If you’re anything like me, you love decorating your home with unique, eclectic, antique or vintage pieces that tell a story and are full of character.
I usually look for such items in thrift shops, antique stores and fairs but there is another option – that people often think won’t be for them – the world of online auctions. We tend to associate auctions with professionals and collectors buying crazy-expensive luxury art and jewels, in an intimidating environment of bidding wars and raised paddles. Not so! They’re way more accessible than you think, and often offer lots from stately home clearances, which is a peak into a wonderful bygone era, of which you can own a piece. You can preview and bid (in person, online or often, over the phone) and win curated, one-of-a-kind pieces from all over the world. Trust me when I say the most insane bargains are also to be had…
My friend and owner of Kidston-Trigg auction house, Alastair Kidston-Trigg and I had a fascinating conversation about this and we have put together a few tips:
1. Set a budget. While useful for any shopping endeavour, this is especially important during auctions. Having a set budget will prevent you from placing a bid you can’t afford if you get lost in the moment. Just like in-person auctions, winning an online one is a binding contract between you and the seller that must be honoured by both parties. Finding the perfect items to bid on has never been easier. In fact, most online auction houses are structured like any other online shop: you can filter for the category of items you’re interested in, your budget, the place of origin and more.
2. Understand the auction rules. Depending on the platform you’re on, these may differ slightly. Read the terms and conditions carefully to avoid any unpleasant surprises, like expensive delivery charges. Here’s an auction glossary that may be helpful, to understand any lingo in advance.
3. Enjoy! Have fun browsing the items you’d like to bid on and add them to your watchlist. Personally, I am guided by what I love, rather than what might become a valuable asset or is particularly on trend. Many auction sites and auctioneers provide a mailing list for their auctions, so you can receive a notification when they put an item you like up for bidding. Others will let you add alerts based on your search terms so you can be the first to know when a relevant lot is posted. Some of my absolute favourite online auction houses are Kidston-Trigg, The Sale Room, Sworders, Live Auctioneers and Invaluable.
4. Do your homework. Check the reserve price, and research the provenance and era of the piece (if it’s a large investment) to understand how it should be worth. This step is crucial as it should inform your bidding strategy and the maximum bid you should place. It’s also worth paying attention to the dimensions. The perfect Georgian mantle mirror is no good if it’s too big to fit above the fireplace…
5. Remember to check the item carefully beforehand. Generally, online auction houses will provide you with an appraisal, and visual material on the item’s condition so you can carefully inspect it and be aware of any flaws. Smaller online auction houses will even arrange video calls for you to do so and this is a huge plus!
6. Keep an eye on the deadline. In fact, some auctioneers may extend (or reduce) the duration of the auction depending on how much interest there’s been in a certain item. If you miss an auction, it’s worth contacting the auction house to check if a lot didn’t sell. You might be in luck to negotiate with the seller.
7. Make sure the auction house delivers internationally, if relevant. This is usually the case, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Happy bidding!