Natasha Cubitt provides some advice for those new to auction.


Top Tips for Buying & Selling at Auction

Buying and selling at auction can sometimes feel a bit of a daunting prospect if you’ve never done it before. Here our experts have put together a definitive guide of the ins and outs of how the auction market works and top tips on how to be successful bidders and sellers!


Buying at Auction

There are four types of bidding:

    • Commission bidding: you leave information of your top bid with the auction house and they will place the bids on your behalf. This is a great way to ensure you don’t pay more than you intended! Absentee bids like this will be executed faithfully by the auction house and you’ll only pay as much as the bidding on the day dictates.
    • Telephone bidding: you can arrange with the auction house for them to call you when lots you are interested in are coming up and you can then give your bids to them directly but this is usually for higher value lots.
    • Online bidding: almost all auctions now take place online and the vast majority of bids are now taken via the internet. You need to register in advance with your credit card details and the bidding platform (eg Saleroom or Easylive) will take a small commission (up to 5%). The auction house themselves will take payment for the items you succeed on securing after the sale.
    • In person bidding: some auction houses don’t have in person bidding anymore, but others do, so check in advance before turning up.


  • Don’t forget you will be paying Buyers’ Premium on top of the hammer price of anything between 20-30% + VAT.
  • Always view the item if you can.
  • Check carefully for signs of damage, repair, restoration
  • If you can’t view it, ask for a condition report with specific questions relating to the aspects above.
  • Ask what the provenance of the piece is – if it’s come from a well-heeled country estate it’s likely to be good quality and less likely to have been altered or messed about with.
  • Set your limit of how much you want to pay in advance – write it down and stick to it. Don’t get carried away by auction fever. You may think when you lose out that you only lost by a bid, but you don’t know how high the other bidder was prepared to go.
  • If you’re not spending a lot of money, don’t worry whether the thing is ‘right’ or not – if you love the look of it and it’s in decent condition, that’s enough!
  • If you are considering spending a lot of money, do your research in advance. On you can pay to see previous sales results and this is sound investment to get a handle of today’s market.
  • What the trade calls ‘brown furniture’ – antique furniture in dark wood – is often an incredible bargain. You can find pieces with beautiful craftsmanship for often much less than you’d pay for something made of chipboard from Ikea. Mixed in with more modern things, antique furniture can be wonderful to live with.
  • Make sure you have worked out how you will get the item home – some auction houses organise carriage if you can’t get there in person but on heavy/large items it will be expensive and you need to factor this into the amount you’re prepared to spend.
  • Bidding is entering into a contract with the auction house and you will be required to pay up even if you change your mind.

Selling at Auction

  • Choose an auction house with a good reputation that has a decent specialism in the area of the item you want to sell.
  • Now that all auctions are online, sellers are exposed to potential buyers from all over the world, regardless of where the auction house is located.
  • There is a Sellers’ Commission of between 16-26% + VAT which will be deducted from the realised sale price before the auction house sends you the funds.
  • Check with the auction house how long they take to pay you for any items you sell – this can vary from 3 weeks to a few months which could affect your situation.
  • The auction house will give you a range guide price, for example £600-800. This is the amount they think the item will realise based on their experience and comparable results. You can set a reserve price at the lower estimate, below which your item will not sell to make sure you get a result you’re happy with. Often an auction lot will go over – and occasionally way over – its guide price!
  • Selling at auction is the best way to make sure your item reaches its maximum potential – if you sell to a dealer or privately you don’t have the competition of other bidders and they will be trying to secure the lowest price they can.