Hello my dears! Please welcome back my friend Elizabeth for Part Two of her guide to thrifting for your home (Part One can be found here)! Today she’s sharing all her tips on how to shop online auction houses and find amazing deals on furniture, decor, fabrics, and more. Enjoy!
Elizabeth’s Tips for Finding Great Deals on Online Auctions:
Download the LiveAuctioneers app and head straight to the site on your browser to create an account. For reference, Live Auctioneers is the leading curator of estate sales and auctions around the world. There are other similar online sources such as Invaluable and BidSquare, but I personally prefer LiveAuctioneers.
Use the “find auctions” drop down to find sales near you. It is helpful to know about those around you for two reasons: you will have the ability to “preview” the sites up for sale if you choose and you can escape any cross-country moving expenses.
Use specific search terms on the website’s browser. Play around with your queries by searching not only by designer, but by decade, material, color, or print to find the most interesting things to you. For example, you can search “Bunny Williams” and all items Bunny has dropped off to the auction house to sell as well as those from homes designed by her team will populate.
Update your settings so every time a particular item or designer you’ve been eyeing goes up for sale, you are notified! I probably have 100 saved searches and it is so helpful to know when these items are online whether in my backyard or across the country. A few examples of my current saved searches include, but are not limited to: Madeline Weinrib, kilim rug, Parish Hadley, Philip Moulthrop, Royal Crown Derby Red Aves, Elizabeth Locke, Thomas Goode & Co, Louis XVI bergeres, and chintz.
Use the site for price research. Are you looking for twelve Herend dinner plates in a particular pattern? You can always check out what the exact and similar items have gone for in the past as a reference point before you bid. I don’t really use Invaluable but will give them props on this tool they created to help make researching products easy. Try it here.
Educate yourself on designers, fabrics, and styles of furniture. I would recommend reading design magazines, coffee table books, interviews online. Follow your favorite tastemakers on social and go to trade shows, showrooms, and conferences to meet or see the brands in-person. If you are reading Veranda and are drawn to a particular product, search for it in your site browser to see who has sold it in the past and for how much. The more you play on the site, the more you will learn. For me, there are certain designers such as McGuire and Maitland Smith that I see ALL the time. I am now much more aware of their style, collections, and specialities. Outside of the above, I also play around on KRB a fair amount to educate myself on various styles, design wording, and product. I’m always learning from the likes of creatives like Rita Konig and Kate Brodsky.
Similar to physical sales, you should know the market and what is available in the masses. You can find china, silver, or crystal in droans. If you are like me and appreciate these items, you can find them for a steal across the internet for pennies on the dollar. Also, a lot of people are not as into brown furniture these days so you can find lots of pretty quality mahogany for less than ever before.
Measure before buying! This is something I struggle with, but I highly encourage you to measure before you start bidding. All dimensions should be located in the description under each item. If not, you can contact the auction house and they should be able to pass along to you while on the line.
Handy husbands help. Beware of the labor cost of putting together and transporting thrifting finds. If nervous about shipping costs, e-mail the preferred list of shippers (found on auction house websites) prior with the lot items in consideration and your address for quotes. This will enable you to have a better idea of the overall price per item if you were to move forward. If the shippers seem too high, try googling other contacts and/or reach out to a designer friend in the area to see who they use.
Inquire about the terms of the sale for the items “passed on” during auction.
Similar to physical estate sales, you have to be patient and known you’ll make some mistakes.
Similar to physical estate sales, shop geographically smart. If your time is tight, I would concentrate on NYC, Palm Beach, Greenwich, and potentially Detroit. Those are the four cities where I think some of the best items have come from.
Research the home! For online estate sales, they will typically tell you the property where the item came from. If you google the families name, you can sometimes learn about the couple, their chosen decorator, and see additional photos inside of their home. I have scored some incredible pieces that are now in our home from everyone from Judieth Lieber to Katie Ridder.
If an auction comes from a single property owner, you can tell if the sale is going to be any good on the first page of an online sale. Vice versa if it is good! You will have an idea of the family’s taste off the bat and if it is close to yours.
Beware of the attached fees. Remember the “buyer’s premium,” which is essentially a cut that goes to the auction house (to, you know, pay their employees). Twenty-five to thirty percent is pretty standard, but calculate it before you set your top bid. There are also repairs to think about if the piece isn’t in tip-top condition. You might be clicking the “Bid $150” button, but with $50 shipping + $37 buyer’s fee + a $400 reupholstery job, that’s actually a $637 purchase.
Sometimes some good ole-fashioned PR has a lot to do with the sale pricing. If the auction is getting a fair amount of buzz, the sale will have more eyes on it and more people will be “bidding”. Therefore, the end prices will end up being higher than they would potentially be otherwise. Right now, I feel like the online auction scene is almost a weird secret society but when the likes of a Martha Stewart endorse one or its tied to a national charity that is public in their circle–your competitors grow and no deals may be available.
Items not sold (known as “passing”) or not picked up often roll over to another sale. If a sale has received a lot of buzz, the prices are driven up by competition. You’re not necessarily out of luck though — the next month things that haven’t sold from the much-buzzed-about auction may well be on sale again (this time with far fewer bidders!).
Advanced tip: If an item “passes” at an auction, ask the sale coordinator if you are able to bid post-sale on that item. Dependent on the agreement with the seller, the majority of items are yours for half off the original starting price post-sale.
