Tips for Buying Art at Auction

Anyone who’s ever visited a gallery knows how expensive it can be to purchase original art. Fortunately, there is a more economical alternative for fine art lovers who are on a budget. At an art auction, it’s possible to find a piece you love at an amazing bargain. Below are a few quick tips to ensure that your first auction is a smooth, successful experience:

  • Know which type of auction you’re attending. There are three main categories. Estate auctions (an upscale version of a “moving sale”) are held when a family or heir needs to liquidate everything in the house, regardless of price. Consignment auctions are usually held at an auctioneer house, with most sellers setting minimum reserves to ensure that their pieces don’t sell too cheaply. Mixed auctions are a combination of the two.
  • To find an auction, enter your location and “art auction” into a search engine. You can also check the newspaper and try calling antique dealers and auctioneer houses directly.
  • Once you’ve found an auction, call to make sure the location and time is accurate. Also find out when the preview period starts — this allows you to come a few hours (or sometimes days) early and get a look at the items that will be up for bidding.
  • When registering to bid, find out if the auction house adds a premium to your bids. In some cases, this can increase the total selling amount by 10% or more. Also find out what form of payment they accept.
  • At the auction, choose your seat carefully. Sitting toward the front will give you a close view of the items, but sitting or standing in the back will let you see who else is bidding on an item. Always have a maximum bid in mind for items you’re interested in. Resist the temptation to exceed it, especially in the heat of the moment during the bidding process.
  • Listen carefully to the auctioneer’s descriptions of items. Also pay attention to the conversations going on around you, as this may help you determine the value and authenticity of a piece of art. Write down the selling prices so you can review them later and recognize trends.
  • After winning a piece of art, be sure to get a receipt after the auction is over. If it’s high in value, you might also consider insuring the item.

If you do your research and resist getting carried away, an auction can be a fun and cost-effective way to enhance your art collection.
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