Friday, January 22, 2010

Attending an auction

I mentioned in my first blog entry that we rarely attend the auctions in person. For us they are very anxiety inducing if we want something. We have only been twice and both times we were out bid by miles on the item we wanted.

The most recent auction we attended in person was at Stair Galleries in Hudson, NY.

You can leave an absentee bid at Stair, but if you bid, say, $525, and the last bid was $345, then you would get it for $525. Somehow that doesn't feel good. So a few months ago we went to a preview of someone's estate, and there were a number of interesting contemporary art pieces. We decided that we wanted to bid on a sculpture that had an auction range of $300 - $500. We liked it enough to try to get it.

The day of the auction we went to town, and registered for the sale. They told us it was unlikely to come up until after 2pm, so we went for lunch at Swoon Kitchenbar on Warren Street.

After a wonderful meal, we walked back up Warren Street to Stair. The auction was in progress and the place was lively with people coming and going, having lunch, and helping themselves to coffee and tea. It was high drama to sit through some of the lots and see some barely sell for the minimum and others go for multiples of the top estimate. We couldn't figure out which way our lot would go - bargain or a real battle.

I was getting more and more nervous as ours came up, and starting to plan when I would join the bidding. You don't want to get in at the beginning. Our lot came up and we had decided that our top bid would be $725. We liked it a lot. The bidding started and it move fast. I was trying to raise my hand at about the $600 mark, but the bids sped so fast past my top range, that I sat back deflated. The piece sold for close to $3000!

That has been our experience both of the two times we attended auctions in person. Maybe it was just our bad luck, and we've had lots of auction bidding successes. I think it's worth going a few times to see how it works, and enjoy the drama of the bidding wars, but I think you have to have nerves of steel to go if you want something. I suspect that many of those attending are more 'professional' than we are, and can stand losing something (or have bigger check books!).

The other danger you will undoubtedly face at some point will be 'auction fever.'  This is where you can get swept up in the bidding, and before you know it you are way beyond the number you set as your 'limit'. You have to have real discipline at those moments because you don't want a case of 'buyers remorse' as you write the check for your new purchase. You may like it the object, but maybe not as much as all that!

It's absentee bidding for us, or maybe we'll try the on-line option next time. It's one step removed.

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