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Auction tips for buyers

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bidding at an auctionHello all! My name is Amy Renea and I am a freelance photographer, writer and craft blogger over at A Nest for All Seasons.  A big hug and thank you to Gail for having me here today! Have you ever wandered into an auction and felt completely out of place? You didn’t know what to do, where to go or how to cross your arms without hitting someone? Yeah – me too. Of course, after a litany of auctions, I am now a small time pro and am here to share my secretes with you today!
First things first!
#1   Look cute, but not expensive.  If you are a girl, you must use your cuteness to your advantage.  You don’t have to flirt, you certainly shouldn’t go sexy, but just go cute.  What you really do NOT want to do though is look expensive.  Don’t wear good jewelry or bring a nice purse.  You will have prices jacked up immediately if you look rich!

#2  Bring Quarters.  Why quarters?  At an auction, items will often be sold in huge “lots”.  At this particular auction they sold the large lots as “half-tables”.  You pay a few bucks, you choose the left or right side of the table and you take it all.  When people buy these lots, they sometimes do not want everything on the table, they just want 1 or 2 things.  If there is something you love, it doesn’t hurt to ask the buyer if you can bargain with them.
Remember that table I got for $3?  That is exactly how I got it, Polaroid camera and all.  I bid on the table and then the nice guy next to me outbid me.  I said a cheerful “shoot” and snapped my fingers when he won.  That was his cue to turn around and say, “Hey, I only bought it for the stein, do you want the rest for $3?”  ummm…YES! He picked out his Harley Davidson Stein, and the rest was mine.
…but why quarters?  What does that half table have to do with quarters??  The typical situation is that you want 1 or 2 items (not the rest of the table like me).  If you scope out the situation, you might be able to just touch the item you want, look a little disappointed, and the buyer will offer it to you for a quarter.  Very easy!
…which leads us to…
#3 Show Me the Money!  When dealing one on one with a seller, if you physically hold money out to purchase something, it is hard for them to turn it down.  Once they see the actual coin or bill, it is as if you are taking the money out of their pocket if you walk away with it.  It is also easier to say “sure” I’ll take a dollar when the dollar is being held out.  It is harder to ask the buyer to dip in their pocket or wallet again for more money.
#4  Divert Attention.   Do you see a bunch of little things that you like?  Don’t touch them.  Don’t look at them.  Ignore them.  Ignore people looking at them.  You are using basic psychology here people.  If you show the items or people that might be interested in those items attention, they will want those items more.  It is human nature to go after what someone else wants.  So don’t let them know you want it!
small items
Conversely, you can influence buyers by noting attractive features (that lamp is so pretty!) or simply touching an item.  If that lamp has a beautiful rim on the top, just run your finger over the top.  The people around you will see that it has grabbed your attention, they will take a second look and they might fall in love with the workmanship or design of the piece.  While they are looking at the lamp you subtly pointed out, you can scoop in and buy that camera no one noticed in the back.  (That whole scenario…that happened…the guy bought the lamp when the table was going by piece and I got the rest of the table, including the camera I wanted for the same price).
vintage polaroid camera
#5 Pay Attention.  The best buys are when everybody stops paying attention for some reason and you can swoop in and grab a steal.  Oh my, did he just add that glassware to that box of art supplies?  Both of them?  Did nobody just notice that?  SCORE!
#6 Know Who is Who.  You have to know who owns the store, who is just running the auction, who the owner is, who can make a final call on the sale.  Most of this you can find out by just observing, but once in awhile, you can ask.  Just be polite and kind and ask with a smile.  The key is to find out ALL of this information BEFORE the bidding actually begins.  It is most fun to scope out the scene while sipping hot coffee and giggling about how fun auctions are with your husband.  No one will take you seriously which is another plus :)

#7 Know What is What.If you know what you are looking for, you know what items are worth a lot of money, what your style is and how to determine quality, you are a step up from a lot of buyers.  Here is the thing though…unless you are an ebayer by trade, do NOT buy things just because you think you can make money.  Often times, you can resell items and make a huge profit, but you should buy items that YOU love.  If they don’t resell later, you still have a piece you love.  SO know your stuff, peek on the bottom of those pieces to see what artist or designer made them, but only buy what you love…and make sure to pay pennies for it!

