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Sarah Richardson & Thomas Smythe's Auction Tips

House Home Sarah Richardson Tommy Smythe Auction Tips

TV's favourite design duo share their tricks on winning deals when the gavel comes down.

11 Auction House Rules

1. Be in the know: Sign up for auction-house catalogues. Check newspapers, local bulletin boards and online for auction notices. "Once you're an auction regular, you will hear about them through word of mouth as well." — T.S.

2. Go to previews: "Walk the sale and know what's there; examine the item and know it well. Don't be afraid to ask questions, and be sure to read the catalogues." — S.R.

3. Just leap in: "There is nothing to be afraid of. They aren't just filled with the expensive items; they really are for every budget. You can buy a $5 box of odds and sods." — S.R.

4. Talk to auction staff: "It's smart to speak to the experts there when planning a bidding strategy. Their advice on an item's merits or shortcomings may sway your decision." — T.S.

5. Consider items off your radar: "Experts there can lead you to something of good quality that will likely go for a great price." — S.R.

6. Know your maximum: Items don't always go for the estimated selling value. It can be much less or much higher. "Have an idea of what the item is worth to you. Know your top price and stick to it." — T.S.

7. Don't bid prematurely: "Sit on your hands for the first 10 seconds and gauge the interest in the room for an item; if it's fast and furious and has taken off, walk away. Don't get emotionally charged." — S.R.

8. Try estate sales: "Estate sales can be like a yard sale; they’re not usually all fine antiques. These are some of my favourites; there are lower reserves, if any at all." — S.R.

9. Find gems in box lots: "Lesser-quality items from an estate are often sold in a more casual way at what's sometimes called a discovery sale. I've found fabulous diamonds in the rough at these." — T.S.

10. Don't offend the auctioneer: "Never offer a lower bid than the opening amount. And keep any discussion to a low whisper." — T.S.

11. Learn: "There isn’t a better way to learn about decorative arts: silver, china, case goods, paintings. The staff at auction houses are thrilled to teach you; it’s their passion." — T.S.

 

Auction Glossary

Don't be tongue-tied at your first auction. Use this lingo to bid like a pro.

Reserve
The minimum price that a seller will accept for an auctioned item.

Lot
Items sold at auction are given lot numbers. If multiple items are being auctioned in a group, they belong to the same lot.

Proxy bid
The auction style used by many online auction sites, including eBay, whereby an auctioneer automatically bids on the buyer’s behalf up to a set maximum (so you don't need to check back and up your bid every time someone else does).

Commission bid
Written instruction to an auction house to bid on the buyer's behalf up to a set maximum. (Often used for international auctions.)

First-price sealed-bid auction
Bidders are asked to submit sealed secret bids. The highest bid wins, provided it is above the seller’s reserve price.

Escrow
Money held by a third party until an auction item is delivered to the buyer.

 

Get more design and decorating inspiration from Sarah Richardson Designs in our photo gallery. Plus, see inside Tommy's homes through the years, and a stunning Victorian he designed.

Author: 

Catherine MacIntosh (Auction House Rules); Beth Edwards (Auction Glossary).

Photographer: 

Brandon Barré (Sarah Richardson, Thomas Smythe); Ted Yarwood (interior).

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