How to Become an Auction Expert

Are you considering coming to the Friends 2016 Benefit Auction (or any auction, for that matter), but nervous because you’ve never been to one before? Don’t worry — let FWHS secretary Philip Schauer guide you through it! Below are Phil’s tips for a successful auction experience.


Before you go to an auction:

-Check your newspaper’s local classified sections for auction listings, especially on Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday. For more complete and detailed listings of area and regional sales, you may want to subscribe to a publication such as the Jefferson County Advertiser (covering areas east of Madison, WI) or Auction Action News (covering statewide auctions as well as those in Minnesota and Michigan).

-When looking at an auction ad, regard information about an item’s age, authenticity, and condition as speculation only. Auctions are “buyer beware,” so don’t get too excited about a great-sounding item until you’re inspecting it in person!

-If you are planning to attend an auction and bid on items, remember that terms of sale are usually cash or approved check only, and that not all auctions will accept credit cards. Local and state taxes may apply, and some auctions also charge a buyer’s premium (usually 5-10% over the highest bid).

-Auction purchases are expected to be removed the day of the sale, so be prepared to transport anything you might bid on.

-Consult a map; auctions are sometimes in hard-to-find locations and listed with only vague directions, and you wouldn’t want to be lost or late!

-Try to arrive at least an hour before the auction is scheduled to begin so you will have time to inspect the items and register for your bidding number.


At the auction, before it begins:

-If you plan on bidding, visit the clerk or cashier to register for your bidding number. Bring a photo ID, and register early to avoid long lines. Purchases are recorded under these bidding numbers, so keep yours handy and don’t lose it!

-If you are interested in an item, examine it carefully. If you are able to do so, pick it up, turn it over, open it, and otherwise check its functionality, preferably in natural light. Be clear with your intentions, and be sure to put the item back in its place when you are finished; theft is unfortunately not unheard of at auctions, so you must take care to be above suspicion.

-Periodically check back on items you’ve already inspected; other attendees will be handling these items too, and new scratches, chips, and other signs of wear may appear as a result. Keep tabs on the locations of the itmes as well, as the other potential bidders might inadvertently or even unscrupulously move things around. Remain vigilant!

-Ask the auction staffers any questions you have about the items and the order in which they will likely be sold.

-Decide which items you’re going to bid on, and how much you would be willing to pay for them.


During the auction:

-Auction regulars often bid with a variety of signals including winks, grunts, and nods, but a simple signal such as a wave of your number card works best.

-Don’t jump in with a bid right away; the auctioneer will probably lower the starting price of an item if no one responds at first.

-Even with popular items with many people offering bids, bidding usually thins out to just two people. Know your limits, and don’t let yourself bid more than you should in the heat of the moment.

-Sometimes a group of items will be sold as “choice,” meaning that the highest bidder gets to choose which items in the group to buy at the winning price, and the remaining items will be bid on again. If you are interested in only a select item from a choice group, be patient; other high bidders might take some of the other items from the group, thus lowering the total price of the remaining items for you.

-Remember that the auctioneer gets a percentage of the auction proceeds, and as such has extra incentive to push for higher bids. Again, know your limits!

-For efficiency’s sake, don’t hold up a sale with idle chitchat or by having to search for your bidding number. Keep focused!

-Finally, don’t be discouraged if you see items you’d like slip away; patience will eventually prevail…and there will always be another auction. You never know what you might find!

Auctin graphics - vintage


And for those not in the know, here are some terms to remember:

Auctioneer: the licensed conductor of auction sales. Large auctions may have more than one auctioneer selling at a time, so note if the auction ad suggests bringing a “bidding partner” along with you!

Clerks and Cashiers: auction staffers who register bidders, record transactions, and accept the money to finalize sales.

Ringmen: auction staffers who assist during a sale by identifying the item up for bid, and helping the auctioneer check the crowd for bids.

Box Lot: a group of items sold together for one price.

Choice Lot: a group of items bid for together but sold by the piece at that price.

Bidding Number: a bidder’s identification number, printed on a card. Hold it up during the auction so the auction staffers can record your bid.

Century Farm Auction: an auction held at a farm where a family has lived for 100 years or more. A rare event, but one sure to have plenty or interesting items.

Auction Fever: the temporary compulsive feeling that one must outbid all competing bidders for an item at any cost. A condition to be avoided, for sure!

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One Response to “How to Become an Auction Expert”

  1. This is some really good information about going to an auction. I liked that you pointed out that terms of an auction generally make you pay in cash. That is a good thing to be aware of when you need to use an auction service.

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