Interior Goals | Part 3 - How to Buy?

By Nicholas Yau & Tom Best

Published 28th Jun 2019

In Part 3 of this series, The Auction Collective's Nick Yau catches up with the auctioneer Tom Best to hear his advice on buying at auction.

Tom is an auctioneer and the founder of The Auction Collective. He started his career at Christie's auction house where he was one of the youngest auctioneers in the company's long history. He has sold over £66 million worth of auction lots in more than 350 auctions. 

Tom, thank you so much for taking the time to talk us through how to buy art at auction. 

So let's begin with the basics, can anyone go to an auction? 

Yes, absolutely! There are a lot of myths around the exclusivity of auction houses - but in reality they want to include as many people as possible. There are very few 'invite-only auctions' operating today.

With the exception of some of our charity galas, all auctions at The Auction Collective are open to the public for anyone to bid or just come and enjoy the atmosphere. 

What makes buying art at auction different to other places? 

Many first time art buyers love the the transparency of the auction saleroom. When they see others bidding against them it can give them confidence in their taste for the artwork and help them validate the price - i.e. they can see the market demand for the object happening in real time. 

Many people also view auctions as a more democratic way to sell artwork. Anyone can bid in an auction and there isn't the hierarchy of a gallery waiting list, or the pressure to be the first into an art fair to get the best artworks. 

Then, of course, there is the fun and adrenaline of the actual bidding. There's no other retail experience like it, and that's probably why it's one of the oldest forms of bartering: people have been buying cattle, fruit and veg and property at auctions since before the Romans!

But are auctions more expensive? 

The starting price for an artwork at auction is always lower than that of a private sale or fixed price sale. In a private sale (e.g buying at an art gallery) works are advertised at their highest price and then buyers negotiate down to make the sale. 

In an auction the opposite is true. All artwork is 'pre-negotiated' to the minimum the seller is happy with. Then it's  up to the bidders to decide the final price. 

Whether it's more expensive to buy at auction then depends on the demand for the artwork and what extra charges are added by the auction house. At The Auction Collective, to make buying art more affordable, we decided not to charge any buyer's commission or banking fees. What you bid is what you pay. 

Are auctions scary?

Hopefully not! Don't forget the auctioneer is there to help you buy the artwork you love. They're on your side and will do what they can to make you feel welcome, relaxed and happy. 

If I blink or sneeze at the wrong time will I end up buying an artwork I don't want? 

Absolutely not. An auctioneer will only take your bid if they're confident of your intentions. The last thing they want to do is take a bid from someone who isn't able to pay for it. 

What do people need to do to bid in an auction? 

First, check if you need to register with the auction house before the auction, and find out if there are any extra fees like buyer's commission, VAT, or artist's resale royalties. 

The auction industry has quite strict regulations to prevent money laundering. As a result, most auction houses run due-diligence checks on potential bidders before the auction.

For instance, at The Auction Collective you need to register before the auction and downloaded a bidding paddle. This helps us see that you have passed the industry checks and also helps us identify you during the auction. 

Next, you need to decide if you want to bid in the room or remotely. Then, work out your price limit for the object and keep your fingers crossed!

Can you talk us through the different ways to bid? 

At The Auction Collective you can bid in one of three ways:

In the room - by downloading a bidding paddle and turning up to the auction in person.

Over the phone - by registering your number and details at the website. The auction team will call you during the auction and will relay the bidding to you as if you were in the room. Their job is to recreate the auction experience as best as possible.

Through an absentee bid - this is also known as a proxy bid or a written bid. Bidders let us know their price limit for a particular object and then the auctioneer bids on their behalf. 

You can see more details of this at the website. 

How do people know what the next bid will be?

There's a standard pattern of bid increments that are used by the majority of the auction trade. The bids go up by roughly 10% each time and you can see them all here. But if you're in any doubt, just ask the auctioneer. They want to make bidding as clear and easy for you as possible and would be happy to help and tell you. Don't be afraid to ask them during the auction. 

When you are on the other side of the rostrum, what's your preferred method of bidding? 

Oh definitely in the room watching for the auctioneer's gavel. Being part of the action and having the freedom to increase your bid when you're in the moment is absolutely brilliant. 

What advice would you have for a first time auction bidder? 

Know your maximum spend before you go into the auction and if you're feeling nervous, tell the auction team that it's your first time. The auctioneer can then take things slower when it comes to your lot and help you through the bidding. 

Tom Best, thank you very much! 

Tom Best is an auctioneer and founder of The Auction Collective