Online auctions: 10 tips to avoid being ripped off

Whether you’re an experienced buyer or new to the exciting world of online auctions, here are a few important tips to keep in mind before you start clicking.

Online auctions: 10 tips to avoid being ripped off

Online buying has been booming for years and auctions are no exception.

Many of the world’s top auction houses – Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Phillips – report that up to 25 percent of their bids now come in over the internet.

The phenomenon has added to the drama that comes from phone bidders, not to mention the people in the room bidding with a paddle or nod of the head.

Online auctions can seem mysterious and confusing to some, but they’re really just another way of shopping.

Covering 1,600 auction houses globally, Barnebys is the world's largest art and auction search engine, and thus knows a thing or two about getting the most from online auctions.

Here are their ten tips for getting started and having fun in the world of online auctions.

1. The estimate is just an indication

Remember, the estimate for the item in the catalogue is just that, merely an indication of what the piece is worth. If lots of people want the item the cost can spiral, but if fewer are interested you might get a bargain.

2. Do your research

Get as much information as you can about the item before you start. Read the information carefully and don’t be afraid to email the auction house in advance for more photos or information.

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Who is the artist? Is a painting signed or unsigned? What are the proportions? Will it fit through your front door or in your living room? Check where and when your auction item was made: the original Eames chairs were made in 1956 but have been in constant production under licence ever since. And remember, if you are buying something old, it will inevitably have chips or cracks.

3. Decide on your limit

Decide your limit before the bidding starts, or as Barnebys co-founder Pontus Silfverstolpe says, “Follow your wallet, not your heart. You can get emotionally caught up in the thrill of the moment and continue bidding beyond what you can afford. Ask yourself: ‘What is this item worth to me?’”

4. Look out for extra charges

Check for additional charges before you bid. Auction houses usually charge a 15-25 percent buyer’s commission on top of the hammer price, and some online bidding platforms charge 3-5 percent just to use them. In those cases, you may want to avoid the charge by arranging to bid via telephone.

   5. It is a contract to buy

Remember, when the auctioneer bangs the gavel down at the end of bidding, it establishes the hammer price and it is a contract to buy.


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6. Place an absentee bid

This authorises the auction house to bid on your behalf to secure the lot at the lowest possible price. You register the maximum hammer price you are prepared to pay, then the house places bids in increments until your limit is reached – or hopefully before.

As Silfverstolpe puts it, “To be sure and feel secure” – place an absentee bid.

7. Keep an eye on the deadline

Some auctions work in a similar way to eBay where the bidding process runs over days, heating up as the sale deadline approaches. You receive email alerts as other bidders top your price, but exercise caution.

“In the last two hours the price can explode,” warns Silfverstolpe.

8. Pay up quickly

Once you win, you will have 5 to 10 bank days to pay and make transport arrangements for your purchase. It’s worth doing this quickly as some auction houses charge storage fees after a few days.

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9. Go with your heart

What to buy? Buy with your heart (but let your wallet set the price limit) – then you are more likely to enjoy the item and keep it longer.

10. Remember the date

Don’t forget to note the date and time of the sale, so you are sure not to miss it.

Why not try an online auction yourself?

Click on one of the listings above or visit Barnebys to browse any of more than half-million items for sale from more than 1,600 auction houses worldwide.

This article was produced by The Local and sponsored by Barnebys.


‘Stolen’ book of world leaders’ autographs turns up in Spain

Serbia is seeking help from Interpol to recover a dozen autographs from world leaders allegedly stolen from commemoration books following the death of Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito, officials said Tuesday, after the pages turned up for auction in Spain.

'Stolen' book of world leaders' autographs turns up in Spain
Photo: Belchonock/Depositphotos

The pages, whose signatories include then US vice president George H.W. Bush, the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, are apparently up for auction in Spain this week.

The documents were posthumous tributes to Tito, who led socialist Yugoslavia from the end of World War II until his death in 1980. They were written into tribute books during official visits by the leaders to Yugoslavia in the years that followed.

Following a media report that the autographs had been stolen, Belgrade's Museum of Yugoslav History launched an internal probe and established that the pages were missing from the tribute books that were on display in a mausoleum that is part of the museum's complex.

“We reported the case to police and they will inform Interpol… We are waiting for a response,” museum official Ana Radic told AFP.    

The theft appears to have taken place before the museum took over the running of the mausoleum in 2015, she explained.   

“We also contacted the auction house and asked them to cancel the auction and provide us with additional information on the documents so we can confirm their authenticity” and recover them, Radic said.   

The auction in Malaga is scheduled for June 3rd.

The director of the British-based auction house said a colleague managing the sale “has been in touch with the relevant authorities and is complying with their requests for further information regarding the documents”.   

“In the rare event that the ownership of documents is brought into question then we are always willing to assist the relevant parties in further investigations and, if necessary, withdraw documents from the auction until the rightful owner can be established,” Richard Davie of Autograph Auctions told AFP by email, without elaborating.   

Among the other autographs that have gone missing are those of India's first female prime minister Indira Gandhi, assassinated Swedish premier Olof Palme, Cambodia's king Norodom Sihanouk, late Syrian president Hafez al-Assad and Romanian communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

A decade after Tito's death, federal Yugoslavia fell apart in a series of bloody wars, with its former republics emerging as independent states in the western Balkans.

By Katarina Subasic / AFP

READ MORE: Spanish police recover priceless cultural treasures in megabust of international art thieves.