Many people I talk to say they would love to attend an auction but are a little afraid.  Most of them are afraid they will be stuck paying for something they really didn’t want.

Now I admit, I’ve bought plenty of things I’ve had “next day” regrets about.  Those items are usually ones I’ve bought after getting too caught up in the competition of winning the bid rather than a true desire for ownership.
    After making my own mistakes and attending lots of auctions I’ve come up with some rules for buying at auction that I’ll gladly share.

1)  Plan ahead.  It pays to go to auction with a list of items you are shopping for.  If you know you need another chest of drawers then spend a little time thinking about what you want.  Measure your space and think about what will look best in your space.  

2)  Do your homework.  If you are shopping for an item in a particular collecting category spend a little time learning about that item.  If you really are purchasing that chest of drawers, read about construction methods and materials used by American cabinet makers during the period you like so you can examine your potential buys knowledgably.  Reputable auction houses will try to describe things properly but they are not in the business of authentication and can make mistakes.  Ultimately it is your responsibility to be a wise consumer.  

3)  Know your budget.  Plan what your comfortable high limit will be.  Hopefully you will score a great deal but you are sure to have buyer’s regret if you spend more than you can afford.  Check with the auction house in advance to acquaint yourself with any fees, taxes or premiums that will be added to your purchase.  

4)  Attend the preview.  Auctions will advertise times when patrons can examine the items up for sale.  You can pick up a catalog or listing of the items with numbers that match those attached to the items.  Take tools like a measuring tape to assure that the piece fits yours space.  Also, take a flashlight in case you are looking at the item in low light.  If you are buying something like silver or porcelain take a guide book with marks.  Look at items carefully to insure that they are what is advertised and are in good condition.  Most auctions sell “as is” and you must buy if your bid is the winner.

5)  Check out the competition.  If you watch the bidding for a little while you can tell who has lots of money to spend and who is going to drop out when the bidding gets high.  It doesn’t take long to see who is bidding on items similar to the ones you want.  See if you can pick out the dealers, they have to leave room for a profit margin between what they pay and what they can sell the item for.  They will often drop out of the bidding earlier than someone buying for their own use.  It’s fun to watch the competition build.  Just don’t do like I have and forget when to stop bidding!

6) There is safety in numbers.  If you are prone to being overly competitive or excitable take a friend who will keep you accountable.  I have a friend who will go with me and spend the whole time I’m bidding telling me what my husband’s reaction will be if I bring home a lot of junk!  It helps me remember to only buy what I budgeted for. Anything else I bring home had better be a really great deal.   

Remember, auctions can be a great place to buy quality antiques at bargain prices if you are smart about it.  They can also be a very entertaining way to spend an afternoon, especially if they sell snacks.