What You Must Know About Live Auctions

What You Must Know About a Live Auction
Written by Oana Schneider

You probably know that eBay is an online auction and shopping website where people from practically all parts of the world sell a wide array of goods and services.

To give you an idea about the most interesting treasures that you can find from this online auction site, here are the most expensive items sold on eBay:

  • A painting of Elvis Presley and James Dean by Gerald Sebatini on hardwood, housed in a handmade sculptured frame. Price: $7 million – still available
  • Shane Butcher’s life including his 3 R U game franchises, two homes, cards and an office. Price: $3.5 million – still available
  • A photo of Space Monkey Sam, the first animal to be part of NASA’s space exploration program. Price: $5 million – still available, no bids
  • The Farm, a rural bed-and-breakfast inn built in 2003 sitting on over 40 acres of land. Price: $2.4 million, still available
  • The world’s largest lunchbox collection by The Lunchbox Kid, with more than 675 lunch boxes, some signed and dating back from the 1950s. Price: $1.7 million, still available

What You Must Know About a Live Auction

When it comes to live auctions, one of the most popular and long-existing is Sotheby’s. The tradition for conducting a live auction began in 1744 when Samuel Baker, a bookseller in London, made a few hundred pounds auctioning off rare books. Over the next 270 years, Sotheby’s expanded into auctioning art, jewelry and luxury items.  Some of the most expensive items sold through Sotheby’s are:

  • Edvard Munch’s “The Scream (1895), sold for $119.9 million on May 2012
  • A silk-screened image of a mangled car entitled “Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) by Andy Warhol (1963), sold for $105.4 million on November 2013
  • Alberto Giacometti’s “L’Homme Qui Marche I” (Walking Man I), 1961, sold for $104.3 million on February 2010
  • Pablo Picasso’s “Boy with a Pipe” (1905), sold on May 2004 for$104.2 million
  • Pablo Picasso’s “Dora Maar with Cat” (1941), sold on May 2006 for $95.2 million

The obviously well-off individuals acquired these multi-million dollar art pieces and the value of what they bid on will continue to rise in the art world. Should they decide to auction off the same pieces a few years later, they are bound to earn a lot more because the value would have already appreciated.

The good news is that you do not have to be a multimillionaire in order to participate in a live auction. There are plenty of live auctions and online auctions that you can place bids in. Who knows, that beautiful ancient vase that you acquired from an online auction now will increase in value in a few years, allowing you to earn a decent profit? Here, we will have an in-depth look at live auctions, how they work and how you can get the highest bids on live auction items.

What Is a Live Auction?

So what exactly is a live auction? Simply put, it’s a method of selling goods or services. The setup goes like this: bidders arrive at the auction house or a set location; the goods are described and listed; an auctioneer solicits bids; the bidders make bids and the item goes to the highest bidder. In the US, it is pretty common for farm and livestock owners to auction off their animals to the highest bidders. The estate of a deceased is also auctioned off, as well as homes which are into foreclosure.

How Do Live Auctions Work?

 At a typical live auction, the goods are organized into lot numbers. Let’s say that the estate of a deceased millionaire is being auctioned off. The houses, cars, pieces of art, and other valuable properties are divided into lot numbers. Each lot may contain one or a combination of items. The attendees of the auction are given a catalog of the items to be auctioned off beforehand, so that they would have an  idea about which ones they would place bids on. Most catalogs for auctions are pretty descriptive, indicating the content of each lot, the condition of the item, or even its appraised value in the case of real estate properties.

The auctioneer begins by calling each lot number. Bidders are given a paddle to hold up to signify their interest in the item being bid upon. The amount mentioned is the lowest bid, then the bidders will raise their paddles to bid an item up. The bidder with the highest amount wins the item. Live auctions are exciting, especially when bidders challenge each other to raise the amount until an item sells at an unbelievable price.

For online bidding, the process is pretty much the same – although things occur entirely online. Once bidders visit an online auction website, they will need to register and place their bids by clicking a button. Similar with live auctions, whoever bids the highest amount for an item wins it. If you can’t participate to manually place your bids during the time that the auction is held, you can actually place an absentee bid. Just key in the maximum amount you’re willing to pay and the system will place the bids for you.  If someone outbids you and the maximum amount you have set is reached, you lose the item. On the other hand, if your maximum amount has not been reached yet and no other person places a bid, you will win the item.

If you have managed to win a bid, how does the payment process go? For live auctions, you simply need to present your bidder number to the cashier. You will be given an itemized invoice of your purchase. After payment, you can pick up the item or have it sent to your address. Sold!

How Do I Get the Highest Bids on Live Auction Items?

