If you’re on this page, then its safe for me to assume that your interested in attending your first auction. Auctions are possibly the most unique and exciting ways to sell and buy stuff these days, but with this excitement comes quite a bit of confusion. First-time auction goers can be overwhelmed and intimidated by the entire process, from checking in and bidding, to winning and paying for your purchases. The auctions on TV shows like Auction Hunters and Storage Wars portray a “made-for-TV” type of auction while “real-life” auctions go much more quicker and are normally much more crowded.
The remainder of this post will give you the information you need so you can survive your first auction including the types of auctions, how to find auctions, auction terminology, and auction etiquette.
Types of Auctions
Auction Houses are the most common type of auction location and normally occur on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis. These “houses” sell items on consignment from individuals, liquidated and surplus assets for companies, and estates for families of the deceased. Auction houses normally have on-site concessions, bathrooms, and plenty of parking and seating. Auction houses vary in size and could use as many as 4 auctioneers at one time, each one auctioning off items in a different area of the building. You might be surprised at how many auction houses are out there that may be closer than you think. See “Finding an Auction” section below to find auction houses near you.
On-site Estate Auctions are held at the estate owners house. An estate is basically the collection of a person’s property. Estates normally include kitchen items, furniture, shed items, shop items, yard items, collectibles, knick knacks, whatnots, and whatchamacallits. To draw a large crowd, estate auctions normally contain at least one of the following: automobiles, farm equipment, firearms, high end furniture, or the house and lot. Parking is often tight while crowds will vary based on the types of items at the auction. It’s not uncommon for an auctioneer to sell the contents of an entire shed with one bid. Bid and win those if you like sorting through stuff and hunting for treasures.
How to Find Auctions
Finding auctions is the easiest part of the auction process. Most auctions are posted and advertised at least 2 weeks in advance and sometimes as much as 2 months in advance for larger, high-profile auctions. Your 3 main ways to find auctions are as follows:
Newspapers are the standard method people use to advertise their auctions. Browse the classified sections of the local newspapers and you’ll be sure to find more auctions than you’ll know what to do with.
Classified Print Papers are popular regionally. My region has a weekly paper called the Valley Trader, and you may have one as well in your region. Auction ads are normally spread out throughout the paper.
AuctionZip.com is my personal favorite for 2 reasons, 1) they provide pictures of the items at the auction, and 2) you can quickly see all auctions for a given day, and get all the details you need with no space restrictions like in print ads. This site allows you to enter your zip code and radius search(miles) and provides a calendar view of all the auctions that meet your criteria. Auction ZIP also offers a keyword search in case your looking for a specific item like a canoe or a specific brand.
Each auctioneer is different and will handle things in their own way, but there are a few concepts that are common to all auctions.
Bidder’s Choice is when the auctioneer decides to sell a group of items under one bid, where the highest bidder can choose to take 1, 2, 3 or all of the specified items. If the highest bidder wants 3 items, their cost is 3* the bid amount, i.e., 3 * $20 = $60. Any remaining items will be auctioned off again. This process continues until all items are won. Common items that fall under bidder’s choice are: anytime there are more than 3 of an item and when there are 2 or more stacks/collections of items.
Absentee or Left Bids are bids left by persons that are not physically at the auction. Bidding will start at the absentee bid. Auction attendees can still win the item by outbidding the max bid left by the absentee bidder. You can also leave an absentee bid with the auction staff if you are not able to physically be at the auction when a specific items sells. Proper etiquette is to only leave absentee bids on items more than $40 and you should never leave more than 2 or 3 absentee bids. Absentee bids slow down the overall process which irritates the other bidders.
Step 1: Check-in with the auction clerk as soon as you arrive at the auction. New registrants usually need to provide a photo ID and sometimes a phone number. The clerk will give you a bid card.
Step 2: Scope out the auction’s items and find out how many and where auctioneers are selling.
Step 3: Bid on items. Your first bid may require you to raise your hand or bidding card in the air until you’re noticed. Once you’re noticed, you simply need to nod, wink or make a strange noise to let the auctioneer know you are raising the bid. If you want out of the bid, simply shake your head no and look away from the auctioneer to let him know you are finished.
Step 4: Win an item. If you do win an item, quickly show the auctioneer you bid number. Auctioneer staff may bring the item directly to you. Quickly scope out a spot near you where you can pile up your stuff, or simply push it under the table. if the item is heavy, its ok to tell the auction staff to leave the item as it sits.
Step 5: Paying for your items. When you are finished bidding and are ready to leave, you’ll need to go back to the cashier to pay for your items. Most auctions take credit cards, but always have a check just in case. Most auctions also have a buyers premium that is applied to all sales, usually 4%. This premium may be waived if you pay with check or cash. It’s also OK to load up your items in your vehicle before you pay.
I’ve given you the rundown of the things you need to know to survive your first auction, now it’s up to you to find and grab the bargains. Don’t be afraid to try out the different auction houses in your area, until you find one that fits you and the things you’re looking for. Estate auctions always have an assortment of items and are my personal favorites.
Most of all, enjoy it. Don’t get discouraged by being outbid. You’ll win some and lose some, but you’ll live to bid another day.