Monday, January 16, 2012

Tales of an Auction Addict

Today marks the first installment in my new weekly series--Elbow Grease and Paint Pants:  Tales of an Auction Addict.

Where do I start?

I fully blame Karen's dad, Pat, for introducing me to auctions. I've attended a few over the last ten or eleven years, but I didn't really get back into auctions until last June, when I was ready to redo my hobby room. I found a dresser and a hutch that I repurposed and got for good prices.  Love them.  I haven't been able to leave it alone ever since. 

I've been asked many times recently about how I find such great stuff and about my auction habit in general (and it is a habit, in the best and worst sense--even my little boys will say, "Mom, you're ADDICTED to auctions!").  I've had some great experiences and some fantastic finds, and I've been burned once or twice, when I learned a few things.  Now I'm ready to share!

Auctions are the lazy person's garage sale--you don't have to drive all over the neighborhood, hoping you'll find a treasure to two. In fact, now that most auction houses are online, you can surf their websites for the images up for auction that week, determine if you're even interested in investing your time, then plan accordingly.  A few of my favorite auction houses actually allow you to bid online, so you never have to leave home--kinda like eBay, but better!  The best way to find auctions in your area is through

A few of the laws of auctions:
  • Take time to evaluate the lots in advance.  Open every drawer, wiggle every leg and arm, turn items over and  investigate.  That's what preview time is for.  Remember, auctions are buyer beware and no guarantees, unless it's electronics or appliances.  Ask the auction house for their policy.  If you get that couch home and it won't fit in your house or its arm falls off, that's a personal problem, I'm afraid.
  • When buying furniture, familiarize yourself with which brands are expensive and will stand the test of time.  I always look twice at a piece if it's Ethan Allen because I know it's built to last.
  • Set your maximum price in your head (or on paper, that is better for me) before you're caught up in the excitement and competition of bidding.  If you don't, you will more than likely overbid, and subsequently overpay.
  • Remember when you're bidding, you still have to pay sales tax and a buyer's premium (the auction house's fees--usually between 10-15% of the purchase price).  I mentally add 20% to the final price just to remind myself what the actual price will be.
  • If you lose the bid on an item, just remember:  there's ALWAYS another auction.  ALWAYS.  
  • It's a game.  It's fun.  It's also vicious for some people, and they bid to win (I may or may not be one of these people.  I'll let you decide.)
  • If you see something that is ALMOST what you want, and you know how to change it into what you want, buy it.  If you don't know how to change it or it's unchangeable, DON'T buy it.  It will never be exactly what you want, no matter how cheap it is.  And then you'll be sorry.
Last week I plunged into an unfamiliar auction--one that only allows online bidding and is located 30 minutes away in Phoenix. I found a few interesting lots, left a few low-ball bids online, then proceeded through my Saturday.  Saturday night I received an email from the auction house, informing me that I had won ALMOST ALL of the lots on which I had bid.

It took two trips to Phoenix the next Monday (30 minutes each way, plus loading time), and this is what I had to show for it:
Looks like a used furniture store threw up in my driveway, right?

Here's another view of all my treasures:
The two pieces in the front on the left were not part of this purchase (they're lurkers from my garage that I decided to pull out and do something with--finally), but all the rest of this stuff is from that single auction.  All told, I bought fourteen pieces of furniture:  three dressers (two of which are Ethan Allen and the other is solid hardwood with dovetailed drawers), four end tables, one antique sofa table, two bookshelves, two entertainment centers, a pair of antique window shutters, and one Ethan Allen hutch top with leaded paned glass (no base).

And those fourteen pieces of furniture, including buyer's fees and tax, were $360.35.  Seriously. Averaged out over 14 pieces, that's about $27.78 per piece! Can you believe that?  I was shocked, seriously shocked.  So were my neighbors, who kept stopping by and asking me if I'd lost my mind.

Lessons learned:   
  1. Never bid higher than you are willing to pay.  Even though it was a ton of stuff, I was pleased with the prices.
  2. Driving to Phoenix twice in one day is for commuters, not for stay-at-home mothers.  Don't want to do that again.
  3. Be prepared to be the laughing stock of your street until you find places for all your treasures.  My Suburban has been temporarily displaced, but that's much better than the ridicule. :)

I've already started redoing a few of these pieces, and I'll share their progress with you over the next few weeks.

