Buying too much stuff – and not using it
  • Getting a buzz from just being at auctions
  • Buying auction items I can actually use
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    Auction Finds

    Save money by buying at auctions

    I’m always astonished at not only what turns up on the auction tables but also at how little it sells for. I’ve watched many times as dinnerware sets go for 5 or 10 bucks, or practically be given away by the auctioneers.

    I’ve seen silverware, pots and pans, glassware, gift items, fur coats, clothes, appliances, bedding, tables, chairs, toys, figurines – any and everything you could think of. All sold at way-below bargain prices. I’ve written about dining room sets, outdoor furniture and other items that sold ridiculously cheap. 

    Cobalt blue dinnerware and some figurines on a table at a recent auction.

    Seeing all this, I figured that I should let others in on these great buys, especially since so many people are hurting in this economy and could use a break. Auction prices beat out what you’d pay at retail stores. Maybe the auction items are a little used, but a little cleaning will easily wash off the previous owner’s imprint.

    Knowing how to buy and what to buy before even stepping foot into an auction house is key. Online auction sites like EBay and TV programs have made auctions very popular, but most don’t show you how to prepare to buy or sell.

    We’re inundated with a slew of auction reality shows on TV, and they seemingly have found a receptive audience. My auction-buddy Janet watches most of them – some auctions, some auction-related. The big daddy of them all: “Antiques Roadshow.” Spike TV’s “Auction Hunters.” Discovery’s “Auction Kings.” A&E’s “Storage Wars.” HGTV’s “Cash and Cari.”

    Even Syfy has gotten into the mix with “Hollywood Treasure.” I used to watch “Cash in the Attic” religiously, but haven’t done so since it moved from its night slot on HGTV.

    This clean white slip-covered living room set was snapped up at a recent auction.

    One storage auction site noted that the number of people attending storage-locker sales had grown just as much as default by renters.

    I love auctions, and I figured that showing others how to participate in an actual sale would be just as much a thrill for them as it is for me. Real auctions can be just as intimidating as entering an art gallery for the first time. But they aren’t, and some of the nicest folks are auction-goers and the auctioneers. This class could help alleviate any fears while helping folks save money, I figured.

    At left, a ceiling fan still in its box; at right, a vintage mixer - both ready for an auction buyer.

    I had already written some tips on how to conduct yourself at an auction.

    So, I applied for and was approved to teach a class through my local community learning center. Here’s my description of the class, which was offered for a very nominal fee, most of which would go to the nonprofit center:  

    Save money by buying at auctions

    TV bombards us with shows about buying cheap and selling high at auctions. But you don’t have to be a dealer or seller to find great bargains. You can buy inexpensive items for yourself and as gifts for others. Learn how to find an auction house near you, preview a sale, research items beforehand, and bid on an item. The class will also include a trip to a real-live auction.

    3 Monday sessions: 2 hours each, 7-9 p.m. The final session will be a trip to an actual auction.

    Maximum number of students: 15

    Cookware is always available at auctions.

    The center liked the idea and offered the class in its spring session. Meanwhile, I decided to hold a mock auction at the last session, and enlisted an auctioneer to conduct it. I also told the owner of one of my favorite auction houses that I would be bringing a class. He, obviously, was delighted.

    All I had to do now was to wait for the throngs of people to sign up for the class. A couple weeks passed, and two people signed up. The center required at least five students for the class to proceed. 

    The other three students never materialized, and the class was canceled. We’ll try it again in the fall. Maybe the spring wasn’t the right time of year to save a little money by buying cheap.


    A dinnerware set sold at auction.

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    1. Dear Sherry,
      Thanks for a great website, it’s very informative! I attended tons of auctions for years growing up, and have recently returned to them now that I’m in my 40’s.
      What I don’t understand is that I’m not seeing the prices you mention, the same pricing I remember seeing when I was younger. At the auctions I attend in the suburbs of Houston there are a lot of products that come in on pallets from the local wholesale warehouses (they are usually lots of returned items that the stores do not restock, they just box them back up & sell them off), and bidders routinely pay MORE THAN RETAIL for an item that may have come straight out of Wal-Mart just the week prior, and that may even be broken or missing pieces! I have even looked up items on my smartphone during the auction to compare prices and verify my suspicions, and they are indeed paying equivalent or higher prices at auction for inferior merchandise. Even pieces that are not retail returns and are just used/estate merchandise are going for up to 90% of new retail. I can do better at an in-store sale. There are just no bargains at these places!
      What is going on here? Am I missing something?

      • Hi Shelley. Girl, you’re going to the wrong places. You can find the good stuff at auction houses that market themselves as sellers of antiques and vintage items (even if they occasionally sell new items from retailers). My suggestion is that you Google, write in your zip code and get a list of auction houses in your area. Most of them have their own websites. Check out a few of the websites, and take a look at the photos from their upcoming auctions to make sure they will be selling vintage stuff. I’m certain there are tons of the good ones in the suburbs of Houston and the city itself that sell exactly what you’re looking for. I dropped in a few zip codes in the Houston area and got a calendar with several auction houses with photos of vintage items. As for pricing, I get lucky pretty often and find vintage items at great prices. Sometimes I pay too much because I get caught up in the bidding, but that doesn’t happen too often. Good luck and happy hunting, Sherry.

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