How to win at auctions, both online and irl

No bids, no glory: Five shopping tips to make the most of your auction experience.

There’s a lot to see at an auction, like the one above at the Halifax Forum, so Melanie Mather of Lo + Behold says it’s important to stay focused. - IAN SELIG
IAN SELIG
There’s a lot to see at an auction, like the one above at the Halifax Forum, so Melanie Mather of Lo + Behold says it’s important to stay focused.

Nova Scotia may not attract attention from high-end auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s, but local firm Crowther & Brayley runs good auctions in hockey arenas (the next is March 21). And the world of online auctions is accessible from your phone. But just because any amateur can make a bid, doesn’t mean there aren’t lessons to learn.

Melanie and Bob Mather run Lo + Behold, an online auction house and vintage shop near Peggys Cove that specializes in selling retro-chic collectors items, vintage toys, signs and other rare and unique odds and ends. Here are Melanie’s tips for making the best bid, both online and irl.

click to enlarge You'll be floored by some of the bargains on rugs avaialble at auction—just don't go over your spending ceiling. - IAN SELIG
IAN SELIG
You'll be floored by some of the bargains on rugs avaialble at auction—just don't go over your spending ceiling.

Cap your spending limit

It's easy to get sucked in at an auction when the frantic bidding wars begin—and rest assured, the price will always go up, never down. Treat it like gambling, and know when to fold 'em. "Definitely set the number, write it down," says Mather. "Then you can go back and say, 'here's my list, here is my agenda of how I'm going to bid on this.'"


Know the costs

click to enlarge Search functionality differs between online and offline auctions. - IAN SELIG
IAN SELIG
Search functionality differs between online and offline auctions.

"Not everybody realizes there are two fees typically involved," says Mather. She insists online bidders should do their research and factor in provincial tax. There is also a "buyer's premium" charge that will cover administrative and packaging costs. While Lo + Behold charges 15 percent, it can vary with other auctioneers. "Make sure you know what the fine print is, and make sure you're aware how the process works."


Ask questions

At live auctions, potential buyers can physically inspect items, but there are opportunities to obtain important information online as well. "A lot of auction houses have multiple channels of contact," says Mather, who often answers questions from would-be bidders through social media. "Be sure to look at descriptions and measurements."


Timing is everything

click to enlarge Patience can pay off in "unbelievable deals" according to online auctioneer Melanie Mather. - IAN SELIG
IAN SELIG
Patience can pay off in "unbelievable deals" according to online auctioneer Melanie Mather.

Sure, patience is a virtue. But it can also nab you a hell of a bargain at auctions! "Usually if you stick it out to the end, you'll get unbelievable deals," insists Mather. "Because you're the only one there bidding, you can get entire tables of stuff for a buck."


No regrets

After you do make that bid, don't fret about whether you have overpaid for an item. Relax. Enjoy the experience and your new acquisition. "I truly believe the market tells you exactly what the value is," says Mather. "It's a tricky dance, [but] whatever an item sells for is what it's worth."

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