Tips for selling at auction

05 December 2014

Selling at auction can be a delicate balancing act between risk and reward. Our guide to selling at auction will help you decide whether or not to take the plunge.



How much is my object worth at auction?

Although you may be able to get a general idea from internet research, there’s no substitute for the specialist knowledge available at many auction salerooms.

Either email an image of the object or take it to an auction saleroom in person. Advice is generally free but be prepared for rejection; experts can be pretty blunt!

What if my object for sale at auction is in poor condition?

If it has rarity value, don’t worry too much. Most objects of a certain age show signs of wear and tear and dealers often prefer to buy lots in ‘original condition’. Again take advice from a saleroom specialist.

Are your old coins worth anything?

How do I maximise my return at auction?

Try to match your object to the most appropriate auction. It might fit a specialist sale of similar items which will attract specialist dealers and thus probably a higher price. 

A piece of tribal art will probably fetch more in a sale devoted to tribal art. A picture of Suffolk may sell best in Suffolk.

Do I have to sell at any price at auction?

No. You can put a reserve on the item below which it won’t be sold. Salerooms will often discourage high reserves. It’s easier for an auctioneer to start low.  

Tips for buying at auction...

How much will I have to pay when I sell at auction?

Read a saleroom’s terms and conditions but, generally, the commission for a seller, is around 15% (plus VAT) but there may be other charges to consider. 

Many charge an entry fee (often about £10 per lot). Some charge for catalogue photos. There may be other payments. Leading London auction salerooms tend to charge more than provincial auction houses, although the percentage may drop on high value items.

To get an idea, ask how much you would receive if your lot sells for the reserve. If that puts you off, then eBay (sellers’ fee about 10 %) may be worth a try.

Read our guide to selling vintage clothing.

Is the commission on sales at auction ever negotiable?

In exceptional cases, yes. If your object is good enough to use to help market the auction you might be able to negotiate a reduction. If you have a prestigious collection, the fees might be waived altogether. 

How much luck is involved when you sell at auction?

Auctions are never entirely predictable. That is part of their charm. If two people really want an item, the price can go through the roof. On another day a potentially valuable item will limp to its reserve. 

Occasionally an item which fails to sell may achieve a good price at a later auction. There’s no substitute for a bit of luck.

Tips for bidding at auctions...

Read James Trollope's auction column every month in Saga Magazine.  

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.