The key to buying goods from offline auction salerooms

SIX ways to save money, cut your working hours and double your profits

Buying goods from offline auction salerooms

Some eBay sellers buy all their stock in offline auction salerooms, yours truly included. People who do so wonder why so many fellow eBay sellers don’t realize the incredible money-making opportunities on offer at literally hundreds of offline auction sales held across the country every day of every week.

Perhaps it’s because they think auctions are risky events – a place where you’ll be saddled with goods you didn’t want, purely because the auctioneer misinterpreted your blink as a bid.

Or it could be you’ve visited auctions before and found everything you wanted to buy sold at ten times your maximum bidding price. Maybe it’s other things besides and, basically, you’ve been put off auctions for life!

Very sad indeed, because offline auction salerooms – some, not all – are incredible places to buy high-value goods for pennies on the pound, without having to spend more than a few hours away from your computer screen.

I’ll reveal some of the most important hows and whys today, then leave you (like me) to spend a couple of hours each week buying at auction and the rest of your working week uploading hugely profitable and all-but-guaranteed-to-sell goods to eBay.

Here we go…

#1. One of the most time-consuming features of buying in offline auction rooms is having to visit on one day to view lots, and a different day to bid in person. That’s the myth: in reality you usually only need to visit once. This is how…

(i) Savvy bidders visit one day to view goods in person, then leave bids with the auctioneer or porter. They only visit a second day if they win the goods and need to pay and collect.

That means not having to spend (sometimes) several hours sitting in cold and dirty auction rooms waiting for your lots to come up and then being outbid and find yourself wasting an entire day that could have been spent uploading goods to eBay.

Important: Leaving bids this way assumes you trust your auctioneer not to take bids off the wall, and you trust your porter to actually place your bids.

Taking bids off the wall happens when the auctioneer sees one person (let’s call him Mr A) is keen to have an item and looks likely to bid higher amounts. To maximize bids, the auctioneer pretends someone else is bidding against Mr A, who continues increasing his bid.

Then when the auctioneer thinks Mr A is about to stop bidding, the imaginary bidder drops out and Mr A wins the lot. Those imaginary bids might come from non-existent bidders or people who have left absentee bids with saleroom staff. The practice is rare but it does happen.

Also unlikely to happen is a porter or other member of staff forgetting to place your bid… but it has happened to me on several occasions.

Remove the chance of either thing happening by bidding in person or by telephone – and in both cases watch out for bids being taken off the wall. By bidding in person from the back of the room, you can see people bidding against you, real and imaginary.

Most online auctions are viewable on computer screens and that helps telephone bidders or people leaving bids with staff (called ‘bidding on the book’) or bidding online to spot competition against them.

Bidders in person can save time by turning up round about the time the auctioneer expects your lot to come up. Get there ready to bid about half an hour before the expected time – longer if you can.

Remember you still have to get whatever goods you buy back home, which in itself means another journey to the auction saleroom. That’s not a problem if you live pretty close to the saleroom, but for distant sales with several items you stand a good chance of winning, the next option (ii) is usually more appropriate.

Alternatively, have the auction company or their appointed delivery company transport items for you.

(ii) View, bid for and take home goods all on the same day. Most auction companies allow viewing an hour or two before the auction goes live.

That hour or two is enough to view in person and research a couple of lots on a mobile Internet connection, but nowhere near enough time to view and decide whether to bid on ten or more lots – unless you:

  • Spend a couple of days before the sale studying lots in the auction company’s print or digital catalogue and researching items you might like to buy.

Make a list of up to ten items you’d really like to win and then study these items in person during the hour or two before the sale goes live. More than ten items makes it a good idea to spend one day viewing and another day bidding.

  • Some auction companies offer ‘condition reports’, usually where a member of staff takes questions about specific lots from you by email or over the phone and then goes study the item or items and reports back with their findings.

You can also request more photographs of specific lots to be added to the site or sent as email attachments. Most of the time, reports and photographs are sufficient to avoid you having to view lots in person before the sale.

  • Some auction companies process lots several weeks ahead of their intended auction sale. So you might find a saleroom with lots for tomorrow’s sale in one room and goods for next month’s sale somewhere close by, but not accessible to the public – unless you ask to view lots for future sales the same day you study current selling lots.

Some auction companies will refuse your request but most will happily oblige and assign a member of staff to accompany you.

  • Just because a saleroom doesn’t publicize same-day viewing and bidding, that doesn’t mean you can’t do both in one day. Just telephone or approach staff in person, say you live a distance away from the saleroom and you prefer not to make two separate journeys, and most will allow you to view before the doors normally open to the public.

#2. Compare the cost of staying in the area overnight against travelling separate days to view and bid. Some motels, especially those at motorway service areas, charge between £10 and £20 per person per night, and can mean significant savings on fuel required for two return journeys.

Not having to travel long distance also means you’ll arrive at the sale fresh and alert and avoid any tiredness from driving, which may cause you to miss bids or make inappropriate decisions.

Unfortunately, some auction companies have gaps between viewing and auction days, which might still involve making several journeys. The exception is where you find something profitable to do in the area between viewing and bidding days and the extra night’s stay is financially worthwhile.

That something profitable might involve visiting local wholesalers and antiques shops, for example, or flea markets and car boot sales which you might otherwise not get to see.

#3. Check the auctioneer’s premium – it’s the amount charged on top of winning bid prices and it’s what the auctioneer earns from the sale. You’ll find some salerooms charging 10% of final bid prices and others 20% or more.

Opt for salerooms charging low selling fees: they sometimes offer the best service and lowest-cost stock, with highest potential profit margins: savings could extend from a few pounds to hundreds of pounds per sale.

The exception is salerooms charging high fees while usually selling low-price goods offering really high potential profits for you.

Avoid salerooms charging high fees and selling goods way above your budget.

Big secret: Auction salerooms in remote areas use low fees to maximise visitors and buyers. But generally you’ll only find two or three new faces at most sales.

So buying rivalry can be low at some salerooms selling complete house contents or deceased estates, as well as large and valuable lots of collectibles. All of which means lots can sell at a tiny fraction of their real value, which with low selling fees means significant savings and generous profit margins for you.

#4. Choose firms without their own websites and no online bidding where viewers and bidders are likely to be low. For companies that do have an Internet presence and online bidding, opt for those not linked to a nationwide or worldwide mediating site like The Saleroom, which can double, triple, or further multiply bidders at the sale. You will also have to pay an additional amount to bid using sites like The Saleroom.

#5. Hire a sizeable vehicle for auctions with lots of items you might want to buy – or you could end up making two journeys in the family car and wasting your profits on fuel; not to mention forfeiting time you could otherwise spend listing goods for sale.

Additionally, goods left to pick up later can be lost, stolen or damaged during your absence and auction companies are not obliged to care for your goods after payment.

#6. Check whether the auction company charges extra for payment by credit card – which can increase your purchase prices. If you want to pay by cheque, make it is acceptable to do so, and if so, ask if goods can be collected right away or after payment clears.

Offering cheques to companies that don’t accept cheques usually means making another journey to pay by cash or credit card and risking goods being damaged or going missing in the process. Having to wait for cheques to clear also involves another journey to collect and an even longer absence from your goods.

Now, with those tips, you know as much as I have learned over almost 50 years of visiting offline auctions.

This article first appeared on Auction Genie. Read more and comment here