Here are some useful tips if you've never bought anything on auction

Even if auctions are one of the oldest and easiest ways to shop, some things could seem tricky if you've never participated in an auction before. Here are some useful tips!

Examine the object's condition
Remember to thoroughly read the info about the object provided by the auction house. It's a description of its condition, origin, defects and other things of interest to the buyer. If the condition isn't thoroughly described, you should contact the auction house to be on the safe side. Often, the auction houses can also provide you with detailed images.

Double-check the measurements
It's also important to check the object's measurements in order to avoid unpleasant surprises, like accidentally buying a painting twice as big as expected, or if the envisaged reading chair turns out to be kid-sized.

What's a starting price?
Every object has a so called starting price which usually is based on an appraisal. It serves as guidance to the buyer and can often be seen as a mix between an appraisal and a entice price. The actual hammer price can be considerably below or above the starting price. The starting price should be seen as an indicator of what the auction house thinks is a reasonable price, but you should let the size of your own wallet determine the end price.

What's a reserve price?
The reserve price is a lowest-price guarantee set by the seller. It's a deal between the auction house and the seller, and is often hidden from the buyers. One can bid under the reserve price, but if it hasn't been met by end of the auction, the item will not be auctioned off but instead the seller keeps it. That's often called a bought-in. The reserve price often amounts to 50–80% of the starting price, but sometimes one hasn't been set at all.

What's a suggested opening bid?
A suggested opening bid is often a low bid, i.e. £10, set by the auction house to encourage bidding. It can be below or equivalent to the reserve price.

What's a bought-in?
A bought-in is an auction term used when an item hasn't been sold due to not reaching its reserve price, or if there are no bids at all.

Decide on a maximum bid
Often, the bidding gets more intense during the last couple of minutes before knock-down. You can use the auction houses max bidding services so that you don't have to worry about missing the auction. The auction house will then, as advantageously as possible, place bids for you until they reach your stated maximum amount. This is also a great way to avoid bidding against yourself.

Monitor the auction so you don't miss it
Remember to mark down end times of interesting auctions. Here at Barnebys you can also create auction alerts and in that way receive an email when the auction is coming to an end. Especially online auctions tend to become increasingly more intense during the last couple of hours, or sometimes even during the very last minutes.

Be aware of additional charges
It's easy to get caught up in bidding wars. Prior to the auction, you should therefore set a limit for how much you think the item is worth, and what you're willing to pay. Also bear in mind that provisions and fees in many cases are added to the hammer price. Most houses are very clear about their terms and conditions, but it's always good to look up if any special conditions apply.

We're ourselves avid auction buyers, and that's why we're convinced that you'll like it too. Our main tip is to bid on things you like, and that you often regret what you didn't buy.


Pontus Silfverstolpe, Head of Content

Pontus Silfverstolpe is one of the founders of Barnebys. He is an auction expert with 20 years of experience of fine arts and antiques. Pontus is well-known in Sweden as host of antiques TV shows, and antiques expert in several Swedish magazines. In his blog he writes about the art market, trends and gives analyses.
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