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According to Angie’s List, Auction Services was one of the most complained-about categories on it’s website during 2012 and 2013, with nearly 30 percent of reviews earning D or F grades. While about half the states in the U.S. require licensing and continuing education for auctioneers, California does not. With those kinds of reviews, you might be asking yourself, “what are the challenges of using an auction house?”

Is an Auction House Right for Your Items?

You might be considering an auction house because you are downsizing, and have a number of items you can’t take with you to your new location. Or, you may be the executor of an estate that requires liquidation. In either case, timing may put pressure on your decision-making. The value of your items, or the estate contents will be another concern.

How Much is My Stuff Worth?

In some cases, the value of the items that need to be sold is a pure mystery. You may have seen Antiques Roadshow, or Cash in the Attic, two TV shows that raise unrealistic expectations that valuable treasures are lurking in every closet. But how do you know which items are really worth something and which are not?

Research is at your fingertips. You can do some comparison shopping on eBay, or Craig’s List and you can also call in an appraiser. For big ticket, or potentially big ticket items it could be worth the appraiser’s fee. If the items are of substantial value, and you are not pressured by time, an auction house can often get you the best price for your antiques and collectibles.

However, many people downsizing or managing an estate liquidation don’t have the luxury of time. If you are under a time crunch and need to get a place cleared-out, it doesn’t really matter how much something is worth, if it has to be sold quickly. For quick sales you can opt for an on-site estate sale, or even a yard sale.

Let’s say you do have valuable items to sell and you have some lead-time. You’ll want to take photos and write a concise description of each item and its provenance (if you know it). This could help the prospective auction houses determine if your items are a good fit for them.

How to Find an Auction House?

Christie’s and Sotheby’s need no introduction. But chances are you’ll be working with a local, smaller auction house. Since California does not require any special licensing, you will need to rely upon reputation and references. Check them and be prepared to ask questions.

What to Ask an Auction House Before You Sign

  • You’ll want to find out the auction schedule
  • What you’ll be charged

It can take anywhere from one month to twelve months to get your items into an auction, as they schedule for the year, with the average wait being about 1 to 3 months. Fees vary and may be somewhat dependent on how rare or in-demand your items are.

Be cautious if an auction house says they will not charge a fee. You often get what you pay for and inexperience won’t necessarily secure the premium price your items would warrant at an experienced auction house with a dedicated following. Other fees may include photos and advertising. Be sure you know what to expect.

Read any contract carefully, and know who will be responsible for getting your items to the auction house. If you have a rare and valuable piece, and the auction house really wants it to sell, they might pay for packaging and shipping, though that would be the exception. Making sure the proper insurance is in place before anything is shipped is also important. Once on their premises, if an item is lost, stolen or damaged, determine whether the auction house will cover the cost, or if it will be incurred as a loss under your policy.

If you are uncertain about how to go about the best way to handle your downsizing or an estate disbursement, call us today for a free consultation. We work with many local auction houses and would be happy to share our knowledge with you.