chamber pot
#8 Seize the Sale.  This is how I got that chamber pot above – it is basic psychology again.  We were nearing the end of the tailgate auction, and everyone had sold off their ENTIRE tables for around $10-15 total.  There was one guy left with two tables, but he had set reserves.  Basically he wanted a few dollars per item and did not want to sell all of his stock for one rate.  So the bidding starts, and a few items sell for $3-5 (mainly beer steins again…I really don’t get it…).  Then, suddenly the bidding is over.  Nobody wants anything else.  I kind of wanted something, but I didn’t speak up because I wanted something for less than $2-3.  If you walk away at this point, you don’t get anything.  If you are brave and quick, you can score a deal.  here is what is working for me:
a. The seller is tired after a long day and does not want to haul things home.  He wants to sell!
b. The seller is slightly discouraged that more of his things did not sell in the auction.
c. I have a few bucks on hand, so I can literally show him the money.
d. I am nice, cuter than a trucker and am appreciative of the sale and LOVE the items for sale.
So, I walk up within seconds after the auction has ended (#8 Seize the Sale), to the OWNER of the booth, NOT the auctioneer (#6 Know Who is Who), smiled and held out a dollar (#3 Show me the Money!) and asked if I could have “that white piece” AND that Toy Story Collection for a dollar.  Wait what?  What toy Story Thing?  yeah THIS Toy Story thing selling for.  I just bunched them together, showed the dollar bill and he said sure. …which leads us to…
#9 Group Items. If you want several things, make an offer for all of the things you want.  The more you buy, the more the sellers will haggle with you. …and finally…
#10 ASK QUIETLY.The seller wants to sell, but he doesn’t want EVERYONE coming up and asking for super deals.  He wants to get as much money as he can.  So if I loudly ask if he will sell me two of his best items for $1, then everyone else will start bidding at $1.00.  If I keep my voice quiet, he can say Yes, but move on to the next buyer and hopefully they will ask if they can buy something for $2,$3,$5, or $10.  I am not making this up.  Literally while I was talking to the owner, several people went to talk to the auctioneer (OOPS on #6 Know Who is Who).  They asked about buying various items and he referred them back to the owner.  People bought more items, at various prices, but there were no more 2/$1 sales.  Someone did want to buy that Toy Story Collection for a few dollars too, but it had sold already. Snap!

small molds
So what are your auctioning, yard sale and thrift store tricks?
Amy Renea is a freelance, editorial photographer and writer out of Hershey, PA.  You can catch her work in Hobby Farm Home magazine, on Houzz.com or over at her home blog — A Nest for All Seasons.  You can also find Amy tweeting it up as @amyreneak and pinning up a storm on PINTEREST.
Thank you so much Amy for all the great advice!  I haven’t been to an auction in years, but you sure have me itching to go!
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A teacher at heart, Gail relishes the chance not to show off her projects, but to help others find their inner handywoman, step-by-step. Her blog, MyRepurposedLife.com, chronicles her scrap-saving adventures and has been featured on countless DIY magazines and websites, including Women’s Day, Design*Sponge and Apartment Therapy. She is a longtime influencer for both Krylon spray paint and Gorrilla Glue. With a tribe of more than 400,000 followers, Gail is inspiring a new generation of DIYers to pick up some tools and get to work.
About gail@myrepurposedlife.com


    Speak Your Mind


  1. Lots of great info. I have not been to auctions that had owners there. Just the auction house people. I’m always a bundle of nerves and can keep it hidden. My husband though, another story. :)

  2. Great hints everyone. I went to an auction this summer and bought a Daisy BB Gun for my son. Didn’t inspect it first, but assumed it was a working gun, since it was in the box. When I got it (for a working price) I found that it was damaged. I paid way to much to use it for a decoration, so I asked the auctioneer to note that it wasn’t operable and he put it back on the auction. Saved me $30 and made the guy bidding against me very happy. He got it for $5 and just wanted it for decor. So my tip is: If you feel you really got a bad deal – and you have to really feel that way – ask if they can put it back on the auction. Yes, this takes balls, but if you spent WAY too much on something that just wasn’t how it was presented – it just might work.

  3. Wow this was so fun to read. I have never been to an auction, but it sounds like a fun challenge, and all the comments were great!

