Top ten tips for buying on online auction sites

If you’re new to the world of antique auction sites or feeling nervous about placing a bid online, we’ve asked one of the largest international auction sites, Barnebys, for their top tips on how to get started.

The estimate is just an indication

Remember, the estimate for the item in the catalogue is just that, merely an indication of what the piece is worth. If lots of people want the item the cost can spiral, but if fewer are interested you might bag a bargain.

Do your research

Mother of pearl and jade inlaid rosewood hexagonal treasure boxGet as much information about the item before you start, read the information carefully in advance and don’t be afraid to email the auction house in advance for more photos or information. Who is the artist? Is a painting signed or unsigned? What are the proportions? Will it fit through your front door or in your living room? Check where and when your auction item was made: the original Eames chairs were made in 1956 but have been in constant production under licence ever since. Remember, you are buying something old and it will inevitably have chips or cracks.

Decide on your limit

Decide your limit before the bidding starts, or as Pontus Silfverstolpe of Barnebys says, “Follow your wallet not your heart. You can get emotionally caught up in the thrill of the moment and continue bidding beyond what you can afford. Say to yourself: ‘What is this item worth to me?’”

Look out for extra charges

Check additional charges before you bid. Auction houses usually charge 15-25 per cent  buyer’s commission on top of the hammer price and some online bidding platforms charge 3-5 per cent to use them. In those cases, you may want to avoid the charge by arranging to bid via telephone.

It is a contract to buy

Remember, when the auctioneer bangs the gavel down at the end of bidding, it establishes the hammer price and it is a contract to buy.

Place an absentee bid

Pontus SilfverstolpeAccording to Barnebys co-founder, Pontus Silfverstolpe: “To be sure and feel secure” place an absentee bid. This authorises the auction house to bid on your behalf to secure the lot at the lowest possible price. You register the maximum hammer price you are prepared to pay, then the house places bids in increments until your limit is reached – or hopefully before.

Keep an eye on the deadline

Some auctions work in a similar way to eBay where the bidding process runs over days, hotting up as the sale deadline approaches. You receive email alerts as other bidders top your price, but Pontus warns: “In the last two hours the price can explode”.

Pay up quickly

Once successful, you will have 5-10 bank days to pay and make transport arrangements for your purchase. It’s worth doing this quickly as some auction houses charge storage fees after a few days.

Go with your heart

What to buy? Buy with your heart, then you are more likely to enjoy the item and keep it longer.

Remember the date

Don’t forget to note the date and time of the sale, so you are sure not to miss it.


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