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Art Auctions

Buying art and antiques at auction can be intimidating if you are unfamiliar with the procedures, but enjoyable and rewarding if you do. Here are tips for getting started:

  • Get your feet wet by attending auctions as a spectator. Sit in the back and observe. Resist the urge to bid until you learn how auctions work.
  • Know the registration requirements for bidding. Unless you have an account with the auctioneer, you may have to establish creditworthiness prior to the auction. Similary, understand in advance the acceptable forms of payment and when payment must be made.
  • If you intend to bid, closely examine the objects that interest you as far in advance as possible. At the better auction houses, items are exhibited for several days. Conduct research commensurate with how much you expect to bid. Do not bid significant sums of money unless you know the object’s value. If you expect to spend a lot, consult an independent appraiser or other expert in advance.
  • Know what guarantees, if any, that the auction house gives to you, and what your recourse is if the item later proves to be inauthentic or defective.
  • Some auction houses charge a “buyer’s premium.” This is a commission on top of the “hammer price” (where bidding closes). If the hammer price is $1,000 and the buyer’s premium is 20%, the winning bidder actually pays $1,200. Also, your purchase may be subject to sales tax. If so, tax probably will be imposed on the combined total of hammer price and buyer’s premium.
  • If the item that you want will require shipping, compare the auctioneer’s shipping rates to what you might pay by hiring your own shipper. Do this in advance of the auction, so that you can enter appropriate instructions if you are the winning bidder. Also, do advance research on shipping insurance rates.
  • Be mindful of whether you can or must (if you bid successfully) take the item with you that day or pick it up on another day. If the auctioneer will hold an item for you beyond the stipulated pick-up date, be aware that you may incur storage charges.
  • Carefully budget the maximum that you will spend long before the auction begins. To budget, make hard decisions in advance about what you really would like to have and what you do not like as much. Set priorities and determine a maximum amount that you will bid on each item that interests you. If the bidding goes beyond this, walk away from the object. And set a maximum that you will spend during the entire auction. Once you hit this maximum, financial prudence suggests that you do not bid on any other items.
  • Some items have a “reserve” (minimum) price. The bidding may start below this price, but the sale is cancelled if it is not met. In reputable auctions you will be advised if there is a reserve price on an item, but the amount normally is secret. Bargains are more likely on items offered “without reserve.”

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