Eight tips for bidding at auction

02 January 2015

Get the items you want and avoid paying too much with our tips for bidding at auctions.



It must be the most dramatic way to shop. Although you can bid online, nothing beats the atmosphere of a packed auction saleroom.

Prepare for success with these eight tips for bidding at auction:


1. Do your research at live auctions in person and online when bidding at auction

If you’ve never bid before, spend an hour or two observing your local auction. Different auctioneers have different styles, but wherever you go the process is essentially the same. You can also listen to, and sometimes watch, auctions online through sites like the-saleroom.com, liveauctioneers.com and invaluable.com


2. Arrive in good time to register when bidding at auction

You’ll have to register before you bid which can take time. Arrive an hour or so before your lot(s) is due. The speediest auctions get through 180 lots and hour, the slowest about 70 with internet bidding generally slowing things down.


3. Be aware of 'absentee bids' when bidding at auction

If the auctioneer starts the bidding below the lower estimate, there are probably no absentee (commission) bids. If he (most auctioneers are men) starts on the lower estimate or higher, there probably are. He may well say ‘there’s a lot of interest in this lot’ or ‘I have multiple bids’ which means he has absentee bids.


4. Take your time when bidding at auction

Don’t jump in straight away. If you can, size up the competition. You should be able to see roughly how many are interested in the room. If telephones and the internet are also involved the chances are it will go for around the upper estimate or above.

How to sell at auction...


5. Be mindful of big price rises when bidding at auction

On lower value items bidding may go up by £10 a bid. But incremental rises are usually at the auctioneer’s discretion. For example it may go £70, £100, £120, £150, £170, £200 (alternating between £20 and £30). After £500 it may go up by £50 a bid. And after £1,000 by £100.

Normally the auctioneer signals a change but when several bidders are involved he may not want to break the momentum, in which case the price can shoot up alarmingly.


6. Consider making a lower offer after sale when bidding at auction

Sometimes the auctioneer will struggle to get any bids at all which is another reason not to rush in. You may get a bargain by keeping silent and making a lower offer after the sale.


7. Check if a lot has sold or not when bidding at auction

If a lot hasn’t sold an auctioneer may say ‘passed’ or ‘not sold’. But sometimes the auctioneer will bid up to the reserve in an attempt to encourage interest. This can make it difficult to tell whether a lot has sold or not. If you’re interested, check afterwards.


8. Keep a maximum price in mind when bidding at auction

Have a maximum price in mind which should include charges of about 25%. By bidding confidently up to your maximum you might discourage competition. Getting into a bidding war is a quick way to ruin.

Tips for buying at auction...

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.