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Let’s venture off the flea market trail and journey to the land of auctions.

Auctions can be great places to score some nice deals on everything from antique furniture to farm equipment to automobiles and even houses.

However, if you have never been to an auction, they can be overwhelming. Many of us picture that scene from a television show or movie where someone in the crowd scratches their head and ends up buying a very expensive item.

While they can be busy, fast paced and loud, rarely does someone leave with something he or she bought accidentally. If you are considering attending an auction, here are a few tips that can help make your experience a good one and ensure you don’t leave with anything you didn’t intend to buy.

First, even before you arrive at the auction house, dress comfortably and keep the weather in mind. Many auction buildings are large, warehouse-type places that can be drafty and cold in the winter and hot in the summer. I have attended auctions that were outside and even a few in old barns.

Also, auctions can run long — anywhere from three to five to six hours. Take a pillow with you to sit on, if that makes you more comfortable, and some water and snacks.

Many auction houses have concession areas that offer snacks and drinks, but some don’t, so always be prepared.

Also, if you are planning on purchasing large items, when you arrive at the auction house, go straight to the office and register. Make sure you check with the office about any additional fees you might have to pay, such as taxes and credit card fees.

If you are tax exempt, bring a copy of that information with you so the house can have it on file.

The other thing to ask about is a buyer’s premium. Some auction houses add a percentage to the final hammer-down price — when the auctioneer says “sold.” You don’t want to go to pay your final bill and be surprised at the register, so ask first. You will be issued a bid card that will have your bidder number and usually a place to list items you have purchased and the amounts.

Next, arrive early enough to kick the tires. This is a time for you to walk around and check out the items you want to bid on.

Every auction I have ever attended has a “sold as is where is” policy, which means it is up to you to inspect items beforehand because it is unlikely they will be taking them back. At this point, it is a good idea to make a list of the items you want to bid on, so once the action starts, you won’t forget something you were eyeing.

It is easy to get caught up in the social aspect of auctions and either miss a bid on something you want or inadvertently bid on something you don’t. So, the next tip is to pay attention.

Make sure to raise your bid card high and see that the auctioneer has acknowledged your bid. Some houses have handlers in the front to help the auctioneer in case a bid is overlooked. Catch their eye, raise your bid card and make sure your bid has been acknowledged.

Once you are in the bid, the auctioneer will come back to you to see if you want to raise your amount in the event someone outbids you. A firm nod of the head or a raise of your bid card is all you need to stay in the bid.

Once the hammer goes down, the auctioneer will call out what the item sold for and the bidder number. If you won the bid, jot it down on your card so you can keep track of your purchases.

Plan to take everything you buy home with you immediately. Once the hammer goes down, you are now the owner of the item, and all liability shifts to you.

If you leave your items to be picked up at a later date, there is no insurance it will be cared for properly.

Auctions can be exhilarating and addicting. My final piece of advice is to know your budget and enjoy the process. Happy bidding!

Lesa Smith is owner of Salvaged to Sassy, an occasional vintage market in Charleston. It is hosting a vintage market called The Gathering in April at the West Virginia Pumpkin Park, in Milton. To be considered as a vendor or for more information, visit

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