A live auction experience is just pure entertainment. At twenty years old, I was drawn into my first auction with no knowledge of what to expect. Knowing that I needed furniture for my sparse, college apartment, and this college town didn’t sport any thrift stores, I was desperate.  Not only was it a cultural experience, but it furnished my college space for under $50.
From the fast talking, “couldn’t understand a lick of what he was saying” auctioneer, to watching people with unique personalities from all walks of life, I was hooked. Fortunately, I wasn’t in much of a hurry that cool, college afternoon because if one is in a hurry, an auction is not the place to be to unbury second hand treasures.
Personally, I recommend every one of you going to an auction at least once. Even if a trash to treasure lifestyle isn’t your thing, auctions are a melting place of American culture. I can just sit back and watch the interaction among the people and have a blast for zero money output.
I recommend thrifting and yard sales for finding small, miscellaneous items, but if you are on the hunt for large ticket items and have specific purchases in mind, an auction is your place. Most auctions have preview hours before the sale begins, so that you can see exactly what they are offering. With everything from heavy machinery, tools, fine art, antique furniture, cars, land, and office equipment to knickknacks, glassware and everything in between, many auctions offer an entire household’s estate.

Tips to shopping at an auction

Things to understand before the auction begins:

  • Know what kind of payment they accept. As soon as you arrive, you will register for your number; you give your name, address, number etc, and the kind of payment you will use. If it’s your first time shopping with a particular auction company, you may not be able to use a check until they verify your good for it. As always, cash is King.
  • Mentally set your maximum purchase amount and stick with it. A winning bid is binding – that is why they get your address and payment information before hand. Part of the fun of auctions is the thrill of the bid, yet that emotion can get you into trouble if you don’t stick to your budget. Listening to auctioneers is so much fun because they create a sense of urgency. They can make the ugliest items seem like it’s going to be swept out from under you. I’ve found myself wanting to wave my stick high just to snatch up that “treasure” that I don’t really want or need.
  • Do your homework and research before buying. This is advice for those purchasing larger ticket items. Know exactly what you are buying before placing a bid. Once an auction reveals its list of items for sale, research, research, research. If you’re interested in a  fine art piece, or 1920 antique furniture item, search E-bay or Craig’s list, and compare prices.  You will be able to get that item much cheaper at an auction. By becoming an educated bidder, if the bidding climbs high, you’ll know it’s emotion speaking and not facts. Since I didn’t register for china or silver when I got married, I have found some nice silver pieces at auctions. Having no idea what the going prices were, I blindly bid. Fortunately, my cheaper nature got me a great deal, but I didn’t know that until I got home and googled its value. An educated guess would have been much better.
  • Most items are sold “as is” with no refunds or returns. If buying equipment or electronics, make sure you plug it in, and test it before hand. With a large ticket item, such as a car or machinery, spend hours making sure it’s going to run how you anticipate. You can find amazing deals at auctions, but if the $1000K tractor you just bought doesn’t work how you want it to when you get home, that’s no deal.
  • Auctions are not created equal. Just like a yard sale, you will be able to tell the quality of the items immediately. The address and area of town its located in will also give you a clue, but don’t always judge a book by its “address.” You will be surprised at some of the treasures hidden in smaller homes, and typically, you’ll get better deals since people don’t flock to those auctions. But again, if you are looking to furnish a house or need multiple items, heading to nicer neighborhoods will just yield you more choices since they have more stuff.
  • Rummage around in the boxes, and see what it being sold. Since I am a “for fun only” auction attender, I never have time to preview items. Once I get to an auction, I’ll look all around to see what is up for grabs. Typically, treasures are buried amongst the trash, so if you want to take full advantage of your time, dig a little before you decide if the auction is worth staying.
  • Understand the difference in selling by “lots” or per item. The auctioneer’s job is to move items. Since they are selling entire houses full of stuff, they will often mix in the junk and create “lots” of items, just to get rid of things. Notice my “auction” picture above. My eye caught some of the camping pots – that would be a lot of like kind items, but who ever ended up buying it had to also purchase the lot before that didn’t sell. If a lot doesn’t sell, they will just combine it with the next lot.  So be prepared to head right to Goodwill. Realize you may be buying a box of crud, but your one treasure will be worth it. Now that doesn’t always happen, but sometimes it does. My best example happened awhile ago when I wanted to purchase one specific book in a box. Typically with smaller items, such as book, you must buy it as a lot. I ended up purchasing fifteen books for $2. I took out my book, and went directly to a used book store where I received $10 for the ones I turned into the store. Making money on the deal was just gravy. That was the first time I realized, the huge market in buying and reselling items at flea markets etc.
  • Schedule in  a chunk of time. Like I said earlier, auctions take time. It’s not like a yard sale where you just go in and buy. They move from lot to lot and just like kindergarten, you wait your turn. But again, it’s all about the experience. Now, if you arrive and find out most stuff is junk, that’s not worth your time…just leave. With that being said, you can move something closer to the beginning of the line. Don’t just skip everyone, but I started realizing people will move items of interest to the front. It took me awhile to realize this was acceptable practice. Now, you can’t just insist they auction off the vintage sleigh bed, if they are in the middle of the “tools” lot, but when they are auctioning miscellaneous items, you can surely grab your item or box and move it up on the table. This happens all the time.

I will think of a bunch more suggestions, but hopefully, I didn’t scare any of you first time auction people away.
Just go for the fun of it. That’s what I do. Look for things like these vintage, white jars…and rejoice when you purchase a lot of seven of them for only $11.

Auctions, auctions….shopping at auctions.
Have any of you had any auction experiences?
I’d love to hear about it. (Continue reading the comments for more great perspectives on shopping at an auction.)