For some design enthusiasts, padding their home in the same prints and ceramics speckled across Instagram interiors just won’t do. Enter the online auction, a veritable treasure trove of unique objects d’art, furniture, and decor that, if approached with some tact, can yield big design buys at less-than-retail prices.
“At auction you can often find better quality pieces for significantly lower prices to traditional retail stores,” says Robert Khederian, a real estate broker with Compass, who is also an auction aficionado.
The act of bidding on an item sight unseen may sound intimidating, but with these helpful tips in mind, you too can be scoring big in no time.
Know what to look for and where
Auction aggregator websites like Live Auctioneers, Invaluable, and Bidsquare make it easy to peruse lots for sale from auction houses across the country. They also tell you where those houses are based, which is something to keep in mind when deciding what kinds of items you’re willing to bid on from those houses.
Decor, art, and silver are all relatively easy to suss out online. But judging upholstered items from afar can be tricky, as they may carry undesirable odors. If there’s something upholstered that you’re keen on, it’s best to check the piece out in person if you’re able.
Auction houses often open their doors to potential buyers who want to peruse an item before it hits the block. “Remember, they want to sell it just as much as you want to buy it,” Robert points out, saying that auction houses are often flexible in accommodating the requests of potential buyers. At that, don’t be shy to give that old wingback chair the sniff test when you visit it IRL before the auction.
For lots that catch your eye online, auction houses are usually at the ready with extra information if you just ask. Condition reports will note damage, defects, wear, or other irregularities, and there’s also often a bevy of additional photos of each lot too.
Auction houses work hard to ensure that items are accurately reflected in the available information. If you purchase something at auction and a secondary evaluation determines it’s been grossly mischaracterized, rest assured: Many auction houses will issue refunds within a given time frame if an item is found to have been misrepresented.
Set your price
There are essentially three costs that bidders should consider going into an auction: the hammer price, or how much is spent on the item itself; the buyer’s premium, or the fee paid to the auction house (usually around 20% of the hammer price); and the shipping cost.
“If you’re going to be getting something shipped across the country, especially if it’s a big piece of furniture, you should be prepared to spend a few hundred dollars in shipping costs,” says Emily Costantino, director of consignment at Kamelot Auctions in Philadelphia.
With that in mind, it’s important to factor those additional costs, as well as taxes, into how much you’re willing to spend on an item. “Be very clear with yourself about how much you want to spend,” Robert advises. “If you buy a table at auction for a great price, but it’s located five states away, the value just might not be there after you factor in shipping.”
Bid, baby, bid (with caution)
To really score big at an online auction, you have to have a little bit of game. Bidding prematurely on lots you’re eyeing signals to others that there’s a piqued interest in the piece. Early bids can ultimately drive up the hammer price or even incite a bidding war. “Wait to strike, and know when to pull back,” Robert says of observing your rock-solid budget.
Another sage piece of advice: Don’t get attached. “The moment you start to get attached to a lot, you get a distorted sense of how valuable an item is and how much you really need it,” says Robert.
While it may hurt to watch that coveted Jens Quistgaard teak ice bucket go to another bidder, it’s likely not the last that will appear at auction. Agregator sites let you save search terms and will ping you when an item is added that matches. With that, happy hunting!
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest