BLOCK PARTY

Going, going, gone are the days when auctions were for snobs

Norman Garrett, owner of Garrett Galleries, the priciest of Dallas’s three fine art and antique auction houses, didn’t come right out and say that now is a good time to swoop in like a vulture and take advantage of another’s misfortune. But he did mention that today it’s a buyer’s market, with the best deals in more than a decade available now at local auctions. Whether or not you have a few grand to drop on a Chippendale bookcase or a couple of hundred for a pair of bronze rhinoceroses, an auction is a cheap night of fun.

Joe Small, Dallas’s largest volume auction house, specializes in turn of the century English pieces at his weekly auctions in North Dallas. Estate Galleries in Garland sells everything from washing machines to second-hand clothing. Auctioneers 3 in Carrollton specializes in fine French antiques and antiques out of Argentina.

Many of the stories about auctions, Garrett says, are only myths and serve only to keep people away. The actual bidding is not as intimidating as might be expected. Scratching your ear, for example, won’t buy you an item, Bids are given obviously, with the bidder raising a card with his number on it. If you bid over your head, there’s still an out, at least with Garrett. Occasionally he allows novice buyers one mistake, one purchase they can back out of.

Local auctioneers offer a few pointers for getting the best deal, noting that a good poker player is probably a good auction-goer. The number one rule is to attend the exhibition (the first showing of the goods to be auctioned), and if you aren’t comfortable judging the quality of the items yourself, bring an appraiser or trusted expert to help you look things over. Auctioneers are not required to point out flaws in merchandise, although reputable ones often will. Also, before you sit down for the sale, know your bidding limits. If you don’t know what a reasonable limit should be, ask the auctioneer what he expects the item to bring. Another good strategy, Garrett says, is to start high if you really want something and hope you’ll frighten other interested parties away. Don’t appear too eager and don’t bid every time the auctioneer looks at you. Opening the bidding is a good idea if you’re sincerely interested in something; half of your low limit is a good starting bid. The expected price range of each item is distributed in a catalogue at all his auctions, but Garrett says he considers no bid an insult, no matter how low. Remember that a 10 percent premium, the auctioneer’s commission, will be added to the bid that gets the gavel.

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