Low reserves and a wide range of property await collectors at estate auctions, Marie Proeller wrote in the May issue of Country Living.
Estate auctions sell to the highest bidder the property of a person or persons recently deceased. Estate auctions occasionally liquidate the assets of persons preparing for retirement or dividing a household.
Estate sales, on the other hand, are not auctions but are similar to tag or moving sales. Held in someone's home, they offer items at predetermined prices.
In both cases, the use of "estate" most often implies that the sale is related to the homeowner's death.
To settle an estate in a timely fashion, lots are commonly offered at a lower reserve (the price under which the auction house will not sell an item) than they might be in a more general antiques auction. Sometimes there are no reserves at all, resulting in increased opportunities for purchasing items at reasonable prices.
An average estate auction might include anything from important pieces of furniture, silver and art to household linens, toys, tools--even cars. "Estate auctions are like treasure hunts," said John McInnis, owner of John McInnis Auctioneers, an Amesbury, Mass., firm that holds more than 20 estate auctions each year. "Collectors like the variety."
Perhaps what's most special about these auctions is that the property offered is often fresh to the market. "These items were usually collected long ago and haven't been seen on the market in years," said David A. Gallager, director of American furniture and a senior estate appraiser for William Doyle Galleries in New York City. The sales become especially exciting when forgotten pieces by well-known artists of furniture makers reappear.
Estate auctions are most often held in an auction house's gallery or a rented hall. The sales themselves are conducted in the same manner as other antiques auctions. Previews are generally scheduled several days before the auction.
On the day of the sale, auction-goers register for a bidder's number and receive an illustrated catalog or typed list of property to be sold. Final bids are subject to buyer's premiums and applicable sales taxes.
Payment policies vary, so inquire before the auction to avoid confusion later on.
To find out about estate auctions in your area, look for advertisements in newspapers, trade papers and specialized magazines.