By no means am I an expert on attending an auction.

I have only been attending auctions for about a year, but in that time, I feel as though I have gotten a pretty good sense of things. When I first started going to auctions, I was intimidated but not really knowing what to fully expect, what was I suppose to do and when. I thought it might be valuable to share what I have learned if anyone is interested in attending an auction and might be feeling unsure as I did.

This is kind of a long post, with lots of text, but I wasn’t really sure how to do it any other way.

If you are interested in attending an auction, hopefully this will be a good place for you to start. With a little bit of preparation and planning it can be a lot of fun and a great place to find unique treasures.

I generally attend two different auctions and they are as opposite as you can be from each other.

One is in a firehouse, really casual and they will sell almost anything.

Really, I mean anything.

The other is very organized, runs like clockwork and moves super quick. Both are enjoyable, both have great finds. They are just different.

I have attended a few others as well that have fallen between the two in styles.

There are however several elements that are consistent no matter where you are going. So, here is my best attempt at providing you with…

auction guide



This is your starting point. Enter your zip code and the radius of miles you are willing to drive and you will find a calendar. Click on a date you are interested in and it will give a summary of each auction happening on that day, click on that listing and it will bring you to the details for that auction.

Find your auction

As long as it close enough to the date (usually within a week), you will find photos of a good portion of the items and a detailed list of all items that will be auctioned. As well, you will often find links to the auctioneer’s website if there is one. Look through this information and decide if this is an auction you are interested in. I stay away from “Fine Art” auctions because I know they are out of my price range. I lean toward the “Town and Country” auctions. No matter what they call it, the pictures will give you a sense of the type of sale it will be.



I can not stress this tip enough, you really should preview items before the auction begins. The pictures help give you a sense of the items for sale, but until you are in person, you don’t really know the size or condition of the piece. Also, it gives you a chance to see box lots in more detail which is where you can often find gems.

I was at an auction early on and no one was bidding on several items and thought, oh well, why not. They are still in my garage because they were junk. All auctions will have a preview time either the day of or in the days preceding it. The preview times are always listed in the auction listing on When you are there, be sure to sit on, rattle, shake and roll whatever you are planning to bid on. I checked out a pair of chairs once only to find that one was broken beyond repair, literally in half. It is in my garage next to the other pieces mentioned above.

know you numbers


Most (actually almost all) auctions will have a Lot Number assigned to each item or box lot. A box lot is a group of items grouped in, you guessed it, a box, that are being sold as a group. They are usually somewhat related, but often are completely random. A ticket or sticker is on each item with a bunch of numbers. Look closely because there are usually also numbers indicating who the consignor of the item is or other inventory numbers. You want to make sure you have the lot number so that when they call a number, you know what item it corresponds to.

There is usually a master list of all lot items in an auction and the corresponding description, often referred to often as the catalog. These can often cost a fee at the location but are usually available to be printed ahead of time on I sometimes print these out at larger auctions to make sure that I don’t miss any items when I am previewing.

Each auction manages the bidding order differently. Most call items in a random order. I have been to one where all lots were called in numerical order (I liked that, you knew what was coming when). Some auction houses will do all box lots first before doing any individual items. The casual auction that I go to doesn’t even have lot numbers and just brings items up randomly and gives a description of the item currently being bid on. At this auction, I just make a list of the items I am interested in bidding on based on description.

Make Plan


You really should make a few decisions before the auction begins. Are you buying for yourself or to resell. If it is to resell, I usually write down how much I am willing to spend based on what I believe I can sell it at. It can be really easy to get caught up in the excitement of the bidding and overbid. Really try to hold yourself to your plan, it prevents that feeling of buyer’s remorse later. If it something for myself, I have to decide how much I love it. There have been many things where it went over my price range and I stepped out without too much worry. But there have been some items, mostly gifts for other people, where I have been bound and determined to try and get it. You just need to have a sense of that before hand so that you can bid smart.

I usually have a small notebook and I make a list of the items I am interested in bidding. I list the lot number, a short description and the most I am willing to pay for an item along side it. I use this to check against as lot numbers are called out.

