Looking to consign a piece of art, perhaps one passed down from generations or trapped away in your attic? Have a bit of extra time on your hands to clean out your home in search of forgotten treasures?
You’re in luck. We’ve compiled a list of key tips, considerations, and questions to ask before selling art on consignment – and how to choose the best auction house to sell to. Here’s what you should know before selling art on consignment.
Art consignment: 13 important tips (and the right questions to ask)
1. Know the value of your piece.
Is it of notable prominence (and do you have paperwork to prove it)? Is it by a well-known or in-demand painter? Does it represent a major movement? Make sure it’s in great quality to sell, and understand first-hand how much it could fetch at auction.
2. Do your homework.
Research auction houses, sign up for their newsletters, follow them on social media, read up on recent sales, and truly understand your potential buyers. Understand how selling at auction works and familiarize yourself with some of the lingo used by auctioneers (see our auction term glossary here).
3. Attend a few sales.
Once you know the value of your work and have narrowed down your search for auction houses to consign to, attend a few in-person or online sales to fully experience the process. Go to auction viewings 2-3 days before the sale. You’ll get the full experience and understand how your work will be reviewed, valued, and sold.
4. Before you enter a consignment agreement, document.
Look at items objectively and make a list of what to sell. If you’re selling numerous works at once, be sure to tag them properly. Make and store copies of all necessary paperwork associated with the value of your piece.
5. Know the season you’re selling in, and sell what’s in demand.
With certain types of art or painting consignment, selling during certain seasons may be appropriate than others, drawing a more relevant group of buyers and a potentially higher profit for you.
6. Choose an auction house: ask key questions.
Pick the best auction house to consign to by asking several questions to help guide you in your decision:
- Does the auction house have the tools – from attorneys to lending agencies – you need to sell your items?
- How much experience does the auction house have in selling works like yours? Know whether your work should be sold at a low-range, mid-range, or high-end auction house.
- Does it specialize in the type of item you’re selling? This helps maximize price.
- How many auctions has it held in the past?
- What types of buyers attend their auctions?
- What are the guidelines for quality?
- How does the auction company plan to market your piece of art? Will they print a catalogue, and will it include a photo of your work? Will online bidding be available, or is the auction solely in-person?
- What other items will be included in the auction? In some cases, if your item is the most expensive of all, that may not bode well for you.
- Does the auction house pick up items for you?
- What are the consignment fees and sales split? Fees come out of total sales. Know that you may be able to negotiate if you have several items, or if your piece is wanted for a specific sale.
- How likely is it that your item will sell?
- If the auction house insures your item while it’s in their possession. (If your insurance is the one that will cover it, call to make sure it is in fact covered).
- What will the payout period for items be? This varies base on the house, and payout can take from one week to over a month. Get an itemized list of pieces you’re selling before you leave the auction house.
7. Read (and re-read) your contract.
Once you’ve chosen an auction house, each auction house has its own contract for consignors. Again, it’s important for you to know what happens to your items once they’re sold or not sold.
8. Don’t sell items in advance.
When buyers get word of your item listed at auction, they may try to buy it prior to the sale. But once you’ve designated your piece for auction, it cannot be sold this way. Remember, however, that these buyer prospects can call the auction house and leave an advance bid (or actually attend the sale online or in-person).
9. Follow drop-off rules.
In some cases, you’ll need to drop off your work during receiving hours – in others, you’ll need to make an appointment. And in some cases, the auction house will pick up your item.
10. Ask about reserve prices.
Know the rules about setting reserve prices, below which you will not sell (and get this policy in writing). If your artwork doesn’t sell, you might face an auctioneer’s fee of 5-15% of the reserve price.
11. Find out when you’ll get paid.
If you asked the important questions we mentioned above in choosing an auction house, you should already be aware of when to expect payment of your sold piece of art. Auction houses typically wait until buyers’ payments go through before they pay sellers. It might take 30-45 days to receive your check.
12. If your piece does not sell, know when pick-up is.
Auction houses will not act as warehouses to store your items. Know when and where to pick up your item after a sale ends.
13. Bonus: Consult with avid consignors.
If you’re still on the fence about whether or not to consign your work of art, or if you need some extra advice about the process, consult with a consignor friend or reach out to online communities to get the tips you need.
Consigning your artwork with confidence
Whether you’re dealing with an extraordinarily rare work of art at a Sotheby’s sale, or opting to work with a more local, family run auction house, the entire art consignment process is indeed exhilarating.
While these 13 important tips are certainly not exhaustive, we hope we’ve provided you with a place to start and peace of mind in being aware of the considerations to consign with an auction company. Remember to do your research, appraise and document your items, ask key questions to auctioneers, sell in season, know the fees and conditions of your contract, get insured, and consult with art consignment veterans.
Ready, set, consign!