Trash or Treasure? Auctions 101

Auctions are a fun way to shop. There are always surprises in the inventory, and the excitement in the crowd when something gets a lot of bids is intoxicating. It can be addictive. People think they can get a bargain at auctions (and sometimes you can) but auctioneers do know what they are doing. Overall, auctions have gotten more sophisticated — and so has the audience.
We all revert back to kids and remember those moments when you wanted something only because someone else wanted it. This happens a lot at auctions and there are some of you out there who have full garages to prove it. Auctioneers talk fast to facilitate a sense of urgency, and this is what gets people to bid.
What you need to remember is that auctioneers get paid commissions. Auction houses make money from both the buyer and the seller. The auction house has an incentive to push the price as high as it will go. Buyer’s premiums and seller’s premiums typically run 10-30 percent of the hammer price.
If you are selling through an auction house, they generally will offer a free appraisal. You need to keep in mind that the auctioneer has a selling strategy in mind, and the value they come up with may not be all that accurate. The auctioneer considers what it will cost them to sell the item. If you have a large piece of furniture, the auction house will need to consider the cost of labor to transport, store and photograph it. The “appraisal” value will come in lower than it would if the object was something they were eager to sell. Again, considering that unwieldy large piece of furniture, the auctioneer may take it to sell if there are other higher-valued objects that they know they can do well with. If you pay for an appraisal, you will have a more accurate value and you will be advised on the best venue to sell.
Estimate ranges for auctions are not always an accurate barometer for what something is worth. If you look in some auction catalogs, some items may not have much identifying details because the auctioneer has not done enough research or does not have much knowledge about it. More caution should be taken with an online auction as they are notorious for selling fakes. Do your homework before you put your paddle up! General rule: buy things you really want or need and do not buy as an investment.

Karen Waterman is a fine art, antique furniture and decorative arts appraiser in the East Bay area and will answer as many questions about your own “hidden treasures” as possible. By sending a letter of email with a question, your give full permission for use in the column. Names, addresses or e-mail will not be published and photos will be returned if requested. Send e-mails (digital photos are encouraged) to trashortreasure@ymail.com. Send snail mail to East Bay Newspapers, Attn. Karen Waterman, P.O.Box 90, Bristol, RI 02809.

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