Just because the summer flea market season is winding down, you don’t have push the pause button on finding unique items for your home at a great price. When it comes to shopping in your pj’s, for the design-obsessed, there’s really nothing better than online auction sales. In fact, it’s pretty much an online version of the best flea market ever. We’ve picked the brains of some auction experts to get you the scoop on how to take your vintage furniture and art buying to an entirely new level. And just in time, too! Rago Arts has an online auction on Aug 29th filled with modern furniture, lighting and art.
For more detailed information on how to bid, Rago put together this fantastic video on just that.
So you love design, but why go the auction route vs. new? According to auction veteran Barry Rice, co-owner of Full Circle Modern, a vintage designer furniture company in Brooklyn, New York, when you shop auctions appreciation will become your new favorite word. By purchasing a vintage piece, you’re buying something that will really hold its value as opposed to a new object, which is just going to depreciate as soon as you take it out of the store. Barry knows what he’s talking about. He scored a burlwood Dunbar table in the 2003 for less than $1,000, and after 10 years of using the table, he sold it for 4 times that initial purchase price. “I bought the piece when there wasn’t a market for it, and then it happened to be a style that came into fashion. When that happens, that’s the fun part,” explained Barry.
For Catharine Weber of Skinner Auction House, an auction house with a four-decade history of selling, the fun part is also that real thrill of the hunt when you’re buying from an auction. Miriam Tucker of Rago Arts & Auction Center, agrees that fun factor is often the reason people shop at auction houses because shopping becomes more of a treasure hunt. An added plus is that because the furniture is vintage, you’re likely to get higher quality piece than you might otherwise be able to afford.
Once something has caught your eye, you’ll want to do a little detective work. It’s time for the background check. You’re already online placing your bid, so Miriam Tucker of Rago suggests using the web to do a little digging and see what the past sale price has been for similar items. She suggests looking at sites that compile auction results, such as Bidsquare, to get a sense of the piece’s value. For Miriam, she’s not necessarily looking to set a budget, rather she’s curious as to whether she might expect to win the lot.
“You also want to do enough research on an item so you know that you’re getting something complete and in truly original condition,” said Barry Rice. He explained, “With vintage items original condition can be important. You want to know if something has been painted or know if it’s missing a piece.” The other way to step up your research game, according to Barry, is to order a condition report. “Don’t rely on statements like ‘Good Vintage Condition,'” he said. ” Ask for a detailed report, including extra photos.”
The Dollars and Cents
Before bidding, you want to know what the true bottom line is. There are usually some additional charges that will be added into the amount you bid so be sure you’re aware of the final cost before you get trigger happy. First, be sure you are factoring in sales tax. But if you plan to have the item shipped to you, you’ll also want to get a shipping quote (usually the house will point you to a third party) before you bid. In addition there can be a buyer’s premium. Miriam Tuck of Rago explained, “Every auction house covers its expenses and makes a profit by charging a % to the seller and a % to the buyer. So when you bid $100 at auction, you are ultimately paying that $100 + the buyer’s premium plus any charges for tax or shipping.” Once you have factored in all those charges, you’ll have a good sense of what the piece actually costs and whether it is worth it for you.
Time to Get Dressed
Just like online dating, there comes a moment when you need to get dressed up and meet face-to-face. Everyone I spoke with agreed that, if you live close enough, you should make the effort to attend the auction preview. This is where you can examine the piece up close, check the condition and chat with the experts. Barry said that “the auction experts can help you understand if what you’re interested in is a common item, something that comes up often, or if it’s unusual.” If it’s something that is a usual item for the house, you might want to stick fast at your bottom line but if it’s a real one-of a kind piece, then you may want to adjust your bid. Miriam advises new buyers to ask lots of questions, “Think you’ll sound ignorant? You won’t. You’ll sound curious and interested and that will be appreciated, contrary to any impression you may have about snobby auction houses,” she said. “Auction people are passionate about art and design. Our specialists know a heck of a lot about a heck of a lot of things. We can tell you if the table that interests you is good, better, or best of its kind and why. We can point out flaws and tell you whether these affect market value or not.”
And if you can’t make the preview in person, use that phone or email! The more questions you can get answered the better off you’ll be when you’re ready to bid.
How to Not Get Carried Away
So you have your budget figured out (including all the potential additional charges), you’re all set to be smart and frugal. The next thing you know you’re carried along an emotional roller coaster and you totally blow right past your limit. To keep yourself in the safe zone, Barry Rice suggests utilizing a service like Bidsquare and putting in your bid ahead of time so that “you don’t get caught up in the excitement and then get caught paying too much. When I watch an auction online, I get caught up in the excitement, and my itchy trigger finger takes over,” he explains. Rago’s Miriam Tucker has another trick, “Envision the piece selling to someone else for a price that you would have been willing to pay. If you can imagine it going home with them and have no regrets, hold back. If you know you’d be kicking yourself instead, bid!”
*Bonus* Shipping Tip
Expert auction buyer and shipping receiver Barry Rice has learned the hard way how to protect his purchase. First, you should definitely have insurance on your item, but Barry says that you don’t want to sign anything accepting the shipment, if the package has been damaged at all. If you sign the shipping receipt and then later find that $500 vase broke in transit, you might have a near impossible time getting the insurance to pay up. You want to identify something as broken before you sign.
We’ve all been there. You walk out of the store and after a look at your bank statement, you realize that you overreached. Or you get your new coffee table home and realize that it is half the size you expected. When you’re buying retail, a quick trip back to the store and the item is back on the shelves. This is not the case when you’re buying from an auction house. So while you want to be sure your do all your measuring and budgeting up front, you do have an option if you don’t like the item. Put it back on the auction block, and find something new to bid on. If you’re done your homework, there’s even a chance you’ll be making a profit.
But our experts agreed the best part of auction shopping isn’t really the money making potential. Although that’s a nice bonus, it’s the treasure hunt aspect of finding a designer needle in a haystack or simply the perfect piece of furniture for your space. And, of course, the fun of knowing that you found a special piece. So browse through the auction catalogs, get your Bidsquare login ready to go and get set to find something amazing.