“I’m going to a charity art auction. Any tips on getting a good deal?”

Best Life Magazine, featuring an article with BA360's Johnna Wells

Article featured in Best Life Magazine, May 2007:  Remember the old adage “the early bird gets the worm”? Nowhere is it more applicable than at a charity auction. “Many auctioneers organize auctions based on a bell curve,” says Johnna Wells, founder of Benefit Auctions 360, a company that specializes in such events. “They place less expensive items at the beginning to allow people to get comfortable with the bidding process, knowing that bidding will gradually intensify before tapering off.” This also means that items in one’s price range may be available in the third quarter, when prices dip, crowds thin, and competition flags. Knowing when to wave your paddle, however, is just one element of successfully taking home a prize. Here are the others.

Communicate with the spotter. This person acts as an extension of the auctioneer to identify and announce bids. If the auctioneer starts raising the bids in larger increments than your budget allows, explain your concern to the spotter. “He’ll tell the auctioneer, who will adjust the bidding accordingly,” says Wells.

Identify the art dealers. Public fund-raisers generally have fewer dealers than, say, a Sotheby’s event, but it still pays to know who they are. If you and a dealer are interested in the same item, he’ll stop bidding when the price reaches half of what he can sell it for at retail. End your bids soon afterward.

Factor in a service fee. Keep in mind that anything you buy may be charged an applicable state tax and possibly a “buyer’s premium tax,” which helps cover the cost of the event and the services of the auctioneer. Combined, these additional fees will bring a $1,000 item to about $1,160. On the flip side, “If you paid more than the fair market price for the item, you could potentially write the whole thing off,” says Wells.