(KPRC) -- On any given evening, dozens of people gather in search of a deal.
They’re bidding on hundreds of items, including furniture, jewelry and one-of-a-kind originals.
The starting bid on some items is probably about the same amount as you would pay for some drive-thru
“I've sold coffee tables that were $2,000-$3,000 for $5.00,” David Lewis, an owner of an auction company, said.
Lewis has been in business for 30 years.
“I have a lot of people who call this their date night,” he said.
At his auctions, guests are treated to pizza and cocktails.
“Generally, they spend less than $2 or $3 for the night, and they have a great time. If you buy here, you’ll literally save thousands and thousands of dollars.”
Wanda Waters drove four hours to one of Lewis’ recent auctions. She owns her own shop and was looking to stock up on goods for her customers.
“I really like the small, Italian leather furniture, some china and silver,” Waters said.
Most of what’s being auctioned comes from people’s homes, including estates of the wealthy. Items on one particular night included leather chairs, a mid-century modern glass dining room table and a large desk, all up to 75 percent off of retail.
Jewelry and art are big draws, too.
“On artwork, at times you’ll buy it at what it costs to frame,” Lewis said.
Auctions, however, are tricky business. Veterans can easily come away with great deals at rock-bottom prices. Rookies will make rookie mistakes and can easily overspend or end up with a bad deal. Lewis shared some tips with us to help you find your best bargain at an auction.
Tip No. 1: RESEARCH: Visit the auction house before the bidding begins. Preview what’s on the list and look for imperfections on any of the items you’re interested in.
“We always encourage everyone to examine everything before they buy it, because it is used,” Lewis said.
Some people look for perfect items, while others look for imperfections that still won’t ruin a good deal. It helps tremendously if you know an item’s value (remember, you can always look up some items on your smart phone, eBay or other sites to get a ballpark figure of it's worth).
Lewis notes that on the night of the auction, things move fast, which leads us to his next tip.
Tip No. 2: KNOW YOUR ITEMS AND BE READY TO ACT: Every item at an auction has what is known as a lot number. Knowing your lot number before the auction begins and being ready to raise your hand when your item comes up for bid will help you ease your way into the process instead of being caught off-guard. If you don’t know your lot number, you risk the chance of missing out on the bidding, or bidding on the wrong (but similar-looking) item.
Lewis said there's a key to remember here: “Bid once early on in the process, so the auctioneer knows that you’re one of the contenders. They'll always come back to see if you want to get back in.”
He adds that if you’re an experienced bidder, “you’ll want to let the bid play out and get back in at the end if you can.”
Tip No. 3: REMEMBER YOU’RE NOT ALONE: It may sound ominous (like you’re a character in a horror movie), but at an auction, there are unseen forces lurking about. Who are those invisible forces? Phone and internet bidders. There’s nothing really that ominous going on here; just remember that you can’t rely on looking about the room to gauge the interest of all interested parties.
Some bidders call or login for a number of reasons, including convenience or anonymity. But if you’re at the auction, you have one advantage over phone and internet bidders: You can scrutinize items far more effectively than someone who’s not in the room. The bottom line is that there’s an advantage to looking, touching and feeling an item. You can avoid overpaying for an item that doesn’t present as well in person as it does in a photo.
Tip No. 4: HAVE A BUDGET IN MIND AND GIVE YOURSELF A LIMIT: It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and spend more money than you really wanted to when bidding on an item. Call it competitiveness, but real winners aren’t necessarily the ones who spend the most. Unless you’re looking for a specific item and “the sky’s the limit” on how much you want to pay, every item has a value, and knowing that value -- to you or on the open market -- will help you keep your spending in check and avoid overpaying.
That leads us to our last tip:
Tip No. 5: BE AWARE OF ADDED FEES: Just about every auction house charges what’s called a buyer's premium, a fee of around 20 percent added to your final bid.
“That’s how we make our money to stay in business,” Lewis said.
As a buyer, don’t forget to take that extra amount into consideration when you bid. At $500, an item might be a good deal; with a buyer’s premium at $600, as a buyer you may not feel the same.
One last tip (call it bonus knowledge from us to you): Selling your stuff at auction can be an easy way to downsize and make a little money.
Auction experts say you can expect to get about 25-30 percent of the original value of an item when you put it up for auction. Those numbers can go as high as 50 percent of the original price for quality brand names like Rolex, Prada or Chanel.
For a list of upcoming auctions in Central Florida, click here (and happy bidding!).