Antique plate and cups in box

by Dr. Lori Verderame

Are you downsizing? Do you have the task of handling an estate? Do you want to get top dollar for your collectibles? Just call an auction house so they can get the money for your items and get rid of all that unwanted stuff. There is more to learn about auctions.

Before making that call to the local auction house, learn how auctions work. After the media finally exposed indictments, unethical practices, and even the price fixing between big auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s, many people decided to learn more about the auction process.

You know some things about auctions: the auctioneer talks fast, the auction dummy is hired by the auction house to drive up the bids, there is a seller’s premium and a buyer’s premium which is how the auction house gets fees for the opportunity to buy and sell objects, etc.

Bargain for buyers

Folks who buy items at auction are buying them at lower than retail prices because auctions are typically selling to the trade, that is, to dealers or resellers who will then increase the asking price for the item on the retail market. This can be great for the buyers at auction and the members of the antiques trade, but if you are the seller, you can be giving up as much as 40% of your item’s value. Auction houses will usually take a percentage of the sale from both the seller and the buyer. So, as a seller, you end up getting a lot less money than the true value of your items!

Moving Volume

You have to hope that the auction house has properly advertised your auction to attract interested and high paying buyers. You want the real collectors who are willing to pay top dollar in the auction room bidding on that old salt and pepper shaker set, that floral still life painting, or grandma’s piano blanket.

It is quite a task for even the most respectable auctioneer to get the biggest and most interested group of buyers from every collecting group to your auction! Before selling your items at auction, know the value! Have them appraised by an independent appraiser (not affiliated with the auction house) who has no interest in buying the items or selling the item. That appraiser should also have no connection to the auction house.

Remember, auctioneers work in volume, so they are interested in moving a lot of items as quickly as possible to make their money. They are not going to spend that much time trying to get top dollar for every one of your pieces. This is a practice that is good for auction buyers but not good if you are selling off your family heirlooms.

PlatesMany times auction houses have not taken the time to  identify the valuable antiques that you are putting up for sale. If you read the auction houses’ contract, you may find that the auction house does not have to achieve certain values for items. Those of you who have brought items to my antiques appraisal events which were purchased at auctions in a box lot have been pleasantly surprised to learn that the auction house left a very valuable item go for only $5, $10, or $25! It’s great unless you are the person selling the box. Learn about auctions before you buy or sell.