Bidder Up

19279213 - holding a auction paddle

// by Melody Taylor
Long before eBay, Swip Swap or estate sales were envisioned, goods were bought and sold at live auctions. Romans sold household goods and assets at auctions as early as 500 B.C. Each year, over a quarter-trillion dollars in merchandise is auctioned in the U.S., according to the National Auctioneers Association.
While auctions have long been a popular way to snag bargains on art, antiques and other valuables, their nuances sometimes scare off would-be bidders. Perhaps the most common worry among newcomers is how would you know if you’d found a good deal? We talked with local auctioneers to help demystify the art of live auctions and the excitement that comes with them.
“A lot of people are intimidated initially because we talk so fast. But even though we talk fast, the process goes slowly,” says Jena Baker-Dennis, owner and auctioneer of St. Augustine-based Great Expectations Auction & Estate Services. “It’s not like selling cattle. We slow it down when we’re selling furniture, antiques and things like that.”
Northeast Florida is home to multiple auction houses, which sell everything from coins, electronics and household items to higher-end art, jewelry, collectibles and even cars, boats and real estate. Several local auctioneers publish previews of upcoming auction items and are happy to assist with any questions you may have.
“If you’re patient enough, anything you could possibly want will come through our auctions within a 30-day period,” Baker-Dennis says.
The atmosphere of each auction varies based on the price point of the items up for bid, and on the preferences of the auctioneer and his or her clientele.
“There’s an old stigma that [an auction] is in a barn, and it’s hot and nasty. Our place is air conditioned, and we have mini bistro tables between seats so that people can be comfortable, eat and enjoy the experience,” says Anthony Grogan, vice president and auctioneer with Auctions by B. Langston of Jacksonville.
“I always tell people, once you start buying at auctions and estate sales, you’ll never pay retail again. People are usually shocked by the amazing deals, especially on household items,” she says.
Some bidders like to research items on their smartphones in real time to determine new and used values for a particular item before bidding. Others are a bit more impulsive, and bid on anything that catches their eye or that seems like a good value.
“There is no better way to determine what an item is worth than to auction it,” she says. “It’s what the market is going to bear and what someone is willing to pay.”
Forget about the accidental nose-tweak bidding you’ve probably seen portrayed on TV sitcoms: Most bids are placed by waving a bid card in the air, and it’s the auctioneer’s job to indicate the current high bidder and the current price at each stage of the auction, which eliminates worry and confusion.
In cases where you aren’t competing for the same items, more experienced bidders can actually be your allies in an auction setting. Grogan recommends sitting next to a regular, knowledgeable customer if you’re hesitant. “[The regular bidder] might say to you, ‘That’s a really good deal.’ Or, he might say, ‘That’s really at its top price.’ Sometimes people can lean on others in that way,” he says. “It’s a fluid environment. Sometimes, value has no point. You want it, and you’re going to bid on it until you get it.”
Although you’re often competing with online buyers from dozens of nations around the globe in a local auction setting, Grogan says there can be an advantage for local buyers when bidding on higher-end artwork because international shipping is often cost-prohibitive.
Currently, Asian pottery, porcelain and collectibles are popular in Jacksonville-area auctions, along with Midcentury art, coins and firearms, he says. “Right now, old cameras are selling well. And four years ago, you couldn’t sell a [vinyl] record. Now, can’t keep them in stock.”
Grogan encourages area residents to check out a live auction in person. “I want to have fun; I want to banter; but I don’t want people to be intimidated. It’s an outing and we make it fun.”