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How to Buy at Auction

By eHow Hobbies, Games & Toys Editor

Auctions put your antiques and collectibles in front of the greatest amount of serious buyers at one time. If you're in the mood to buy rather than sell, auctions offer an exhilaration you can't get from just walking into an antiques store. See also How to Use Online Auction Sites.

Find the type of auction that works for you. Online auctions are the most time-consuming option and the riskiest for buyers, since you never get to see the merchandise in person. Auction houses like Sotheby's and Christie's feature high-end items you won't find anyplace else. Country auctions offer the best chance for finding a diamond in the rough. When it comes to pace, an auction house event is a golf tournament, and a country auction is a NASCAR race.

Know the purchasing rules of the auction house. Sellers pay a commission to the house for their services, from 5 percent to 15 percent, depending on the value of the piece. Similarly, buyers may be required to pay a premium to auction owners for high-end sales.

Get the timing down. Country auctions and auction house events will last from just a few hours to a day. Online auctions are timed; items are usually posted for a week or so. Bidding really heats up as the deadline approaches.

Ask questions about the provenance (ownership history) of a piece. It's especially important to find out from online sellers if anything was left out of their description of the piece. As a seller, you need to be able to provide this type of feedback.

Decide on a bid limit for yourself, after inspecting merchandise. It's easy to get swept up in the excitement of a live auction and overbid.

Register so you can be identified as a bidder. No matter what type of auction you participate in, you'll need to do this-- by name on the Internet, by number in person. You may also be asked for proof of payment to show your seriousness as a bidder.

Get the auctioneer's attention if you enter late in the bidding on a particular item at an auction house. His or her assistants will be concentrating on bidders already in the fray.

Have fun. A live auction is pure entertainment, from fast-talking auctioneers to fast-spending collectors. Auctions are free and open to the public, and you don't have to bid if you don't want to. In fact, attend a few auctions without bidding to pick up on the rules of the game.