Until next week . . .
Going once, going twice . . . SOLD!


  1. You are crazy! And you found some great stuff. I thought you were going to say you are going into business with Kelly and Laura :) I really, really love that piece on the far left (from the garage). Is this why you've been pinning all those cool dresser pictures? Can't wait to see the results of your latest venture.

  2. That is awesome!!! Cannot wait to see what you do with all of it. xo

  3. Those are some impressive finds. It will be fun to see what you come up with! Seriously.
    I can see some funky colors now.

    By the way, I grew up with an auctioneer. My dad. There house is full of treasures of great things that he had. Me? Never got into going to them. I can't spot a treasure if it had a bullseye on it.

  4. Ha. That is awesome. I think I will just live vicariously through you as I am too chicken to try and buy something that I don't have time to fix. Heck, I still have half-done Super Saturday projects from 5 years ago. Someday...or not.

  5. Oh my gosh, they're beautiful pieces. ETHAN ALLEN!? You can't beat the price, evem if you have to do any touching up.
    You are the auction queen my friend.

  6. I am an auction-lover too. There's hardly a piece of wooden furniture in the house that did not come from an auction. The dressers, dining room furniture, bedside tables, all the wooden chairs in the house - all auction buys, some from 38 years ago. When we married we didn't have a stick of furniture, and that's how we started. Have fun!

  7. Oh yes... it IS quite addicting :)

  8. Now the work begins : )
    I see a wonderful little store in your future.
    I can't believe the quality of these pieces.

  9. I have a feeling I shouldn't have seen this post.

  10. whoa ... your addiction could soon be mine as well! impressive haul ... can't wait to see how you end up using it all!

  11. Wow, what a great deal on all those pieces! Online bidding...that sounds like it could be dangerously addicting! You got some great pieces...can't wait to see what you do with them!

  12. Jen I love auctions too! And, I love old furniture! You found some great pieces. You seriously may need to start a business.

  13. Dying, DYING over that fabulous buffet in front. What in the world do you mean it's just been languishing in your garage? UGH! Now, about all those auction pieces, hahahaha, you are a little nutso there. WHAT are you gonna do with all that stuff? Pretty soon you'll just have to open up your own shop, or send it down to Kelly's and see if you can make a return on your stuff.

  14. You really scored. I cannot believe those prizes for real wood furniture of any kind. Let alone stuff that looks good!

    It was interesting to hear your take on auctions. I think maybe Dave and I should take that up once he's retired. Sounds fun!


  15. i'm totally jealous. i would love to go to an auction with you! please show us the "afters" when you're done! and thanks for the link..i may have to check out some in my neck of the woods! :)

  16. Okay my husband would 100% freak if I showed up with that much stuff. But holy cow you got an amazing deal! Yes please please document the before and after and all you do so I can learn from your amazingness!

  17. Can't wait to see what you do with everything!

  18. That is crazy and you got such a deal! There is a weekly auction right by my house but I never have the guts to go in and bid on anything. I will one day but until then I'm sticking to my Goodwill and Craigslist. You gave such great tips for auctions. I never thought about fees and sales tax!! Thanks

  19. wow, those pieces are gorgeous. i've been to an auction only once, where we bought a victrola we're going to turn into regular storage. but at the auction, i was so afraid to touch my hair or rub an eye-i was afraid they'd think i was bidding!

  20. What great tips! Thanks for sharing. I haven't been to an auction since I was a kid and my mom took me to find a dresser for my room, which we subsequently refinished. This post kinda makes me want to go again...

  21. Uh oh. This is dangerous information. Uh oh. Ummm....I'm bookmarking this post...just because...well...ummm...I need the information someday.

    Cool, cool, cool!

  22. I just wandered over from Miss Mustard Seed-wow!!!! That is amazing! I grew up in Phoenix. I don't miss the heat, but every once in awhile I get the itch to move back. Now I want to move back just for the auctions. I doubt the auctions are as good here- I'll have to check it out though!

  23. You are NOT the laughing stock of your street...ever. Amazing and talented, yes. Intelligent and educated, yes. Kind and caring, yes.

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