How to buy anything
at auction -- Page 2
addition, auction-house specialists who catalog items are a good source of information,
says Hildesley. Not only do they know the objects, but they can compare them to
similar things they've seen.
When you buy from an online
site, often all you have to rely on is the word or description of the seller.
Ask the seller to fax or e-mail additional pictures if you need them. Request
any records. Has it been maintained? Sold previously? Appraised or graded? Ask
about flaws and its condition.
To find a reputable auction house in your area, Hindman
suggests talking to people who work in bank trust departments. They work with
estates, so they know the terrain.
With online auctions, it's
more difficult to evaluate sellers. Read comments from previous customers. What
kind of a track record does the person have?
watch the type of product the person's offering," says Tom Lane, chairman
and CEO of propertyroom.com. "If they switch from low-priced items to high-priced
items overnight, I'd be a little suspicious."
seller's address, recommends Susan Grant, director of the Internet fraud watch
program for the National Consumers League. "Lots of time people don't have
a physical address for the seller."
If you're buying a
big-ticket item, such as a car, get the seller's OK to see it in person, says
Ostroff. But get as much information as you can before you go. And never meet
with the seller alone.
Protect your wallet, too. If you pay
by credit card, you retain the right to dispute your purchase. But you're also
giving a stranger your credit card number. If you opt to use a feature such as
PayPal, the No. 1 choice for eBay buyers, ask your card company what happens if
you fund the account with your credit card and then have to dispute a purchase.
Never wire money.
"Once you wire
money, it's gone," says Hani Durzy, spokesman for eBay Inc.
the item is being shipped, ask for a tracking number so that you can confirm the
If you choose to use an escrow service, make sure
it's legit, such as escrow.com.
Fake escrow services are one of the hot new scams, says Ostroff.
bidding at a site that claims to be selling merchandise for a police department,
call the department and verify.
In cases of fraud, some sites,
such as eBay, will guarantee purchases under certain circumstances. Find out what
the rules are and what safeguards are offered by the site.
even with guarantees, an unhappy purchase doesn't always rise to the level of
fraud. In that case, the site may ask you to work something out with the seller.
Best solution: Learn as much as you can about the seller and the merchandise before
The rules of the game
Auctions are a game. If you want to win, you have to know the rules. Just
to make it interesting: No two auctions are exactly alike.
general guidelines: The bid won't be your total price. There are usually buyers'
premiums, based on a percentage of your winning bid. There may also be shipping
charges and taxes.
Some auctions will allow you to take the
merchandise that day. Others have a waiting period or conditions you must meet.
With an online auction, often the seller sets those terms. Ask ahead of time.
"Don't be caught by surprise after you've won an auction,"
If it's an auto or police auction, chances are
it's cash only. With most, money is due on the spot and all sales are final.
one auction constant: Once you've offered the winning bid, you're obligated.
you go to the auction, set a limit on how much you want to spend. If your objective
is a good deal, what would you pay for the same thing elsewhere? Factor in your
time, shipping or travel expenses and set a limit.
with your head and not your heart," says Vallon. "There's always going
to be another one, whatever it is."
Vallon has seen buyers
pay several hundred dollars for bikes that were worth $4,000 to $5,000. She's
also seen kids and their parents get so carried away they end up paying more than
If you are buying fine art, jewelry or antiques, look
"It's better to buy one really good thing
than 20 mediocre things," says Hindman.
And if you're
a collector, says Hildesley, "be absolutely sure you're in love with the
object you're going to buy."
is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.