Why Selling Watches at Auctions Could Leave You Shortchanged

For some time now, the auction houses have been open for another lucrative season selling rare and exclusive luxury items. The world’s internet news feeds have been awash with watches selling for hundreds of thousands of American dollars, with some even topping the magical million.

It is easy for the man on the street to imagine from this that the best place to sell a watch is in an auction – and from numerous too-good-to-be-true-but-it-is stories, that the best place to find one such watch is at a boot fair, in your loft, or left behind by a hurricane.

However, while occasionally people do find real gems in these locations, discovering or rediscovering lost treasures and family heirlooms, or, every now and then, just getting lucky, these watches are valuable because they are highly limited. The chances of owning one and not knowing about it are slim to none at best.

For most people, selling a watch at auction would be a disaster. It’s commonly intimated on auction reality shows such as Cash in the Attic or Bargain Hunt that selling small valuables for a few hundred or a thousand or two is perfectly viable, but this doesn’t take into account the costs involved, or whether an auction is the right place to buy or sell.

For starters, there’s the listing fee. If you want an auction house to sell your stuff, you have to pay them to do it. Then there’s the Vendor’s Commission. This is the commission, based on the selling price, that the Auction house takes for selling the item (let’s say, a watch) and it can vary from a nice, low, 8%, to a startlingly high 20% of the total sale price. Then you pay VAT on that commission. As you can see, auctioning something that only sells for a few hundred pounds in the first place can seriously eat away at the money you receive. If it’s any comfort, the buyer of your item will also pay a commission fee on top of the bidding price. So the auction house actually gets two sets of commission for every sale. Actually, not much of a comfort, is it.

Then there is the issue of what the watch will actually sell for. If it goes in a general auction, the chances are it won’t be what it’s worth. This is because the success of the auction largely depends upon the people bidding. If you don’t have more than one person in the room who both knows the value of your watch, and, more importantly, really wants it, then no one will bid to buy it. Too many items fail at auction because there are no interested parties in the room.

So despite the temptation that arises from watching daytime television, an auction is not a wise place to sell a watch unless it is a truly exceptional piece. People often go to auctions to pick up a bargain; trying to sell a watch for a respectable price is a chancy business at best.