  4. I have always gone to tons of estate auctions and one of the important things you can do is be the auctioneer’s friend. No one wants to start an item. If he finds you are willing to help him start hard to sell items he will help you out sometimes on desirable items.

    I once bought an 18 cubic foot freezer for $5. I had no interest in it but the auctioneer said, “Mary, will you give me $5?” I said sure and he waited about 10 seconds in a drizzling rain and said SOLD. I sold that thing for $50 without touching it.

    But that auctioneer knew I would start most anything for him.

  5. For garage sales I used to hand my daughter a dollar or whatever, and have her go ask the person if they would take a dollar… Now my grown daughter has her son do it!

  6. Anonymous says:

    I love going to auctions and have found made some awesome buys. These are all great tips. One thing I never do is make eye contact with anyone other than the auctioneer. I have won many items with my determination and often have had others come up and ask if I am an antiques dealer, which always makes me laugh.

  7. The auctions I attend are usually held at the house the items come from; every now and then they are held at an “auction house” (loose term since it’s usually a back room of an antique store) so bathrooms with soap are available 98% of the time (yay!). However, hand sanitizer for later after you’ve loaded grungy items into your vehicle is a good idea.

    Never heard of a tailgate auction. I attend estate auctions whenever I can. Have been to a few estate sales where items are priced but made offers lower than the asking price that were accepted.

    I usually write down the items I want with a note as to what table they are located on. I do this AFTER walking away from the item I want and while standing in front of one I don’t want. You definitely don’t want to give away that you really desire an item. Recently, I was literally drooling over a piece that I knew was worth several hundred dollars. When it came up, I literally was vibrating from the desire to own it, but cooly and calming just nodded a little every time I was outbid. I won the item for $15. THEN I went crazy over it LOL. No one there knew what a find it was!

    I dress in jeans, t-shirt (or sweater if cold), and tennis shoes. Nothing fancy, but I do try and wear colors that make me easy to spot by the auctioneer. That way, I can do my quiet bidding, but I’m noticeable enough that the auctioneer will look my way and see me barely nod.

    Now, if I really want something and know the bidding will be intense, I do hold my card up and keep it up. I have won several items using this method. It intimidates other bidders because they think I’ll go to any lengths to get the item, even though I won’t. However, it’s a mind game I play and is successful 95% of the time.

    Now, my mom is the Queen of bidding. I’ve stood beside her while she’s bid on something and barely noticed she was bidding. She will flick her finger up or slightly nod and you can see people looking around trying to see who they are bidding against.

    Last but not least, carefully inspect each item you want. Inspect other items you don’t want to no one can home in on something you desire. Careful inspection is a necessity since you don’t want to win an item only to find out it’s chipped or missing a part. As long as you pay the same attention to items you don’t want, no one can see your desire for particular items and run the price up (yeah, people do that sometimes).


  8. Thanks for the great tips! I’ve never been to an auction. I hope to go someday.

  9. I’ve been to auctions for farm machinery with my dad, but I’ve never bought anything. Most of the auctions happen when I’m work. Someday I’ll get to put these tips into action. Great post!


  10. Lots of great tips here….I’ve used most of them too. Ü

  11. My husband and I LOVE going to auctions. We are like kids in a candy store. The excitement is almost palpable.

    I always dress comfortable… jeans, comfortable shoes and either have my hair pulled up or in a baseball cap.

    I’ve never heard of a tailgate auction. But these are some tips that we utilize.

    #1. If it’s an outdoor auction bring a folding chair. A lot of outdoor auctions do not provide seating and if you are going to stick for the whole thing you’re going to want to sit down at some point.

    #2. Hand santizer is always a good thing. Porta potties are the rule at outdoor auctions… nuff said.

    #3. Employ your poker face. Never look too excited about an item. I got so good at what I call quiet bidding that my husband and half the people at the auction did not realize when I won a Duncan Phyfe table with 5 leafs, all the pads and 8 chairs for $30!! I was almost bursting at the seams when I turned my head, looked at my husband and whispered “we now own a table & chairs”. He was stunned! LOL

    Auctions are a lot of fun! That day we did so good that my husband had to go rent a uhaul so that we could get our finds home!

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me! I read and appreciate every word!