How to Buy Like a Pro at Country Auctions
To the uninitiated, auctions can be intimidating. When you combine big crowds, a fast-talking auctioneer, a jumble of items, and a competitive atmosphere, it’s easy to lose your cool. Country auctions, in particular, have a more informal feel and dynamic pace than the auctions we typically see portrayed on TV or in the movies. Forget the high-brow auctioneer with his gavel presenting one item at a time to a somber crowd seated in padded chairs. Country and small-town auctions are loud, social, fast-paced, competitive, and — once you get used to them — a lot of fun. (See also: Police Auctions: How to Buy All the Stuff Police Seize)
Here are a few tips and tricks to help first-timers get their bearings in the auction world and score some great deals in the process.
Go for It
Don’t be intimidated by the maddening crowd or fast pace of the auction; dive right in. Once you have your bidder number, don’t be afraid to use it. Hold you number high and clear when you’re ready to bid, and if the auction staff doesn’t notice you at first, give a little shout.
Don’t bid if you aren’t serious about scoring the item. Bidding just for the fun of it only drives up the final price for someone else.
Keep Your Cool
Don’t jump the gun and bid at the first figure the auctioneer throws out. Auctioneers often start out high to see if there’s interest. If not, the price of the item goes down until there’s an active bid. Don’t be the guy or gal who bids immediately — you’ll never know how low the price would have gone.
Ditch Your Ego
The benefits of the auction process (for the seller, anyway) are its speed, its ability to liquidate everything completely, and the way it taps into the psychology of buyers. Bidding is competitive, and it’s in our natures to want to win. Often buyers get caught up in this desire for victory and end up paying much more for an item than intended. Sideline your ego, have a maximum price in mind for each item you bid on, and realize you can’t win ‘em all.
When registering at an auction, you’ll be given a bidder’s card or paddle that reflects your unique bidder number. Be careful with it. Fanning yourself with your bidder paddle during a hot summer auction is the fastest way to accidentally end up with a set of Strawberry Shortcake curtains or VCR circa 1989.
Depending on the volume of what’s being liquidated and the speed of the auctioneer, an auction might take awhile. Large household or antique liquidations are sometimes spread over two days. It’s easy to lose patience as you wait for the auctioneer to get to your item. I’ve seen many a diehard buyer fold at the eleventh hour. Bring a strong cup of coffee, take a walk, grab a snack, or set up a rotating “auction watch” with friends or family.
Household auctions can be jumble of miscellaneous "stuff" that camouflages a few real gems. I’ve see less-than-scrupulous buyers take a valuable item and bury it in a box of junk. These folks hope their treasure isn’t noticed by other bidders and that they can score the box for a minimal price. Don’t be one of these people. Auctions are competitive, but dirty tactics just bring down the entire process.
Where else in our modern world are prices not set in stone and controlled by a bar code? Where else can buying be so interactive and social? Auctions let us peer into someone else’s world for awhile — to be archeologists exploring the material histories of other families and previous generations. The whole process is so much richer than shopping from a catalog or big-box store. Enjoy yourself — but don’t forget the coffee.