Auctions are a wonderful place to find one-of-a-kind collectibles, antique furniture, artwork and other items that you are passionate about. But with over 25,000 auction houses around the world, it’s not always possible to travel to the sales you’re most interested in.
Online auctions give you the flexibility to bid live in auctions taking place around the world from home or from the office, or anywhere, directly from your mobile device.
But how do you master the art of bidding in online auctions? We gathered key tips and advice directly from the Invaluable bidder community to help you find success.
1. Do your homework.
If you really want to understand the item that you're about to purchase – and get the fair market price for it – you need to do your homework.
Start by educating yourself on the collectibles market you're interested in, says bidder Karin C., and spend time gathering a broad knowledge about the items you're collecting. "Become your own expert to avoid mistakes, disappointments, and paying too much.”
Before bidding on an item, Invaluable bidders suggest looking at as many images of it as possible. Don't hesitate to ask the auction house for more photos, detailed information, and a condition report – houses will typically respond very quickly.
“Research, research, research! If interested in an item, exhaust all available research information to find out as much as possible about the item's history, its current value, its auction history, and its potential future value,” says bidder Dan H.
Our own price archive can help you find the value of an item or similar items you want in advance of a sale, as well as the prices they have sold for in the past.
Watching several auctions online before trying to bid is also helpful to understand how the auction house works, suggests Patrick T. Expect to get better the more you participate in auctions – experience is key in helping you avoid certain mistakes.
It’s also important to check how the auction house handles payment and shipping (and know the buyer's premium and expected tax costs) to stay within your budget.
2. Set a realistic budget and stick to it.
When bidding, be careful about getting caught in the heat of the moment. Set a realistic bid limit (for absentee bids, too) beforehand and don't go over it, the Invaluable bidder community advises.
“Think of the maximum price you want to pay for the piece, including the premium, and stick with that number," says Tony S. Stay within your budget using our buyer's premium calculator, which appears on the screen when you're ready to enter your bid.
Other bidders have likely done research on the items being offered, and will be prepared to bid up to the fair market price. While you certainly don’t want to overpay, it’s also important to make sure you educate yourself on what an item is worth. If it's particularly unique and may never come up again, notes Robert D., be sure to plan accordingly.
"Buy the best you can afford. Quality remains constant long after the thrill of a bargain passes."
But "winning" doesn't necessarily mean you have to win a particular item, reminds another bidder, Robert M. "Sometimes you win by knowing when to pass."
3. Narrow your focus, then bid on what you love.
Narrow the scope of your collection so you can more easily determine what to purchase and its worth to your collection.
"Specialize as much as possible. Don't just collect pottery; collect art pottery from Marajó Island, Brazil, made before 1980," says Ford R. "Be specific to limit choices or you'll run out of room and money."
Once you've honed in on exactly what you want to purchase, stick to what you really love – what you're most enthusiastic about.
"Know what an item is worth and what it is worth to you," says Michael C. "If it is important to your collection, it may be worth more to you than to another bidder,” which can further increase your chances for success.
It's also important not to buy primarily for investment value, as the market fluctuates all the time. Rather, buy a piece because you love it (and not just because the market loves it, adds bidder Hui-Jui C.).
To ensure that you don't miss out on important sales try setting up keyword or category alerts to be notified via email in advance.
4. Participate live whenever possible.
When participating in an online auction, your odds of winning are increased exponentially if you bid live, in real-time, versus leaving an absentee bid and hoping for the best.
Whenever possible, log in online and watch a live auction, which will allow you to update your bid as necessary. Bidding platforms including Invaluable also offer mobile apps for the iPhone and iPad, so you can also bid live when you’re on the go.
Many auctions on Invaluable have audio and visual capabilities so that you can still enjoy the excitement of live auctions.
"Watching live is far more exciting than placing an absentee bid, and you have a far better chance of winning the lot you are interested in," says Linda K.
Participating in a live auction can also be a great way to get a deal. Ingrid C. recommends, “If you love something but think it will be out of your price range, it is often worth watching the auction anyway. Sometimes things sell for less than the auctioneer’s estimate.”
If you aren’t able to participate live online when the auction is in progress, make sure you set your bid limit high enough. Bidder D.G. suggests, “Don't just bid the minimum required – put down the maximum bid that is within your budget” for increased chances of winning.
5. Bid quickly, with confidence (and patience).
When bidding in an auction, the lot you’re interested in could sell before you have time to realize it. If there's something you have your heart set on, aim to bid quickly and without hesitation.
"Don't be shy. An auction – online or live – can seem like an intimidating affair, but it's really quite smooth and easily navigated using the same common sense criteria that we employ when making any purchase."
Alex A. also warns bidders not to wait for fair warnings to appear, but to instead "make sure your bids are quick, firm, and full of confidence."
Don't overthink it, and go with your gut. Matt M. recommends jumping in and bidding at the beginning of the auction. "Maybe no one will want to go after that first bid. I've gotten some great deals that way." Preparing ahead of time will help you to maintain the confidence needed to win those items that you love.
6. Look outside your locale.
If your collection centers on pieces from a particular locale, you may want to consider auctions taking place in other areas that may offer what you're looking for. Demand may be lower outside of your local area, so you have better chances of winning.
"Concentrate on buying items outside of the locality where they are likely to incite most interest. For example, don't limit buying California art to California or west coast houses," advises Gilman P.
Tom B. notes that New England-themed artwork, in particular, is often offered in Florida and California. That improves the likelihood of being able to purchase it at a lower price than what you might find when bidding on New England art locally.
7. Have fun!
Last but not least, remember that participating in auctions is an enjoyable experience. Bidders always talk about the excitement of bidding live online and competing to win an item against other bidders.
Stay positive and don't be nervous, says bidder Rodney T. "Go in and give it a go – it's fun!"