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Buying furniture at an auction: a beginner's guide

The auction house: a beginner's guide

Here at Dust & Things we recognise the value of true craftsmanship. We like furniture with a story to tell. Buy vintage and you’ll get something with history and authenticity – often for less than the cost of a flat-pack. The best place to buy it? An auction house. 

Don’t be scared – you don’t have to be an expert in antiques. No auction is ever the same: it’s a thrilling experience which is open to everyone, whatever your taste or budget. You’ll find everything from mid-century pieces to solid farmhouse furniture – plus plenty of unique decorative items.

Follow our tips and you’ll soon be bidding with confidence!

Find your local auction house

Most cities and towns have one. Look for one that has general sales of antiques and collectables. There will be a catalogue listing everything that will go under the hammer. Many auction houses publish these online, which is a great time-saver and will help you find a sale to suit you.

Just viewing an auction is an experience

Auctions are usually open for viewing a few days before a sale, so find a local one and check it out. You can touch the objects, rummage about a bit and hope that you’ll spot the gem no one else has noticed. Check items for condition and remember to take a tape measure!

What should you be looking for?

If you like mid-century style furniture then why not look for the real thing at an auction? 1950s chairs, tables and sofas come up regularly at auctions, although their popularity pushes the price up. For more affordable furniture try simple Victorian or Edwardian items. Look for solid chests of drawers, occasional tables and dressers – which can all be easily updated with a bit of sanding or painting.

Auctions are also a great place to buy decorative items for your home. Paintings and prints are hugely affordable, as are rugs, lamps and clocks.

How much will it cost?

You never know. Don’t expect the experience to be anything like buying things from a normal shop – the whole thing is unpredictable. Everything at an auction has an estimated price. You may win an item for less than its estimate, or you may have to pay more. Think about how much you’d like to pay for something and don’t forget to include the auction fees in your calculations. This is usually between 15-20% on top of the price something sells for – which can make a big difference between a bargain and an expensive mistake.

What are the rules on the day?

You’ll need to register and collect a number if you want to bid, but other than that there aren’t really any rules – except avoiding sudden movements! Be confident, raise your hand and make sure the auctioneer can see you (a good one will be used to spotting people).

The anticipation of waiting for your item to come up, and the nervous excitement once it does, is unique. Always decide beforehand on the most you’re willing to bid for an item. It’s tempting to keep on bidding to get something, but you’ve got to remember those extra fees and how much you really want it.

If you like something, then other people usually like it too. Generally, if you go to an auction liking ten items, the chances are you might only end up winning one of them. It’s all part of the game.

If you win an item you’ll be expected to take it away soon after the auction has ended, often on the day itself. Think about this before you bid. Will you be able to fit it in your car? Some auction houses will provide delivery for an extra charge.

Can’t make it in person?

Many auctions offer you the chance to bid online.  This is a great time-saver – although it does cost you slightly more in fees. You can also bid by phone, or a leave a bid with the auctioneer before the sale takes place.  

As well as traditional auction houses, there are many well-known online-only auction sites. Search for items in your area, or consider paying for a courier.

We recommend trying the experience for real at least once! It’s a great day out, even if you come home empty-handed.

 

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