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What Is an Auction House?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 14 August 2014
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An auction house is a company which conducts auctions. Most auction houses specialize in auctions of particular types of objects, such as Sotheby's, which handles fine art. Anything can be sold at auction, from food commodities to real estate, and auction houses can be found all over the world handling the sales of items from large to small. The use of auctions to sell items is an ancient practice, and some auction houses are very venerable.

At an auction house, full service is provided to buyer and seller. The buyer approaches the auction house with the item he or she wishes to sell, and the auction house prepares an estimate, determines when the item should be auctioned, markets the auction, and conducts public sessions in which people can inspect the item. On the day of the sale, the auctioneer who works for the auction house sells the item, and the auction house takes the money from the buyer, collects a commission, and passes the rest on to the seller. The house also handles the secure storage of the item, and it may arrange for transport by request from the buyer.

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There are a number of advantages to using an auction house, rather than trying to sell an item privately or trying to organize a community auction of items. Auction houses have a great deal of expertise, with auctioneers who are skilled at getting the best price. They also have immense marketing clout, which exposes items for sale to more potential buyers, thereby increasing the potential price of the item. Auction houses also offer services like authentication and security which may be expensive or difficult for sellers.

Items sold by an auction house can be sold at a live auction, in which bidders are present, in online auctions, in phone auctions, or in a mixture of the three. A number of different types of auction can be offered as well. Auction houses may hold closed auctions for specialty items, commonly demanding a fee from bidders to indicate that they are serious and to avoid situations in which bidders try to back out of a purchase, and they can also hold public auctions which are open to all.

Some types of auctions which can be handled by auction houses include antique auctions, real estate auctions, government auctions, art auctions, and livestock auctions. It is important to select the right auction house for an item to ensure that it will get the best price. Especially with specialty items like art, it can be beneficial to seek out an auction house with an in-house expert who specializes in the style of art being sold. For example, a Greek or Roman sculpture should be handled by a firm with an antiquities expert.

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