Auctions, Auctions, Where are the Auctions?

The auction market continues to explode. While eBay still has many adherents, there are now a staggering number of auctions in every region and field. A look at one auction portal will give you the idea.

California HiBid provides a window to auctions currently underway on a state-by-state basis. You can find them at http://www.california.hibid.com. As of September 21st, there were 58 auctions underway in California with a combined total of 16,579 items available for bidding. Many, if not most, reflect bankruptcies, forced seizures, assets sales, and other mandated events, but no small number offer antiques and collectibles consigned in the usual manner. Let's peek at three such auctions currently underway.

California Auctioneers in Ventura is underway with a Western Estates Auction that closes shortly. It includes 436 items covering a wide range of categories: paintings, firearms, native American artifacts, furniture, silver, jewelry, and even a car. You can bid directly or online and buyer premiums run from 20-25% depending on how you do so. This auction includes advance bidding, a live webcast so you can follow along and bid on your computer, and even pre-auction financing. It couldn't be more convenient.

Nonetheless, there are a few drawbacks common to most such auctions these days that buyers should be aware of. The first is that you are now bidding against the world and not just the handful of people that actually show up to the auction. With so many bidders out there, great buys are rare. In addition, descriptions are often minimal and as a remote bidder you have no ability to inspect what you're bidding on. Finally, this auction errs (in my view) in requiring a relatively high opening bid. If an item is estimated to sell at between $500-$1,000, the opening bid will be one-half of the low estimate, or $250. Given the often inflated pre-sale estimates, this practice inhibits bidding.

Then there is Orrill's Major Estate Auction in Sylmar featuring 2,220 lots. That's an exhausting number of lots and requires the endurance of a long-distance runner to wade through them all. The assortment consists mostly of jewelry, posters, collectibles, and mixed household items; a lower-end selection to be sure. All the same, there are no pre-sale estimates posted and opening bids are low, often $5-$10. There are more likely to be some hidden deals here, but it remains a caveat emptor ("buyer beware") process.

Finally, there is a two-week online-only auction currently underway through Grenadier Auctions in Long Beach. Grenadier specializes in militaria and their nearly 1,000 items covers the range from ancient to modern warfare. Focused auctions like this tend to attract advanced collectors who know what they're looking for. While many bits of military insignia and decorations look the same, some of the rarest items have already attracted frenzied bidding. A rate WWII German officer's tunic is already up to $7,500 and the reserve has still not been met. Whew!

So... if you're the acquisitive type and want to let your fingers do the buying, consider diving into the burgeoning world of online auctions. There is no end to what you can find.

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