15 Auction Do's and Don'ts - Bidding Tips for Beginners

Auction Tips for Beginners

Auctioneer with Large Crowd of Buyers
Rich Legg / Getty Images

For collectors and bargain hunters, there’s nothing like the excitement of a live auction. Auctions are equal parts sport and shopping. They're also prime sources for furniture, artwork, and accessories. Learning how to bid at an auction is just one step. If you're looking for beginner auction tips, read these do's and don'ts before you bid.

Do Check The Payment Terms Before The Day of The Auction.

Make sure the auction house accepts checks or credit cards if those are how you plan to pay. Ask about deposits and extra charges also. At some auctions, you have to put down a refundable deposit when you register to bid. Some also add a buyer’s premium to the hammer price, which is your winning bid. 

Don’t Wait Until You’ve Won to Check on Pick-up And Delivery Options.

At some auctions, you’re required to take possession immediately. Others charge storage fees if you can’t take your purchases with you when you leave.

Do Attend The Preview

Attend the preview to inspect the goods even if you’ve seen photos in an auction catalog. Make sure it’s possible -- and won’t cost too much -- to repair damaged pieces. Make note of box lot numbers and contents if you’re planning to bid on them.

Don’t Show Excitement

Stay calm during the preview when you find items you want to acquire. You don’t want to announce your intentions to other bidders. You may end up increasing your competition if you call attention to specific pieces. If they didn’t notice your favorites at first glance, don’t give them a reason to go back for a second look.

Do Double-Check Box Lot Contents

Double-check the box lot contents on the morning of the auction if the official preview took place on a preceding day. It’s not unheard of for unscrupulous bidders to switch the contents from box to box.

Do Register For a Bidder’s Card

Do this as soon as you arrive. You can’t participate without one.

Do Dress Appropriately

Make sure to dress practically, especially if the auction is being held outdoors or in a barn. Dress in layers if there’s no temperature control, and be prepared to walk across muddy or uneven ground.

Do Pack a Folding Chair

Pack a folding chair in your car just in case all the seats are taken by the time you arrive.

Do Set a Maximum You’re Willing to Spend

Set a maximum you're willing to pay for each item of interest, and then stick to it. It’s all too easy to get caught up in auction fever and bid far more than you intended. If you doubt your willpower, attend with a friend so you can keep each other accountable.

Don’t ​Get Into a Bidding War

Don't get involved in a bidding war just because you’re feeling competitive. If you get caught up in beating the other bidder, you may end up wishing you’d lost once the auction ends and you’re committed to a high price.

Do Expect The Best Deals in The Afternoon

As early-morning bidders run out of money and energy, you’ll have less competition for the winning bid.

Don’t Jump The Gun

Don't shout out your maximum bid as soon as the bidding starts. The auctioneer will increase the price incrementally until there are no more bids.

Do Start Bidding When Your Item is Up

Auctions move fast. If you hesitate too long, the hammer may come down before you’ve worked up the courage to bid.

Do Secure Your Purchases 

Make sure to bring your purchases to your vehicle or otherwise secure them if the auction requires immediate payment and possession. If you leave your purchases unattended while you visit the snack bar or restroom, you won't get a refund if someone pilfers part of your stash. Lock purchases in your trunk or put them under cover so you don't tempt parking lot thieves.

Don’t Bid if You’re Not Sure You Want to Buy

If yours is the winning bid, you’re committed to the purchase. You can’t change your mind after the hammer falls.