Auctions will short sale cycles and morning start times will not have as many eyes on it or the amount of associated buzz surrounding the sale. I’m not sure if it’s simply poor planning by the auction house, but these sales will have your best deals.
Don’t overlook the items with no photos especially those of fabrics. The majority will have details in the description that you will be able to google on your own for a visual. If not, contact the auction house for a photo and/or further information.
Always remember that when you click “bid”, you are responsible for payment if you win.
(Above, vintage treasures arranged in Elizabeth’s home.)
Helpful Auction House Lingo
Some useful terms to help you navigate the auction world:
The final bid price, whether the item is sold or unsold, when the auction ends. It does not include the buyer’s premium.
An additional percentage charge that the winning bidder is required to pay in addition to the hammer price. Buyer’s premiums vary from auction to auction.
An object or group of objects being auctioned off as one unit.
Information about a lot’s current or prior ownership that may affect value.
SOME HELPFUL LIVE AUCTIONEERS STATS:
Around 500 people bid at a typical LiveAuctioneers-affiliated auction.
Around 150 people are physically at the auction bidding, while about 350 more are online.
Around 75 percent of online bids are absentee, while the remaining 25 percent are live internet bidders.
(Above, some lovely vintage pieces arranged in Elizabeth’s living room.)
Elizabeth’s Favorite Auction Houses:
STAIR GALLERIES — HUDSON, NY
The gallery’s tag-line is “selling interesting things from interesting people” and it’s no lie! Bunny Williams sells a lot through Stair Galleries and fun fact, she worked for the company once upon a time! I live for their “Friday Night Sales.”
HINDMAN AUCTION HOUSE
Hindman has auction houses in Chicago, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Denver, Milwaukee, Naples, Palm Beach, Scottsdale, and St. Louis.
I primarily concentrate on the sales in Atlanta and Palm Beach.
I sometimes put in low bids and if I win, great and I’ll figure out transportation! If I lose, no big deal. I won big at a Hindman sale in Palm Beach over the summer. My sweet husband and I rented a U-Haul and drove to the auction house to pick-up my finds.
THE BENEFIT SHOP — MOUNT KISCO, NY
In my opinion, the best resource to find smaller miscellaneous high-end items.
NYE & CO — BLOOMFIELD, NJ
I once stumbled across a painting for $2,000 through Nye & Co that had sold at Sotheby’s the year prior for $10,000. I purchased it with the intention of selling for a profit. Welp, fast forward to working full-time, getting pregnant, and moving cities, the painting is now a beloved piece in our home.
LELAND LITTLE AUCTION HOUSE — HILLSBOROUGH, NC
A lot of pretty silver, china, and mahogany from old-school Southern estates. I snagged upholstered headboards for my daughter Louisa’s room for a steal. They frequently have great finds—everything from Gracie Studio wallpaper panels to antique Mercedes convertibles.
STRAWSER AUCTION GROUP — WOLCOTTVILLE, IN
You have to search more in Strawser sales than the auction houses mentioned above, but there are some incredible deals to be found (think sterling goblets, Minton majolica plates, and fine crystal). I purchased my crystal from Strawser and nabbed a set of 14 Lismore white and red glasses along with water goblets for $220 (to give you an idea, one Lismore glass is typically around $75).
(Above, Elizabeth’s daughter looking darling in a vintage wicker chair.)
Elizabeth’s Best Finds at Online Auctions:
CHRISTOPHER SPITZMILLER MARBLEIZED PLATES
I won these via a Housing Works NYC auction for $20 a piece.
MY WEDDING CHINA
An unbelievable set of Royal Crown Derby Gold Aves bone china tableware. It wasn’t necessarily my best deal but it was a pretty incredible collection and would go for six or seven times the price I paid if you ordered off Scully & Scully or through your local china store. The set included sixteen dinner plates, sixteen salad plates, fourteen bread and butter plates, sixteen dessert plates, fourteen teacups, fourteen large saucers, sixteen small saucers, eight bowls, twelve glasses and sixteen small cups. It came from an Upper East Side Townhouse and was purchased off Ebth.com!
EIGHTY-ONE HAND PRESSED BOTANICALS
These were purchased from an auction house in London via LiveAuctioneers.com for 180 pounds. This was the description: “Flora von St. Moritz, Pontresina und Umgebung, 81 dried samples of Alpine flora (of 100), mounted with gold tabs, with manuscript descriptions, loose in contemporary green cloth and gilt box in the shape of a book, small 4to, no place, (c.1880).” Yes, please!
TWO CURTAIN PANELS
These great curtain panels of Katie Ridder’s coral moon flower pattern from her NYC townhome with a corresponding embroidered pelmet for $100.
REGENCY STYLE INLAID MAHOGANY TABLE
I scored this for $250 at Hindman auction house in Palm Beach. The exact table is selling for over $7,000K on 1stdibs.
PAIR OF JAPANESE KUTANA PORCELAIN VASES
My vases cost me $160 while elsewhere online a similar set costs approximately $4,500.
PAIR OF JANE SHELTON UPHOLSTERED CLUB CHAIRS AND MATCHING HEADBOARD
I scored gorgeous Jane Shelton upholstered club chairs for $326 and a matching headboard for $90 from the home of Mallory Mathison via Everything But The House.
(Above, Elizabeth arranges her newly framed antique botanical prints.)
Thank you for all this fantastic information, Elizabeth!
Stay tuned for Part III of our thrifting series (the best brick-and-mortar thrift shops) coming next week!
(Photography courtesy of Kelli Boyd)