If you have spotted a potential treasure at an online auction site and want to buy it, what are the experts tips for securing the item and avoiding pitfalls? Barnebys, the world’s largest art and auction search engine, covering 1,600 auction houses internationally with 1.5m monthly visitors, has a few important suggestions.
There has been a revolution in online buying habits around the world and auctions are no stranger to this phenomenon. Many of the top auction houses – Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Phillips – report that up to 25% of their bids now come in over the internet. There are also phone bidders and of course those people in the saleroom bidding in the traditional way, holding up a paddle number at first and then just nodding as required.
The following ten tips are for those people who would like to start accessing this world of auctions online but are unsure about the process. It’s mysterious to many and confusing to some, but really its just another way of shopping. These tips should help you to get started and to have fun.
Barnebys offers a very useful free research facility. Instead of trawling through hundreds of auction house websites to find what you are looking for, simply insert what you want into the Barnebeys site and it will tell you who is selling such items, where they are and what they are being estimated at. In effect you have all the worlds major auction houses under one roof. And the service is free to site visitors. It is in effect a Google for the art and collectables auction world. So do start by creating a ‘search alert’ at Barnebys to be sure you don´t miss the thing you really want!
1.The estimate is just an indication:
Remember, the estimate for the item in the catalogue is just that, merely an indication of what the piece is worth. If lots of people want the item the cost can spiral, but if fewer are interested you might bag a bargain.
2. Do your research:
Get as much information about the item before you start, read the information carefully in advance and don’t be afraid to email the auction house in advance for more photos or information. Who is the artist? Is a painting signed or unsigned? What are the proportions? Will it fit through your front door or in your living room? Check where and when your auction item was made: the original Eames chairs were made in 1956 but have been in constant production under licence ever since. Remember, you are buying something old and it will inevitably have chips or cracks.
3. Decide on your limit:
Decide your limit before the bidding starts, or as Pontus Silfverstolpe of Barnebys says, “Follow your wallet not your heart. You can get emotionally caught up in the thrill of the moment and continue bidding beyond what you can afford. Say to yourself: ‘What is this item worth to me?’”
4. Look out for extra charges:
Check additional charges before you bid. Auction houses usually charge 15-25 per cent buyer’s commission on top of the hammer price and some online bidding platforms charge 3-5 per cent to use them. In those cases, you may want to avoid the charge by arranging to bid via telephone.
5. It is a contract to buy:
Remember, when the auctioneer bangs the gavel down at the end of bidding, it establishes the hammer price and it is a contract to buy.
6. Place an absentee bid:
According to Barnebys co-founder, Pontus Silfverstolpe: “To be sure and feel secure” place an absentee bid. This authorises the auction house to bid on your behalf to secure the lot at the lowest possible price. You register the maximum hammer price you are prepared to pay, then the house places bids in increments until your limit is reached – or hopefully before.
7. Keep an eye on the deadline:
Some auctions work in a similar way to eBay where the bidding process runs over days, hotting up as the sale deadline approaches. You receive email alerts as other bidders top your price, but Pontus warns: “In the last two hours the price can explode”.
8. Pay up quickly:
Once successful, you will have 5-10 bank days to pay and make transport arrangements for your purchase. It’s worth doing this quickly as some auction houses charge storage fees after a few days.
9. Go with your heart:
What to buy? Buy with your heart, then you are more likely to enjoy the item and keep it longer.
10. Remember the date:
Don’t forget to note the date and time of the sale, so you are sure not to miss it.