Auctions of goods from bankrupt
companies, salvaged goods, lost property and the like are fairly common occurrences, and not as secretive as some people might think.
Here in Glasgow, Scotland, local auction houses regularly advertise upcoming sales in the local papers, with brief lists of the types of goods to be sold. The sale is held in the auctioneers' warehouse, or sometimes in the property where most of the goods have come from.
The auction site is usually open for public viewing a day or two in advance, where each item for sale (a lot) can be inspected. Each lot has a number attatched, so that it can easily be identified in the sale, and a short description is found in the catalogue.
If there's something you want to buy, you'll need to register to get a bidder's number - merely a number printed on a piece of card so the staff know who's bought what - and there's usually a charge for this.
The auctions I've been to have all taken place in and amongst the goods being auctioned off, in the warehouse. Unless there's furniture being sold, there won't be anywhere to sit other than perched on the edge of tables - so you may have to be prepared for a long stand.
The auctioneer will run through each item in the catalogue, and begin by calling out a starting value for the lot. If there are no takers, he'll call out a lower value until somebody bids, and if you hear a price you like, then bid for it!
Bidding isn't as secretive as many people think. If you just raise your eyebrows or flare your nostrils, chances are you won't be noticed. Raise your hand, or your bidder's number, and if the auctioneer notices you, he'll respond in some way - often by asking for a higher bid from elsewhere. This will continue until one person is prepared to pay more than all the other bidders. Once a sale is finalised, the auctioneer will note the lot number, your bidder's number, and the price, and this will be taken to whoever is handling payment.
Some auctions go on for a long time, so don't worry about staying until the end. Depending on the auctioneer's terms - they should be on the catalogue or registration form - you may have to pay straight away, and not everywhere will take cheques or credit cards. You may have to wait until the end of the auction, or the next day to take delivery.
And don't forget the buyer's premium! The price you bid is what goes to the party selling the lot, but the auctioneer needs to make a profit too, through the buyer's premium. This is often a straight 10% charge on top of what you bid. Many items may incur VAT, too.
Auctions can be fun places to pick up great bargains - for example, a sturdy mahogany table and four chairs, and a sideboard, for £100, as my dad managed to get. But you need to make sure you don't go overboard and get into a bidding war with the man in the blue jacket across the room - think, do you really need 19 staplers?
. Post here if your experiences are different.