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  • Writer's pictureHilary Jay

How to Navigate the Auction Market


Spring cleaning can be a ticket to unrealized income. Your art, jewelry, childhood collectibles, and antiques that’s stashed away, gathering dust, could be a source of sales at auction. Since the pandemic, the auction house business has blossomed like springtime magnolia. Buyers and sellers alike discovered that online shopping and realtime bidding is fun and profitable.


The auction market, though, is a percentages game that requires negotiations, knowledge, and a dab of street smarts. Here’s an insider’s tip list:


  1. Know what you have: Who is the manufacturer or maker; where was it purchased and by whom? What year was it made, and the original cost? That story is the object’s provenance. How much will you take for it today? That information is the backbone of sales success at auction.

  2. Pick the right house: Auctions exist for virtually anything and everything, even rusty broken-down bicycles. (Just ask Bruce!) Many specialize in specific antique or collectible categories, like: fine art, stamps and coins, dolls and bears, furniture, ephemera, Americana, Mid-century Modern. Take the time to find the auction who deals in what you’re offering. That’s where your educated and interested buyers frequently shop.

  3. Do your homework: Get the skinny on the auction’s reputation and expertise for marketing (including social media), transparency, paying commissions on time, and resale if your item doesn’t sell. You can find most of that info through online reviews and website presentations.

  4. Read the fine print: Your contract spells-out what you need to know about your deal including the commission structure, the percentage they take off the total for themselves. It is a legal and binding document. Read it carefully before you sign it.

  5. Speak Auctionese: Like every field, auctions have a distinct language. Lots, bids, reserves, hammer price, buyer's and seller’s premiums, absentee bids. Know what those terms mean ahead of signing a contract. Terms are negotiable - to a point; A signed contract is a done deal.

Navigating the auction world is fascinating, but rarely simple. Three parties are all vying for the best deal: you, the auction house, and your buyer. Having a seller’s advocate like Department of Better insures your best interest is always front and center.


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