Paddle On


Lots of places simply use a printed out number on paper. One of auctions I attend actually have hard plastic paddles with your number. In that case, I have to leave a $10 deposit that is returned with the return of the paddle. Some places will also require a credit card up front from you when you get your paddle. This is the card that all purchases will be placed on when you check out. Watch your paddle once it is in your hand. That is not just a joke, you swirl it around or scratch your head with it, you could end up buying your very own toilet bowl wand made out of onyx (hee hee).



Each auction is different, but it doesn’t take too long to a feel for the way it goes. Each auction has a lowest bid before they will take it off the block and let it pass, $15, $10 and even $1 (those are my favorite!). An auctioneer will often start out higher, if no one is bidding, he will come all the way down to the minimum. Once some one takes that bid, it can go right back up from there or that can be it. Bidding is almost like dancing, it depends on the band leader and who is on the floor. It doesn’t take long to figure out who are the big buyers, who will buy almost anything (and again, I mean anything) and who is going to keep bidding until they get the item even if it is a ridiculous price.

The other thing is an item could be bidding for really low and take you by surprise and you can be temped to bid. That is why previewing is important so you can have a better sense of the items up for bid. I sometimes make a list of things I noticed were damaged so I know not to bid on those items if they are going low.

Almost all auctions will also have outside bidders on items. These can be from someone leaving a written bid or an online bid. There are also phone bidders who will be on the phone when an item is up for bid and a representative from the auction house will be on the phone with them and bid on their behalf.

There are also sometimes reserves on items. This means that an item needs to meet a minimum dollar amount. If no one is willing to bid at least the reserve amount, it is taken out of the auction.



The first few times are a little nerve wracking. Use your plan and dive in. I usually wait it out a little bit and get a sense of an item. If an item is going to go completely out of my range, meaning there are multiple big dogs already bidding on it, I wait and see where it goes. If an auctioneer starts out high and no one bids, they will come down until they reach their minimum bid. If it comes all the way down, again it is a wait and see.

Once it goes past my maximum bid, I let it go.

Often when it comes down all the way to the minimum bid, there is often only one bid. Meaning, someone will bid if no one else does. Once someone bids, often people step out. What that means is, if you want it, don’t hesitate, get in quick and you may get it for super cheap because others wills step out.

Every once and a while there is an item that is really unique and you really want it. You have to decide if you are going to regret not getting it. Sometimes, just one more bid will make it yours. You just have to read the situation and know what your financial parameters are in comparison to your desires.

Step 9


When you have “won” an item or items, each auction house handles it differently. In the more formal one that I attend, they keep everything in a side room and you bring your receipt and they gather your items. Other places will bring your items right to you at your seat and others will just set them aside in the back of the room for you to gather. Ask questions prior to the auction about pick up or delivery of larger items. Several auctions will be open the following day for you to pick items up with a truck or trailer. Some will also provide delivery options on larger items.



Okay, lets get to the important stuff, food. I am strangely hungry at auctions and tend to eat quite a bit. Most auction houses do have food available for purchase. Again, this ranges from the homemade soups and sandwiches to a bag of chips. Information is available on auction house websites to let you know what they have available for refreshments. There is nothing worse than being hungry while you are waiting for an item you are interested to come up for bid. Watch when you sneak out for food as well as you don’t want to miss an item you are interested in!

You don’t need to wait for the auction to be over to leave. When you have had enough or the items you are interested in have been put up for auction already, you can check out at any time. Checking out early usually avoids the longer lines at the end of the auction. However, if you stay till the end, there are fewer people which means less potential bidders which means potentially lower prices. This has worked to my advantage on several occasions.

So, those are my thoughts.


I have really found some great treasure at auctions. Below is just a sampling of some of my great treasure finds.



So, as I said, by no means am I an expert, this was just and attempt to help others feel more comfortable with attending auctions.

I have been meaning to finish this post for so long and I am so glad to have finally finished it!

Feel free to add comments if you have any additional advice or direction to share (or if you think I got something wrong!).

I will be sharing at Beth's Tutorial Tuesdays at Home Stories A to Z and some of the parties on my "Parties I Attend" tab above and at French Country Cottage, and at Tip Junkie.

Stop by and see the great projects being shared!

Thanks so much for reading and have a great day!

July 11, 2011 — Laura Putnam