6 TIPS FOR ONLINE AUCTION BUYERS
Online auctions give collectors access to more items than ever before, all at the click of a mouse. But how can you be sure that you are getting a good deal? Follow these six important tips and you can bid with confidence!
- Research the auction house and the sale terms. Read online reviews to make sure you are dealing with a reputable auction house. If you see a repeated pattern of complaints, be wary. Also take the time to read all of the terms and conditions of the sale, which should be included with the online auction details. Be sure you understand the auction house’s return policies (most auction houses do not offer returns) and the buyer premium charge.
- Do your homework on the items you are interested in. Study the photographs carefully and read the item description and condition report. If there isn’t a condition report, you can ask for one from the auction house. Be sure that you understand the terminology used in the description (“in the manner of,” “in the style of,” or “attributed to,” for example) and note whether item measurements are in inches or centimeters.
- If you have any questions, ask the auction house for additional details. You can also request high resolution images, which you can easily enlarge to see details up close. Many auctions will have a viewing or preview where you can go examine the item in person if you live nearby. Note: Don’t wait until the last minute to request information—when auction houses receive a rush of last-minute requests they sometimes cannot accommodate all of them.
- Understand the estimate and make a bidding plan. Estimates are the appraiser’s educated guess about the possible hammer price of the item. Estimates are based on how similar items have sold at recent auctions, but no item or auction is exactly the same. An item can sell for less or more due to a changing market, the interest or rarity of the item, or the participation of several motivated bidders.
- The starting bid is normally fifty percent of the estimate (or of the low range of the estimate) but can sometimes be lower. Make a plan for when you are going to enter your bid and how high you are willing to go.
- Get a shipping quote before buying. Most auction houses are not responsible for handling and shipping. If you are buying a large or bulky item, or one that requires special handling, be sure to request a shipping and handling quote before bidding. Buyers can get excited about getting a good buy and then be surprised by the expense of shipping—a situation which auction houses hate just as much as buyers! If you plan ahead, you can often find an affordable arrangement and avoid extra expenses such as storage fees.
- Investigate options for saving money on your bids. Online bidding is a very convenient way to buy, but it is normally more expensive than bidding in person, by phone or absentee. Online platforms charge the auction house a fee for every lot sold, which is then passed on to the buyer. When you bid directly with the auction house, you can avoid these fees. Contact the auction house to see if this option will work for you. Also note that some online platforms charge lower fees than others: if an auction is available through multiple platforms, check to see which one has the lowest fees.
- Sign up for notifications. Most online bidding platforms have the ability to notify you when an item or category of interest to you comes up for auction. Take the time to sign up for these notifications and you will be ahead of the game!