How Much Should You Bid?

Artsy Specialist
Oct 16, 2018 5:51PM

You’ve found the work you want at auction. How much should you bid for it?

An informed bid can take into account multiple factors, such as your budget, your interest in the work, comparable auction results, and the auction house’s conditions of sale. Here’s where you can start.

Consider the Estimate

Luckily, the auction house has already done a lot of the research for you. For every lot in a sale, the auction house will publish a price estimate informed by recent auction results, the artwork’s condition and significance, as well as collector demand.

More often than not, the auction house gets it right—and the artwork sells within the predicted price range. But when there’s excitement over a standout lot, bidding can continue well above the high estimate and might even set new records for the artist’s market.

Research Auction Results

To gain your own perspective on the auction house’s estimate, you can research auction results from recent sales.

It’s best to look at auction results for artworks that are similar to the one you want to buy—as an artwork’s size, medium, style, subject matter, and time period will influence its market value. To browse a selection of auction results for free, you can explore Artsy or the auction house’s website. For instance, you can research auction results for Keith Haring on the artist’s profile page on Artsy here.

Beat the Reserve Price

In rare cases, you can be the highest bidder on an artwork and still not win the lot. This happens when your bid does not meet the artwork’s reserve, which is its confidential minimum selling price.

Consignors often ask auction houses to set reserves on their artworks, as this protects them from selling at a price that is below their expectations. By law, the reserve cannot be greater than the artwork’s low estimate, though the exact amount is never released publicly. Artsy will notify you if a lot has a reserve price—and, in online-only sales, when your bid exceeds this threshold.

Factor in the Buyer’s Premium

Before you bid, you should also factor in any additional costs associated with the work. For most commercial auctions, you will need to pay a buyer’s premium in addition to your winning bid. For example, if your winning bid is $1,000—and the artwork has a 25% buyer’s premium—you will be charged a total of $1,250 at the end of the sale, in addition to any applicable taxes or shipping costs.

In general, your winning bid goes to whomever consigned the artwork to the auction house, while the buyer’s premium goes to the auction house for facilitating the sale. The rate of the buyer’s premium differs by auction house, and will always be listed on Artsy underneath the “Bid” button.

“If you win a work from a European auction house, there might be additional expenses associated with the Artist’s Resale Right, which will always be indicated on the lot’s page on Artsy,” explains Artsy Specialist Jane Larson. “Before you bid, you can contact Artsy’s team of specialists, and we can walk you through the costs associated with that specific auction.”

Know Your Limits

If there’s competition from other bidders over your favorite lot, it can be tempting to go over your budget and continue setting binding bids. To avoid this so-called auction fever, you can set yourself a bidding limit in advance.

To do so, you can place a “Max Bid” at the maximum price you would be willing to pay for that artwork. Artsy will automatically bid on your behalf, up to (but not exceeding) this amount to maintain your position as highest bidder as the sale progresses. This way, you can sit back and relax during the auction and still buy the work at the lowest possible price.

If you have any questions about bidding through Artsy, you can contact our team of specialists at [email protected].

Artsy Specialist