David Harper Fine Art & Antiques Brokers

Tips on Selling

How to sell art, antiques and collectibles for the best possible price

With my lifetime of experience handling, studying, researching, writing about, talking about (on TV & Radio) buying, selling and consulting on all things art and antique related, I can show you how, where and when is best to sell your items for the highest, fairest and most realistic possible price.

Below is all the information you need to make the right choices when it comes to selling art, antiques, prestige watches, jewellery, classic cars and just about everything else! Top tips on how to tap into the correct market to suit you, pitfalls to avoid (there are a lot of those) people to speak to, places to avoid and tricks of the trade all to make sure you get your best price possible.

This information is free and it will help you make the right decisions when it comes to selling art and antiques You can also employ me and my team to sell on your behalf. Please check out the ‘Selling‘ page for more information.

Online selling websites

90% of the items I broker through my business are sold through the tradition auction system, but depending on the object, its history and the clients personal situation, I will sell using an online selling website.

Certain items, especially well known and upmarket brands are more suited to online selling auction sites or ‘Buy It Now’ listings than tradition auctions.

Private buyers of prestige watches, like Rolex, Cartier, Patek Philipe etc along with high end accessories from the likes of Louis Vuitton or classic cars are for many good reasons happier buying direct from the owner or a specialist dealer than from a traditional auction. These buyers know there’s a chance they may be inheriting problems from an auction purchase where they have little or no come back. Therefore most buyers for these items in the tradition auction are trade buyers, who have the facilities to service, repair and restore watches (for example) before selling them…also broad enough shoulders to take the odd loss here and there when they buy a dud!

So, all of the above effects your chances of a successful sale in a traditional auction, so maybe selling yourself online is the way to go? Quite possibly, but go into it with your eyes wide open -there are scammers galore who will try to take advantage of an inexperienced online seller, so research current scamming trends, or even better if it’s your first sale online, speak to a family member or friend who has more experience and ask them to help you.

Top Tips: Avoid allowing people to visit your home, especially if the items are very valuable, meet potential buyers in public places and of course, never release goods until funds have been cleared in your account (not just showing as deposited in your account)

You will have to guarantee that what you’re selling is absolutely as described too…if it isn’t, the buyer will have recourse against you, so don’t over do the selling description, as this can come back and bite you! Describe the item fairly and honestly, so everyone knows where they stand, then you shouldn’t have any come backs…if you do have complaints, then deal with them sensibly. Compromise is the solution to all problems, so if the watch you’ve sold for example suddenly stops working a week after you’ve sold it, then offer to repair it, or at least make a contribution to the repair and come to a decent conclusion as fast as you can.

Selling online is going to take more effort on your behalf than just simply popping the item into an auction, but it could be worth the effort.

Take really good and clear photographs, describe the item well and accurately, as again, you’ll be responsible for this description and price it realistically to get immediate interest…if you want to sell, then make it tempting for a buyer to buy!

Take a look at eBay for example and you’ll soon work out which are good adverts and which are bad ones. Use as many of your photographs as you’re allowed to upload in the advert, making sure they’re varied and interesting. The description should be simple, to the point and factual, pointing out any flaws and make the advert friendly yet professional.

It never ceases to amaze me how aggressive some online adverts are ‘no time wasters or dreamers’ are popular taglines on many eBay listings and will do nothing but put people off. The first rule of selling… Be friendly and make people like you!

You’ve got to remember that when you are selling something yourself, you’re likely to have to deal with several, if not dozens of enquiries from people over a long period of time before you actually make a sale. These people are not ‘time wasters’ they’re just part of the selling process and if you don’t sell to them this time, you might do next time, so answer all enquiries quickly and don’t take offence or be put off when you get ridiculous offers, just politely decline them…anyway, I always think that any offer is better than no offer!

I was selling a lovely Rolex for a client recently for £4,500 online and I had several offers quite quickly, including 8 from a chap who started at £500 and eventually worked his way up all the way up to £1000!…it does make me wonder how these bidders have the time to do this, but in this case, it made me laugh every time he upped his bid! The Rolex sold for very near the asking price and I’m sure the phantom bidder simply moved onto another target!

Remember also that the genuine online buyer first and foremost is looking for trust…Price, is actually secondary…whats the point in buying the cheapest branded item listed online if it doesn’t really exist, is a fake, doesn’t work, or at best is badly misdescribed? The potential buyer needs to feel that they can trust your advert. In other words trust you and the item, so do everything you can to come across as that trustworthy person. Nice pictures, honest description, welcome enquiries and questions from buyers (and answer them quickly and politely) list your phone number and offering to allow the purchaser to have the item inspected by an independent expert of their choice is always a great selling tool and peace of mind for the purchaser too…always remember though, go with your item to this expert and always keep it in sight!

Although its obvious there is more work involved in selling online yourself, something else to consider are the financial numbers, which stack up well for you and for the buyer…let me give you an example and a comparison against selling in a traditional auction.

If an item is sold in auction for £1000, you will receive about £750 after auction selling fee’s have been deducted, but the buyer pays out about £1250 after their auction buying fees have been added…a difference of £500!

So, it would make sense then that you could feasibly advertise your item online for say £1150, which is a good saving to the buyer and much more for you, even after you’ve paid your advertising costs. Even if you pay someone to do it for you, you’ll still be ahead, but remember selling online really does only apply successfully to certain items, other items can do better in a traditional auction, even though the costs are higher, so lots of research on your behalf is required before you make that decision…there is a lot to think about, but it’ll be worth it.

David Harper Fine Art & Antiques Brokers

Selling in Auction – How and where to sell in auction:

Not all auctions are the same. In any business, there are very good and equally very bad examples. Using a bad auction is a horribly expensive experience and a lesson you really don’t want to be having to learn along the way.