What You Must Know About a Live Auction

If you are the one holding the live auction event, you naturally want to get the highest bids on the items that you are putting up for sale. Let’s say that you are the manager of a non-profit organization and sponsors donated valuable items. The proceeds of the auction will go to your non-profit organization and benefit those who are in need. To get the highest bids, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Hire a professional auctioneer who specializes in hosting charity auctions. If you’re holding an auction for the estate of a deceased, or a foreclosed home, get an auctioneer who specializes in such auctions as well.
  • Prior to the auction, organize the items which you would like people to bid on. Make sure that the start-up bidding amount for each item is realistic, and allow the auctioneer to do his or her magic to raise the price during the bidding process.
  • Combine fun and inexpensive items with the real items that you want the audience to place real bids on.
  • Launch a campaign to let people know about the auction, when it will be held, what’s up for sale, and where the proceeds would go.
  • Set expectations about the amount of time that the audience would have to sit through the auction. These events can either be long and boring, or short and exciting. The pace of the bidding should be quick, the auctioneer should know how to read the audience, and the bidders should be on their feet when trying to get the items which captured their attention.
  • Know how the auction will go. There’s usually an hour or two spent on a silent auction; a half an hour for guests to nibble on snacks and socialize; one hour to an hour and a half of live auction; then the checkout process.
  • Market each item effectively so that you can get the highest possible bids.

Additional Information About Live Auctions

Finally, what are the things that you need to keep in mind when holding a live auction? It’s best if the guests will go through a registration process. Whether it’s a personal auction or an event for charity, knowing exactly where the proceeds will go helps in building interest towards the event.

If you have a lot with collector’s items, increase the starting bid amount and allow the auctioneer to work the crowd from there. If the event is held for charity, grab the opportunity to ask for straight donations. Instead of hiring paid staff, highlight the beneficiaries of the event so that you can attract volunteers. This way, you can all work towards the goal of your non-profit organization.

You can also serve coffee and sugary treats which are bite-sized. This will up the energy of the participants and make them look forward to the live auction event. Having a clear closing time encourages last minute bids so that at the end of the auction, you will not have any items which weren’t sold. Prior to the event, plan the layout on the venue in such a way that people will have easy access to the food and drinks table, while still being able to shift towards the bidding area.

Whether you’re a bidder or the one who is organizing the event, live auctions are fun, thrilling events which are usually held for a good cause. Keep these tips in mind so that you can work towards holding a successful live auction.

About the author

Oana Schneider

Oana Schneider is a published author located in Chicago, Illinois, who currently works for as a communication specialist and blog editor. She writes about lifestyle, family budget, has a degree in Communications and advocates for women’s rights. Her future plans include getting a Labrador and losing a few pounds.


  • I’ve been lucky enough to attend three live auctions in the past five years or so, and they’re a lot of fun. It’s interested to see everything that goes on, but you have to go in with a strategy. You have to know what you want, and what you’re willing to pay for it. I love the information in this piece, and I’d have to recommend that each person at least attend a live auction in their lifetime. It’s definitely a unique experience.

  • That’s really interesting because the only time I’ve used an auction was one time only. I had to get some product and I did get it cheaper than I would of had if I bought it directly, it was on eBay but these are really interesting facts. I mean, it could help you a lot to have a basic knowledge of it.

  • I must say, that’s really really interesting. I have only used auctions one time and I’m sure if I knew a lot of this stuff, it would of probably helped a lot. I think that auctions are a good way of making profit sometimes, you can get it for cheaper but you just have to know the value of the item.

  • Great advice, live auctions are fairly common in my area. When an older couple retired from farming and moved to be near their kids, they auctioned off all their farm equipment. I’m not in the market for those things, but auctions have always intimidated me anyway. It’s so important to know your limit ahead of time and stick to it no matter how exciting things get.

  • I’ve never attented a live auction, but I’d love to. There’s one thing I’ve been wondering – what happens if you place a highest bid on item and you don’t go to cashier to pick it up. Are you obligated to pay for it once you’ve placed highest bid?

  • I’ve been using eBay for many years, but have never attended a live auction. I love the idea of it, though, and no doubt will one day attend one, and I’m sure these tips will prove useful. This sounds like a really good way to fundraise, since people who attend those events are often willing to pay more than they might otherwise, and the whole atmosphere would (assumedly) be less cutthroat and more festive and fun.

  • This is good information, thank you. Where I live, there is a car auction house, and there are loads of sales each month from there. I really want to go, but I needed to make sure that I knew as much as possible before I finally went for it. Thanks to this article, I feel as though I am now able to go, so thank you very much indeed for it! The one tip I would also say is set a budget before you go, and no matter how tempting it might be, don’t go over the budget. That is the only way that you’re going to be able to make sure you have a positive auction experience!

  • I’ve been to a couple of live auctions, and they are pretty exciting. Online auctions can be kind of boring. There’s just something about being able to see the person that you’re bidding against that can turn it into more of a game.

  • It’s good to know that goods at auctions are organized into lot numbers. I think that would make the auction go a lot smoother. I think auctioneers should also always have assistants who go to fetch the items in order to speed things up.

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