A First Timer’s Guide To Auctions

Going to auction for the first time can be daunting, especially with all the jargon floating about. Here’s a quick guide to some of the most frequently used auction terms, whether you’re looking for an art auction or antique auction, the below tips can help you understand things a little bit better:

Auctioneer – The man or woman doing the selling. They are typically equipped with a hammer (more on that with a minute) and speak incredibly quickly. Their aim is to hike the price of the items on sale up by encouraging the bidders in the room to bid, bid and bid again.

Lot – Contrary to its name, a lot is typically a single item on sale at auction, but it can include other items, too. Items are generally referred to as numbered lots (such as Lot 41, for example).

Appraisal: There is no definite value of any piece that’s presented an auction, but an appraisal is assigned to every piece prior to it being put up for bidding. The appraisal is basically the pieces approximate market value. Every auction house has a specialist whose job it is to appraise the pieces; this gives the bidders an idea of how much the piece is likely to go for, but they are very rarely accurate. The prices definitely reflect market prices, but no appraisal can accurately predict the mood, taste and bidders’ willingness to spend in an auction room.

Estimate: Closely related to the appraisal is the estimate – however, unlike the appraisal, the estimate isn’t based on market value. Instead, the auction specialists examine the auction’s previous selling trends and endeavour to determine how much a piece is likely to fetch for. Two estimates a typically presented in the auction catalogue, a high estimate and a low estimate. Although the estimate is slightly more accurate than an appraisal given that it is based on auction experiences, it’s still not possible to accurately predict how an item is likely to sell; many items fall devastatingly short of even their lowest estimate, while others soar past their highest estimate and sell for incredible amounts.

Reserve – As a seller at auction, it can be difficult to take the plunge and put your item on sale, particularly when you consider the fact that your treasure may sell for much less than its estimate. If a seller is particularly attached to a piece or unwilling to sell it for less than a certain amount, he or she can opt to put a reserve price on the piece. If, at auction, the bidding doesn’t hit the seller’s reserve price, the piece is unsold. The seller can then decide whether to keep the piece, or try and sell it at a different auction when the mood in the room is a different.

Specialist – The auction specialists co-ordinate the entire auction show; they collect the items that are going to be put on sale at auction and roughly assess their approximate value. Specialists are usually highly trained and, as their name suggests, specialise in a particular field of auction. A specialist may, for example, specialise in contemporary art, in vintage furniture, or in antique pottery.

Buyer’s Premium – Selling at auction isn’t free; after every sale, the auction take a cut of the item’s sale price, known as the buyer’s premium, or commission. The price is generally fixed between 10 and 20 per cent depending on the auction.