After hearing I work at an auction house, people often tell me how intimidating auctions seem to them even when they have never been to one. I always tell them that there is nothing to it, but there are a few things one needs to keep in mind when attending or leaving absentee bids at an auction.
First thing, approach an employee and ask them some basic questions. Ask to see the bidder registration forms. Registration forms can often also be found on the auction houses web site, in addition to online registration tools. Look over registration forms carefully, noting the buyers premium (a fee paid to the auction house on purchase which is in addition to the items highest bid and local and state tax). Ask for clarification if any part of the form does not make sense to you.
Most importantly, note preview times and make sure to attend the preview to get a first-hand look at the lots on offer (if this is not possible, most auction houses now have online catalogs where lots can be viewed prior to auction). If attending a preview, it may help to purchase a catalog to help you understand what you are viewing and to plan for items on which you may wish to bid at the actual auction. Feel free to ask an employee to open cases so that you can see and feel items carefully. Thorough previewing leads to side purchases. Examine items very carefully and take any damage into consideration when setting your maximum bid level. If you are in any doubt about what should be handled or if and item can be safely be touched or picked up, ask and employee for help.
If you are not able to attend an auction in person, most auction houses accept absentee bids. Ask (or download) a form on which to write down your absentee bids while you preview. You may ask for a tutorial on absentee bidding, and note if the auction house begins bidding for you at half of your highest absentee bid (as is the case at Pacific Galleries) or if they begin at the maximum bid youve allowed on the form. It helps to bid in odd increments, since most people will bid in whole dollar amounts, which can lead to two people bidding the same amount and the person who bids first will then win the item (another reason to attend the preview and leave bids early!).
When bidding live, observe the lay of the room and watch the rhythm of the auctioneer. Notice the bid increments, which tend to rise by 10% with bids under $100 and by a higher percentage when the bidding gets over $500 and $1,000. If you see activity that is not clear to you or you do not understand the bid increments, consult with an employee and ask them what the auctioneer is doing. When ready, settle into a seat where you feel comfortable, or do like I do and stand at the back of the room to keep a better eye on other bidders. Make it very obvious when you are bidding by holding up the card with your bidder number that you were provided when registering.
See, auctions are not so scary after all!