Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Elbow Grease and Paint Pants:

I'm still working on a few of those notorious projects from my fourteen-piece auction experience.

I hope to have a new one to share with you next week.

On Saturday, I was rearranging the chaos that is my auction storage unit my garage, when Lily wandered out and we started talking.  She asked what my plans were for individual pieces, etc., when she volunteered this bit of information:

"My favorite thing you ever got at an auction is the downstairs couch."

That surprised me.  It is a funny story, so I thought I'd share that experience with you and what I learned at the Mesa Auction three days before my 42nd birthday:

Attending the Mesa Auction in August is an experience in itself--the A/C is minimal, the humidity is high, and oftentimes that limits the number of people who will venture out to the sale. It is divided into two rooms, one containing the antique/vintage/needs-a-little-love merchandise and one containing nearly new or sometimes even new pieces.  Both rooms are stifling in August, to put it kindly.

I previewed the auction earlier that morning, wondering about the restoration potential of a few pieces in the first room.  As I was walking around, I overheard the owner talking to one of his employees, discussing how the furniture in the second room had all come from a series of model homes.  This was interesting to me, because that means the pieces weren't new, per se, but they would have had little to no use.

That's when I saw the couch:
To say this baby is big is not quite accurate.  It is huge--from end to end, it is almost ten feet long..  A little more modern than my usual taste, I knew that my basement needed a piece of this scale to divide the room in half. We had been living in our house for over four years, and there still was no big sectional in the basement.  I was intrigued.

It was in pristine condition.  I could look around the room and see which pieces had been used to create a family room--the glass-topped tables and geometric-patterned rust armless chairs made quite a designer statement.  But all I wanted was that couch.

There was no visible tag or manufacturer on it.  In fact, I even tried to separate the pieces (it is connected together in three places with large stainless steel hooks), but the pieces are impossibly heavy to move, and I didn't want to overturn one of the sections onto the dirty concrete, so I just let my curiosity fester.

When I returned to the auction that night, I ran into my friend Kelly and her husband.  They had their eyes on a few lamps and accessories for her daughter's room redo, so we hung out for the night.  Auctions are much more fun when you go with someone else who wants something different from you--not so much when you want the same things. :)

One of my favorite activities at an auction is the people watching.  It's easy to pick out the newlyweds who are furnishing their first apartment, the guy who owns many apartments and furnishes them with the least expensive items he can find, and the dealers.  It's good to learn who the dealers are, since they only want to resell their items and are willing to pay much less.

As the sale progressed, I could see that prices were all over the place, like they always are.  Some items that I think are really cool sell for a pittance, while other items get fought over by two people and the price escalates to sometimes above retail.  Stupid people. I got a few of the items I was looking for, but I was waiting for that sectional to come up for bid.

Kelly ended up getting a few of the items she wanted, and I was happy for her.  I was glad she was willing to hang around until the end of the auction, because I knew that my couch would be the last item of the night--it was sitting in the place of honor, the place where the highest priced item of the night always sits.

Since there was a roomful of nearly new furniture, there were a lot of local dealers there that night.  I would watch as they would bid, analyzing what they paid for each item and how much they could get for that chair or that table in their stores.  Prices weren't too bad on most of the pieces.

Then it was my turn--my couch.  I had set a price in my head, and that price was $1000+10% buyer's fees+tax.  I knew that a new sectional would set me back much more than that, so that would be reasonable.  Not cheap like Grandma couch, but in perfect, love-it-the-way-it-is condition.

Since it was the last piece of the night, the crowd had thinned markedly.  Unfortunately for me, the most bloodthirsty of the dealers was still left, and somehow I knew that she had her mitts out for my couch.

Bidding started.  When the bidding starts, I always feel a little rush of adrenaline, that thrill of excitement that comes from a duel.  This time was no exception.  Bidding started low if I remember correctly, around $300.  I was getting a little cocky--I might get this for a song!  Then Dealer Lady got in on the bidding.

