Buying Art At Auction? Read This

Auction houses put together sales around specific collecting categories such as paintings, sculpture, antiques and jewelry. Buying at auction can be a really fun way to add to your collection. Let’s say you’d like to buy a painting. Here’s how to go about it. 

As with any purchase, you need to spend some time researching the painting you’d like to bid on. Preferably you will conduct your own price research and due diligence but the absolute minimum is to read the sales catalogue. Auction houses produce a catalogue for each sale that contains information about all the objects (lots) in the sale. Make sure to read the catalogue thoroughly, including any notes and symbols for each lot and the small print in the back of the catalogue, which specifies the buyer’s premium, any applicable taxes and other important information related to the sale.

Before the sale takes place, the artworks will be on display at the auction house. You have an opportunity to inspect the painting you are interested in, with or without your advisor, and to speak to the auction house expert for that particular sale. Some objects look better photographed than in real life so it is always better to view the artwork in person. Make sure to request a condition report: the condition of an artwork can have a large impact on its value.

If you are satisfied with the results of your research and once you have registered for the auction, you are ready to start bidding: in person, on the phone or online. It is very easy to get carried away when you are in the sale room so set yourself a maximum number above which you will not bid or let your advisor bid for you. If you are successful in obtaining the painting, remember that your cost does not end at your winning bid: you will be charged a buyer’s premium on top of the hammer price (click here for buyer’s premium charged by Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips).

Annelien Bruins is COO and Senior Art Advisor at Tang Art Advisory in New York, Miami, London and Hong Kong. The firm provides its private clients with advice on the buying, selling and managing of their collections of fine and decorative art. For more information please visit www.tangartadvisory.com. © Annelien Bruins 2014.