Fourteen Tips for Bidding and Buying at Live Auctions for eBay Profits

Savvy eBay sellers know that live auctions are a great place to find goods to sell profitably on eBay, but you have too know what you are doing.

When we owned an antique shop, small town and country auctions were one of our leading sources of merchandise. Thousands of small (and large) eBay sellers who deal in art, antiques,  collectibles and used and vintage merchandise use auctions as a great source of goods to resell on eBay. Large, big city, auction houses are somewhat problematic. You are bidding against professional dealers with deep pockets. But country and small town auctions are a whole different story.

There are dealers at the smaller auctions, but they are typically local dealers who can’t afford to pay the big city prices. When an item goes up for bid at a small-town auction it might be seen by 50 – 100 people and attract four or five real bidders. But the same item on eBay will be exposed to millions of potential buyers.

If you take the time to do your research, learn what items are worth, and learn how to bid at these auctions, there are some huge profits to be made on eBay.

When we first started in the business and started going to auctions, we made a lot of mistakes. We often overpaid for merchandise, got the goods home and then discovered something wrong with them, inadvertently bought fakes and so on.  It turns out that buying at auction is like most things in life –the more you do it the better you get at it.

Over the years I learned a lot.  I developed some personal strategies and a checklist that you may find helpful.

  1. Arrive early and carefully examine anything you plan to bid on. Remember: auction sales are final. Wear old clothes and dress warm in the winter as many auction houses are cold and drafty. Some are even outside in tents.
  2. Carry a flashlight, a magnet (for checking brass), a small battery operated black light (for spotting cracks and repairs), and a notebook. Also bring your sales tax number, and plenty of business cards.
  3. If an auction is scheduled and the weather is really bad – always go! Bad weather can keep up to 50% of prospective bidders away from an auction. Less competition means lower prices.
  4. Carry Cash! Many auction houses don’t accept credit cards and some won’t even accept traveler’s checks. (I carry large amounts of cash in one of those passport wallets that you wear under your clothing).
  5. Be prepared to haul your goods away on the spot. Many auctions won’t store goods until you return or they will charge you storage.
  6. Before the bidding starts, set a limit of what you plan to pay and stick to it. I like to actually write it down in a notebook. When I look at the book, it helps to keep my ego in check and I am less likely to overpay.
  7. Sit towards the back of the room. You can see all the bidders without turning around. I like to know who is bidding against me.
  8. Never make the first bid, unless no one is bidding and the auctioneer cuts the opening bid down to a ridiculous price. I like to enter the bidding about half way through.
  9. Make your first bid by raising your hand. Make subsequent bids by looking at the auctioneer and nodding your head. If an item goes past your bid limit make the “cutting throat” sign with your hand. This tells him you are finished bidding.
  10. If the item is being bid in large units such as $20 per bid and is close to reaching it maximum, make the “half-bid” sign (a chopping motion with your hand to your arm), this will add $10 to your bid instead of the $20 the auctioneer was asking for. The bids now move in $10 increments.
  11. Never bid when more than three or four people are bidding at the same time. Adding to the bidding can start a frenzy that drives the price up. Wait until the action slows down.
  12. Whenever an item sells for a really high price, the very next item usually goes very cheap. I don’t know the psychology of this but I have personally witnessed it many times.
  13. These auctions can move incredibly fast. Pay attention and remember what your bid was. If the people sitting around you are chatting and noisy, get up and move. It is important to hear and to concentrate when you are bidding.
  14. Most of all don’t let your ego or your pride drive your bidding. Remember your pre-set limit.

Tomorrow I will cover Wholesale Dealer Auctions. They are an entirely different animal.

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