Bidding topped $400 and the other dealers dropped out one by one.  It was just me and Dealer Lady, and it was a fight.  Have you ever seen auctions on TV, where it just bounces back and forth, up and up and up?  Rarely do auctions go like that, but this one did.

Higher and higher.  $700.  $750.  $800.  $825. $850.  I was beginning to sweat it a little.  Maybe there was something to this piece of furniture that I didn't know.  Hmmmm.  Now my dander was up, and you don't want to cross me when my dander's up, that's for sure.

Bidding was approaching $900 very quickly.  What would happen? She bid $900, me $925, and then she dropped out of the bidding.  The couch was mine for $925.

Kelly celebrated with me, we cashed out for the night, and then we went back over to inspect my final purchase.  With the three of us working together, we separated one section off and carefully turned it over.  The only information we could find about the piece was a tag that said Lazar manufacturing.
 Not much to go on, but I had bigger problems.  I had to go home and tell Brad I had just spent $1000 on a couch.  How could I sell this?  Ah!  It was my birthday in three days, and I had just relieved him of the responsibility of finding me a gift (at least ten times what I'm sure he would have paid for a gift, but I was grasping at straws here).

I got home and relived the details of the auction, then told him about the couch.  Just as I was about to finish the tale, the phone rang.  It was 10:40 pm by this time, who could be calling?

It was Kelly.  She had looked up the manufacturer online and had found my couch.

ON SALE, that sectional is over $4900.  I had just paid 20% of the new price for a piece that was in pristine condition.  Kelly was giddy on the other line, reveling in my deal of the year.  And now I had the perfect angle to approach Brad.  Happy Birthday to me!

Lessons Learned:
  • Preview the auction in person when possible.  Get to know brands and manufacturers.  Turn pieces over  and find out what you can about the piece you are purchasing.
  • Make a physical or mental note of pieces you would like for your home, then keep your eyes peeled for something that is perfect (or can be made perfect). I hadn't been actively looking for a sectional, but when I saw it, I knew this one would work.
  • Get to know the people around you.  Watch them for clues and bidding experience.  Dealers will pay much less than a designer or regular consumer will, since they need to make a profit on their purchase.
  • If someone is willing to bid MUCH higher than you are, that can mean one of two things:  1) they have an inflated idea of what the piece is worth, or 2) the piece is worth much more than you thought originally, and it may be time to reconsider what you're willing to pay for it, if you really want it.

My kids love that sectional.  I love having it down there, and it is now the jumping-off point for designing the rest of the basement.  Still haven't quite finished it, but now I at least have direction.

Until next week
Going once, going twice . . .


  1. I love that you do this. It thrills me vicariously to hear about your finds.


  2. Wow! What an exciting story! I love auctions. My heart was beating a little faster just reading about the one where you got your couch. By the way, how did I miss until this post that you know Kelly from My Dear Trash personally? I love playing 'connect the blog dots'.

  3. I love that couch. I wish I could come auctioning with you!

    good stuff

  4. Your sectional is awesome...I love the angles and what a deal you got! I was hanging on to every word of your story!

  5. The joy with which you experience an auction makes me want to go to an auction, right now, this minute. I better google an auction house here in Colorado Springs. Wish me luck!

  6. I imagine the couch is also a literal "jumping-off point" for your boys' lightsaber fights as well.

  7. That is such a great story.
    My dad was an auctioneer and did estate sales all over the country.
    He had some pretty awesome stories.

    Sounds like ya done good!
    I do love it too!

  8. I love an auction story because I love an auction. No wonder your daughter loves that couch - we were looking at big sectionals on the weekend and the good ones are $$$$ but oh, they make a big room cosy.

  9. So glad I could be part of that awesome auction night! One of my favorites.

  10. Wow - THAT is a great story! Congratulations on a genius buy!

  11. That is awesome! Now that is a screaming good deal.

  12. My question is how did you get it home? Do you have to throw everything in a truck that night, or do you come back the next day with a trailer or somehow get it home?