How to Buy at an Auction

How to Purchase at an Auction

TV shows like the Travel Channel’s "Baggage Battles," the Discovery Channel’s "Auction Kings," and Spike TV's "Auction Hunters" have brought to light the world of buying at auction.  Now you want to get in on these deals and hidden treasures that can't be found anywhere else.

Before the auction:

If you've never been to an auction before, it might seem intimidating.  The auctioneers speak quickly and in what sounds like an entirely different language.  There are people raising their hands, flagging their bid card, and yelling out randomly.  However, in reality, there is a basic way auctions run and once you figure that out, you to can be an auction pro.

Preview of items:

Most auction houses will offer time before the auction for you to browse the available products and do simple tests on them in order to determine if they work and are authentic.  Because most auction houses run on an “as is, where is” basis, meaning that there is no return policy or warranty, it is entirely up to you to determine the quality of the items you are buying.

Therefore, the preview period is essential to making informed decisions and not regretting paying too much for something down the road.


A person registers to bid at a local estate auction. 

In order to properly document purchases and purchasers, auction houses will need to get some basic information from you.  This information may include your name, address, phone number, etc., and is usually kept confidential.  Many auction houses will also require you to leave a cash deposit, to discourage people from bidding on items and leaving without paying for them.  Most of the time this deposit is refunded the same day as the auction.  Once you complete these steps and are registered, you will receive your bidder number.

People at the Auction

An auctioneer conducts an auction at an auction house in Las Vegas, Nevada. 

The Auctioneer:

At any auction, the auctioneer runs the show.  He is the authority figure and has the power to start and stop the auction, cancel bids, pass on items, and even remove people from the auction.  You will find that many auctioneers are friendly, but they are also concerned with efficiency as they have many items (also known as “lots”) to get through.

Bid Callers: 

Many auctions use “bid callers” to help make the auction run smoothly.  They will sometimes announce the item that is up for bid before the auctioneer begins, but mostly they are there to communicate between you and the auctioneer.  If you are at a large auction, it can be easy to get lost in the crowd. The bid caller watches carefully for bidders and very clearly announces your bid to the auctioneer.

A bid caller at a local auto auction interacts with a bidder. 

A bid caller at a local auto auction interacts with a bidder. 

The Bidding Process

The auctioneer will start the bidding on an item, usually at a high price and then work down until someone starts the bidding off.  Then the auctioneer will work his way back up, increasing the next bid price in regular increments until no one else wants to spend any more on that item.

This is your time to shine.  If you want to bid on an item simply raise your bid card in the air so that the auctioneer or bid caller can see it.  He will acknowledge your bid and continue to ask if for the next incremental bid price.  If you are the highest bidder, the auctioneer will announce that the item was sold to you!  If another person is bidding on the same item that you are, the auctioneer will go back and forth, asking for an increased bid.

Buying at an auction can be fun and exciting. Knowing the basics will reduce any fears you have and help you follow the auctioneer better. So, we hope that you'll find a local auction house near you, join in on the fun, and get a great deal!

If you're in the Las Vegas Nevada area, we would encourage you to visit Nellis Auction at 2245 N. Nellis Blvd, Las Vegas, Nevada, 89115.  We offer a free class, "How to Buy and Sell at Auction" taught by one of our auctioneers every Friday at 10:00 a.m.

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