to the classic stuff. Some auction rooms sell modern things like vacuum cleaners and those funny contraptions for doing stomach exercises. Steer clear and stick to what the auction does best. Go for the old goods: vintage mirrors, an antique desk, maybe a handcarved wardrobe.

5) Remember the fees: In addition to the hammer price, you’ll typically pay 15-20% commission plus VAT when paying for goods. For big ticket items that could add up to a hefty sum so you’ll need to factor it in when bidding.

6) Browse first, buy later: If you’re still nervous about bidding, just go along to an auction for a nosey to find out how they work. Refuse a ‘paddle’ when it’s offered – you need this to bid, so without one you’re safe! Whether you’re planning to buy or not, a morning at an auction room, followed by a coffee with a friend is a cheap, chic day out. Throw in a visit to a couple of vintage shops and you’ve got my idea of the perfect Saturday.

Real auctions are far more fun than ebay and just sniffing around them costs nothing at all (or sometimes a titchy entrance fee). Want more auction how-to’s? Ta-dah! Here’s a post on the best things to buy at auction. 

3 thoughts on “Going, going . . . . how to bid at auction – and why you should.

  1. dan

    Do you know what the value is on the lady shell soap dish thing? I found one years ago at a construction site and have always wondered if it is rare/valuable? Please respond and let me know if you have any information on it.

    Thanks,
    Dan

    • Hi Dan,
      I don’t know either but I’d love to have it valued! So you’ve got one too, eh? I wonder how many are around? If I ever do get it valued I will let you know!! Perhaps we’re both sitting on a fortune!

  2. […] Monday’s post I shared some of the tips I’ve learned from years of going to auctions. In Skint’s […]

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