How To Auction A Piece From Your Collection


How To Auction A Piece From Your Collection

If you’ve never taken a walk on the other side of the auction block, there’s never been a better time to try switching from bidding to selling. Here we provide a step-by-step guide on how to sell a lot (or several) at auction.

Published on 7 December 2017

One of the most underrated pleasures in life, it could be argued, is seeing a lot you’ve placed on auction becoming the subject of a fierce bidding war between several people. The only thing that might top that is seeing your lot exceed its highest estimate on the block – possibly one of the best surprises to be party to.

From having a garage stuffed with an almost indecent number of classic motorcars to discovering what you suspect is a handsome antique watch in a long-forgotten drawer, putting an item from your personal collection up for auction presents a myriad of exciting (and hopefully, satisfying) possibilities. As with bidding, there are certain processes you’ll have to go through in order to get that item up onto the auction block, but chances are you’ll find it a highly engaging and even educational experience.

Here is our step-by-step guide on how to sell a lot at auction:


Selecting your auction house

With numerous auction houses across the world to choose from, a variety of factors may influence your decision behind approaching a specific auction house. Christie’s and Sotheby’s, of course, are among the most famous and have an extensive range of departments that specialise in everything from French and continental furniture to musical instruments. Alternatively, you may prefer to opt for an auction house with a very specific focus: Czerny’s, for instance, only handles antique arms and armour, while Julien’s Auctions is well known for its Hollywood and entertainment memorabilia.


Receiving a valuation

Having your item valued is the first serious step that you’ll take towards putting it up for auction. Most auction houses provide a complimentary valuation service, but do be sure to check with them beforehand – occasionally, they may only review a certain number of items for free. Thanks to the internet, you needn’t be restricted to approaching auction houses purely on the basis of whether they have offices or representatives in the country you’re based in.


It’s entirely possible to email an auction house’s department with a selection of photographs of your item, along with details such as the dimensions, condition, and – if you’re familiar with its history – provenance of your property. Other auction houses have valuation days where you can walk in with your item without any obligation to sell, although you might want to notify them in advance if you’re planning to roar up in a 1970 Jaguar E-Type Series 2 Coupé!


Sealing the deal

Once your item has been determined to be appropriate for sale at auction following an examination by one of the auction house’s specialists, they will provide you with an auction estimate. If you’re satisfied with the estimate and would like to proceed with placing your item on auction, this is where the consignment agreement comes in: a contract that every seller must sign before an auction house agrees to sell the item in one of their salerooms.

A consignment agreement covers essential terms and conditions such as insurance, loss or damage liability, agreed-upon expenses, shipping, and – perhaps most importantly – the item’s reserve price and the commission fee charged by the auction house upon the sale of your item. These are points you should examine carefully – another auction house may charge a slightly smaller commission on the hammer price for your item, tipping the balance in their favour.


Transporting your property

Bear in mind that as the consigner, you will be responsible for shouldering the cost of packing, shipping, and insurance charges, which is something to consider if you’re trying to shift a celebrity’s non-functioning private jet from the middle of an isolated desert runway in Australia to an auction house in Los Angeles. At no point will you actually have to reach for the bubble wrap and sellotape – the auction house’s experienced representatives should be more than happy to help you arrange for your property to be delivered to the location where it will be offered.


The auction itself

Once you and the auction house have come to an agreement on which auction offers the best chance of fetching the highest price for your property (a decision that normally takes both location and timing into consideration), your item will be catalogued either in print, online, or both, and marketed to prospective buyers. The experience of attending a live auction – one where a unique item from your personal collection is up for sale, no less – is a thrilling one that’s sure to make your heart pound. If you’re too nervous or simply too busy to be there in person, you can keep track of the auction online with a glass of champagne in your hand for congratulatory (or consolatory) purposes.


After the sale

Shortly after the auction has concluded, the auction house will notify you about the final bid price of your property. Provided they have received payment from the buyer, you can expect to receive payment from the auction house after around 35 days from the time of the auction (a typical estimate for most auction houses – the delivery of payment to sellers may differ according to each individual house’s terms and conditions), along with a settlement statement containing a full breakdown of the sales results and net returns, minus the auction house’s commission and any agreed-upon expenses.

Should your item fail to find a buyer or reach its reserve price, it will not be sold at auction, at which point the auction house will usually give you the option of taking back your item or putting it up for sale at a later auction. Regardless of your decision, you will still be invoiced afterwards for costs such as shipping and handling. There’s no need to feel discouraged if your property doesn’t sell: auction houses can also direct you to their private sales department, where they may be able to connect you with interested would-be buyers.

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