Auctions are exciting live events where you can buy some of the most desirable work on the market and witness record-breaking sales. Anyone who wins the bidding process can acquire work at auction, making the process more democratic than buying through a gallery.
The basic steps to buying at auction are researching, registering, bidding, paying and obtaining your item. Catalogues of upcoming auctions are available a few weeks prior to a sale, and you can call and request a copy. As works at auction are bought "as is," visit the preview to inspect the work and evaluate it up close. Specialists from the auction house can assist you before or during an auction with information about the artwork such as its condition and provenance.
To register, auction houses request bidders to submit official identification and basic financial information in order to qualify to bid. You may bid in-person, through an agent, written bid, absentee bid or telephone bid.
A bid is considered a legal and binding commitment to purchase artwork. If you want to bid in person, you will need to register for a paddle in advance. The paddle is numbered to identify you to the auctioneer. To place a bid, simply raise your paddle until the auctioneer acknowledges you. Auctioneers are very good at noticing paddle movements in the crowd; therefore, waving a paddle furiously to get their attention is not necessary. Since auctions are live events, you have very limited time to make your decision to buy. A bid is placed against another in increments decided by the auctioneer until a final bid wins. Pay close attention while bidding as to not over-bid.
At auction, artworks are given a low and high estimate based on previous auction records of comparable works. Artworks are subject to a reserve, which is a confidential minimum price below which a consignor will not sell the work. Works that do not make the reserve are considered "bought in." The purchase price to the buyer is the hammer price plus a buyer's premium and any applicable sales tax. Therefore, the price that you buy the work for at the auction is increased by around 20%.
After a successful bid, go to the accounting department at the auction house to make payment arrangements. You may pay in person or by invoice via mail. After payment has cleared, you may pick up artwork from the auction house or arrange for it to be shipped at your expense.