Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Do you have Anything Worth Selling at Auction?

If you’re like me, you love those television shows whereby unsuspecting punters are quoted stratospheric valuations for their dusty old family heirlooms - or better yet, their yard sale finds. Could you have any hidden gems lying around in your humble abode? If so, would you ever consider putting them under the hammer?

During our spring clear out, I spotted a few valuables in amongst all the junk. It occurred to me that rather than selling these items at a garage sale, or online, it might be more profitable to put them up for auction. Being an auction virgin I wasn’t sure what to expect, so we decided to test the waters with just a few items - those that had slowly evolved from ‘treasured keepsake‘, to that of ‘albatross’.

Step 1: Determine if your Item is Suitable for Auction.
  • Does it possess intrinsic value (i.e. fine jewellery, quality watches, rare coins, signed ceramics or glass, bronze or ivory sculptures, original art, antique furniture, sports memorabilia, vintage collectibles or alike)?
  • Do you no longer treasure these items, or worse, are they starting to become a burden? Are you incurring storage fees, or is the piece taking up too much room in your home?
  • Will the market price possibly decrease in future? Will it likely get damaged or decay, through neglect? Is the item’s popularity currently on the decrease?
Step 2: Identify the Best Auction House to Sell your Piece.
  • Research which auction houses sell, or specialize in, that particular genre.
  • Review and consider fees, commission structures, taxes and extra charges (photography, insurance, etc.).
  • Can you put a reserve bid on the item? (A reserve bid is the minimum amount you will accept for the item to sell.) Be aware that you may not be given the option.
  • Will it be sold online, or at a live auction, and do you have a choice?
  • Find out what happens if the piece doesn’t sell. Can you recover the item and will fees be charged, regardless?
  • Understand the payment terms. Will you receive the proceeds immediately, or significantly later?
Step 3: Request a Formal Appraisal.
  • Appraisals should be free. If there’s a charge involved, look elsewhere.
  • If it’s not too difficult, arrange an appointment for a live appraisal. That ensures the greatest accuracy.
  • If a live appraisal is not feasible, email several clear photos to facilitate a precise evaluation.
  • Accompany your pictures with a brief description, elaborating on the item’s provenance, history and any other notable features.
  • Prepare for disappointing news and receive it graciously. Family folklore has a way of gilding the lily and/or you might have unwittingly purchased a fake.
  • Assuming the auction house is interested in taking on your item, you can now make an informed decision as to whether you’d like to put it up for auction.
Step 4: Attend the Auction.
  • You’ll get a great deal more out of the experience by attending the event, and it’s all part of the fun!
  • If they spot you in the crowd, they’ll be more likely to promote your item, when it goes up on the block.
  • Sign up for a buyer’s paddle. It’s free and you may see other bargains or valuable finds worth taking advantage of.
  • Never bid on your own lot. It may seem like a great way to drive up the price, but if you’re the winning bid, you won’t sell - and will incur all the fees.
  • Whether elated or disappointed, do your best to control your emotions. There’ll be plenty of time to discuss the outcome privately, when the auction’s all over.
So how did we do? The good news is that both lots sold and we made several hundred dollars. The bad news is that they didn’t meet their respective appraisals. That being said, we’re still happy with the results. We got rid of some unwanted items - and now they will be treasured and cared for, for years to come. We also made more profit than if we’d sold them through other means. Putting anything under the hammer is similar to gambling. There may be several interested bidders there on the day, but perhaps not. The moral of the story is, don’t participate, if there’s any chance that you’ll sweat the loss.

Finally, our best takeaway was totally unexpected. I learned that although auctions are a good way to make a bit of extra money, they are an even better way to save a fortune. Now we know exactly where to go, the next time we want some authentic Georgian furniture at knockdown prices…or hand-woven Persian carpets for pennies on the dollar!

Perhaps you have some items you’d like to put up on the block? I encourage you to share your auction experiences, ideas and questions in the comments below, so that we can all benefit.

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