Your local auction room may well be the right place to sell your items, but be careful that they don’t simply put everything you have into one weekly sale (With many auctions, your items are just lot numbers to them and they want as many lots in each sale as possible)  If its all general pieces, then an ordinary sale might be fine, but if there is anything interesting and potentially valuable, this may need to be held back for one of their antique and fine art sales, which will always attract higher paying buyers, or the item might need to be sent to a different auction altogether…no auction in the world will ever tell you they are not the right place to sell your items!

Auction rooms will hold regular ‘normal’ sales, where they’ll be selling everything from cheaper Georgian furniture to second hand washing machines and then they’ll hold their ‘special’ Fine Art & Antiques sales which are usually held every quarter. These are the auction sales where colour catalogues are produced, everything is listed online with online bidding, evening viewings by invitation are often arranged with wine and music and the auctions best clientele are invited along to be tempted to buy something lovely!  These are the sales I specialise in, but even if your items aren’t good enough to cut the mustard and make it into one of these auctions, the best advice I can give you is make sure the general sale you’re selling in has online live bidding…if it doesn’t, then consider moving on to one that does because without internet bidders, you’re pretty much guaranteed a disastrous result!

So, lets say that your items are good enough for a fine art catalogue sale. It obviously makes sense to send your items to an auction room who has a track record for selling similar pieces for great prices. In other words, they have the right buyers for these pieces, good relationships with them and the buyers trust their descriptions, so they will be happy to bid on your items from anywhere in the world. Its taken me years of experience to put together my list of top performing auctions, but with internet research you should be able to find the right auction for your items, even if it means transporting them a couple of hundred miles! and don’t worry, you don’t have to be driving to the other side of the country yourself to deliver (unless you want to) There are some great online delivery and collection firms who will compete for your job and its not as expensive as it used to be. Its a case of basic number crunching. If its going to cost you an extra £100 in transportation, but it looks like you’ll get £1000 more in the right auction, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out what to do!

Selling fee’s vary from auction to auction, but don’t fall into the trap of just using the one that offers you the cheapest rate. There are much more important factors than the commission rate involved, but fees will range from 18% to 25% and should include insurance, photography and online listings, but rarely transportation. Watch out here, often auction rooms sub contract their collections and deliveries which means they can be very expensive. Get an idea of how much this is going to cost you. You may find you can save quite a lot of money by arranging this yourself.

Timescale. An auction should pay you within a month proceeding the sale, so from start to finish, the selling process can take two to three months to turn around.

Selling Privately

So, this is where you arrange a private sale without the item going into auction or being offered for sale elsewhere to anyone else. This is a great way of selling if you are both willing parties and know exactly what the item or items are worth and you feel you you can both benefit, especially when you consider you’re saving the selling commission and the purchaser their buyers commission.

I handle a number of large private sales per year, but my situation is different to yours, I don’t own the items, but I know both the buyer and the seller and simply act as the middle man. Both parties are mostly anonymous to one another and there is no public record of the sale, which is often the reason for the private sale…why would you want the world to know how much you’ve just paid for your vintage Ferrari or early Rolex Daytona?

So, you’ve got to think about this one. What are your reasons for agreeing to a private sale with a friend or family member? would it be fairer to put the item on the open market or are you just happy its going to someone you know?

Selling at an Antiques Fair

Unless you’re a professional dealer, I wouldnt recommend you setting up a stall and selling at an antiques fair. It’s going to cost you several hundreds or even thousands of pounds to do it right, you’re going to need an awful lot of stock and know exactly what you do have in order to price your items correctly and therfore stand any chance of selling them.

Antiques Fairs are a great place to meet dealers and specialists who you may be able to develop a relationship with and ultimately sell too, but when it comes to you selling at these fairs, it’s best to leave it to those who do it for a living…and you stick to whatever you do for a living!

Car Boot Fairs / Sales

If you know that all you have is a collection of household wares, second hand furniture and general items that are of no real value, then I’d suggest having a fun day out at a Car Boot.  It will be a great experience, you can eat as many bacon sandwiches as you like and they’ll be lashings of hot tea! Items that are already priced will sell much quicker than those where buyers have to ask the price, so take some price stickers or swing labels with you and take the time and effort to ticket everything…you’ll be amazed how much difference this makes, as people generally don’t like asking for prices. Be ready and willing to negotiate (its all part of the experience) Be friendly and talk to everyone, you’ll make many more sales!

However, if you have anything remotely resembling an antique or something of value, don’t take it to a Car Boot! I have sold dozens of very high value items over the years on behalf of clients who have bought them at Car Boots…the last being a Chinese late Ming Dynasty (circa 1600) stem cup!

Selling to a specialist dealer or private collector

With some specialist items, it can be more viable, much simpler and quicker to sell direct to a specialist dealer or collector as apposed to selling in auction. This way, you save your venders commission and the buyer saves their buyers commission (which can easily amount to over 40% in total)

There are of course some obvious concerns here regarding trust and honesty, but with research you will be able to find the specialists dealers (unlikely you’ll find the private collectors though) who have excellent reputations in their field. Talk to collectors clubs, read forums online and ask general dealers or auction rooms for recommendations.

Specialists may also sell on your behalf too, which is always an option and a good specialist will be open about how much they’ll price your item for, it will be listed on their website and the whole process should be completely transparent.

The real benefit here is that the sale should be quick and you’ll get your payment immediately.

So, that’s the free advice. Its not exhaustive of course as it’s a huge area, but it will certainly help you make the right decisions. To instruct David Harper to sell for you, please click on the following link:

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