Answer me this: what do a toaster, a box of pre-decimal stamps and a plaster reproduction of the Venus de Milo have in common?

(Before you ask, this isn’t some kind of cheesy joke.)

They are all things that you could have bought for £1 – yes ONE POUND – at an auction I went to.

There was a small buyer’s premium on top. But even including that they were decent lots that were literally ‘cheap as chips. In fact, depending on where you buy your chips, even cheaper.

Other bargains at the same sale included a laptop for £12, a mountain bike for £9, a professional hammer drill in a case for £7, a digital camera for £4 and a leather office chair for £3.

I’ve always been a fan of auctions as a great way of sourcing stock for a small business. But right now there are some incredible bargains around. If you haven’t tried them yet you really should give them a go. As well as being great for sourcing cheaply it can be a lot of fun.

Auctions are especially good for buyers (but not so good for sellers) right now. Why? Well, prices at auctions have always been a bit volatile. They’re set by supply and demand. The hammer price is only ever what people are willing to pay on the day. But in the current economic climate auction prices are frequently giveaways. As well as all the usual lots auction catalogues are being deluged by bankrupt stocks, repossessed goods and desperate sellers. And that means ultra low prices.

If something comes up in volume – and not many people at the auction are in the mood to buy it that day – it goes for a song. Reserve prices (i.e. the minimum an item may be sold for) are often being forgotten about at the moment. If no one else wants what you’re bidding on it may well go for £1 just to clear it.

Here are some strategies for bagging auction bargains and making some extra cash:

  • The smaller the better. Look for small, back street auctions rather than the well known names. The fewer people that go, the lower the prices are likely to be.
  • Get cold, grab a bargain! Going to auctions on freezing cold days when it’s rainy, windy or snowy can be really lucrative. It puts more people off, so the attendance is lower… and so are the prices. Weekday evenings at this time of year are particularly good.
  • If you’re going with a view to reselling for profit don’t go along with the idea that you ‘have’ to buy something. Only buy things if they’re dirt cheap.
  • Fix a low maximum spend. Anything you buy for auction for less than £20 (less than £10 even better) will almost always sell for more. (Strangely enough, the more you pay the less your resale margin is likely to be.)
  • Mixed lots often make the best bargains. Even if a few of the items are junk a few things will be worth more. The junk will put plenty of people off bidding, so you get it cheaper.
  • Stay till the end. Lots of people don’t especially on a cold winter’s night. If you do, you will often find the prices get cheaper, and cheaper and even CHEAPER as they head for home.
  • If it doesn’t sell make a silly, low offer once the sale has ended. Most auction houses will call and ask the seller if they will accept your fiver or whatever, if the lot didn’t reach the £20 or £30 reserve they were hoping for.

By the way, if you want to find out where you can get incredible auction bargains like these then The Secret Source Directory is the place to look.