Tips and advice for selling at auction

Surprisingly, only a small percentage of the UK adult population have ever put an item into an auction, but many of us purchase quite regularly from UK auction houses and auction websites. In fact, auction purchases of antiques and fine art have consistently grown over the years, mainly due to the numerous very popular television programmes.

On average the UK population’s interest in antiques, fine art and collectables has grown considerably. Added to this, the increase in recycling and upcycling has seen less and less of our household objects being considered as junk, only fit for the local tip. Many of these items are now sold as part of a job lot in auction houses around the UK, and of course, listed on the many auction websites, from eBay to

At Manor House Clearance, our work takes us into many homes, for many house clearance reasons. Often, our work is down to the loss of a loved one, with our role to value the contents and possessions from an estate. This process very often leads to items being sold at auction, with our role to liaise with the auction house, providing probate valuations and the logistics process of making sure the items are ready for sale. Having performed this task on many an occasion of the decades of clearing homes, you can appreciate we are very experienced in the process of selling at auctions, and we hope our advice is deemed useful.

Valuing your items

Of course, we do this naturally as part of the probate and valuation of an estate. However, we all need to ascertain how much our items are worth. Probably, the easiest way to establish value is to send an image of the item to the auction house you are looking to use, and ask for a reserve price or estimated value. There is no substitute for specialist knowledge and a reputable auction house will be able to provide you with an estimated value, subject to viewing the item in person. This advice is generally free if you are looking to sell at that particular auction house.


The condition of the item/s can make a big difference in the value you can achieve. invariably, items of age show signs of wear and tear, and sometimes this is part of the value, with value ascertained as original condition. The saleroom specialist will be able to provide that advice and value based on the condition of your item.

Maximising value

Up and down the country, many of the auction houses have specialist sales or specialise in certain types of antiques, fine art and collectables. This is worth researching to find out where you should be selling your items. Hitting the right auction house and the specific sale can see more bidders, collectors and interested parties. The more of these present, the greater the opportunity to increase the sale price. Location is important too. For example, if you have an item that is relative to a location, i.e., a painting of a Norfolk scene; this is more likely to sell more if put into a Norfolk based auction house. It is about doing your research and looking for the best possible auction house and location to sell your item.

Reserve price

This is an important inclusion. In our humble opinion, every item should carry a reserve price. If it has been properly valued, that estimated value should be interpreted into a reserve figure – what you want to achieve for the sale. The main reason for this is some auctions can be poorly attended, or economic forces can dictate a negative period in relation to values being achieved. Sometimes it is worth holding onto an item for longer, that is, until you can achieve your desired sale price.

Commission rates

Remember, selling at auction comes with a fee. 15% is a very normal commission rate, so be prepared to pay this kind of figure, but ask beforehand to make sure you are aware of this. Auction houses will tell you their rates in most, if not all cases. Also, be aware that there may be a minimum fee per lot. £10 is quite common. You may also have other charges, i.e., catalogue photos. Our advice is to always be aware of your costs pre-sale. Then you won’t be disappointed!

Are the commission rates negotiable?

We often get asked this question. In most cases, they are a non-negotiable set fee. However, there are exceptional cases, normally if you have an exceptional or valuable item. If you have an outstanding item that can help the auction house market its whole auction successfully, on rare occasions, the auction house may well waiver the fee.

Prepare for the unpredictable

Yes, the headline is a contradiction in terms. Every auction and every sale is unpredictable. That is part of the excitement of selling in the auction. Sometimes, you can see some incredible sales prices, especially if two avid collectors are chasing ownership of the same item. Bids can spiral, and estimated values are surpassed dramatically. It really is down to the luck on the day.

Auction selling can be a lot of fun, but always be aware of the downside and pitfalls. A period of research should always be considered to establish the right sales location and the value of the item you are selling.

We do hope this sound advice is deemed useful, and happy selling!