Super Shoppers: Auctions

Better Bidness

Although Yank Azman has bought thousands of items at auctions over the past 34 years, he still remembers the excitement of making his very first winning bid, back in 1969. The item that got his heart racing? A ceiling lamp that he bought for $200 and later resold at a small profit.

Azman, 55 years old, may now be Canada’s most experienced auction buyer. “The appeal of auctions is that they combine a social experience with the commercial act of trying to buy something for the lowest price possible,” he explains. After his first winning bid, Azman was hooked on the experience. He returned to auctions again and again — mostly in the Toronto region — looking for deals on unique treasures. He even built a career around the objects he bought. At his store, called simply Yank Azman Toronto, he specializes in “guy stuff,” a broad swath of antiques that includes cameras, walking canes, rare books and old baseball gloves — a lot of it found at auctions. “I’m not a volume buyer,” he says. “I buy specific items at specific sales.”

As Azman and others will tell you, auctions are ideal places to shop for, well, just about anything: antique furniture, original art, old books, collectibles — and even stereo equipment, bicycles and cars. The big attraction? You’ll often pay prices that are far lower than what you’ll find at antique shops or specialty stores. That’s because you usually end up paying wholesale prices, or what antique dealers pay for items before they mark up prices in their stores.

Shawn Gannaw, vice president of A Touch of Class Auction & Appraisal Service, based in Barrie, Ont., estimates consumers regularly save up to 50% by buying at auctions over retail stores. Even in an intense bidding war, you’ll likely come out ahead. “If an antique dealer intends to sell an item for $100, he might set a maximum price of $60 for the item at an auction,” says Gannaw. “But a consumer can spend $90 on the same item and still save money.” The same holds true for big-ticket items like cars. BDF Auction, based in Saanichton, B.C., auctions used cars every Saturday morning at 10:30. The auction house says consumers save on average about $2,000 on the price of comparable vehicles at used car lots.

As good as the deals are, the entertainment is even better. You’ll get a kick out of dueling for oriental carpets, oak tables and old phonograph players. Making a winning bid — especially one that is below what you expected to pay — can be downright exhilarating. Heck, even watching an auction from the sidelines can be fun.

To get the most out of your auction experience, start by observing the action. This will give you a feel for how the bidding is conducted and payments are made. Next, research items thoroughly so that you have a good idea of what they’re worth. As Azman says, “Rule No. 1 is do your homework.” Attend previews and inspect the items you’re interested in. Then consult books or search the Internet for the approximate value of comparable items. Set a target price and stick to it during the auction.

When the bidding starts, don’t be in a rush to make the first bid. If there is little interest in a particular item, the auctioneer will sometimes lower the starting bid, giving you a better chance of scooping up a true bargain. When it comes to popular items, plant yourself in front of the auctioneer and establish yourself as an enthusiastic bidder early on. Your steadfast determination may scare off rival bidders and get you a better price. Finally, consider becoming a regular at a particular auction. Once you’ve established yourself as a reliable buyer for certain types of goods, auctioneers may do the legwork for you. “If you become a regular bidder and the auction house knows what you’re after, they will often call to tell you that something is coming up in a sale,” says Azman. “They want you to be there just as much as you want to get the item.” For example, he often receives calls when scientific instruments go up for auction.

Azman’s favorite auction is Waddington’s Auctioneers & Appraisers, based in Toronto. Just about every week, the company auctions off household furniture, stereos, televisions, china and original art. Waddington’s also holds specialty auctions throughout the year, when Inuit art, movie posters, photographic equipment, rare books and the like fall under the gavel. You can find out more at or call 416-504-9100. Other big-name auctions in Canada include Ritchie Brothers Auctioneers, based in Bolton, Ont., and Maynard’s in Vancouver.

Smaller, more local auctions are easy to track down on the Internet. One of the best resources is The Incurable Collector’s Web site. Here, you’ll find detailed information on hundreds of auctions across North America. Simply click on a province, territory or state and the site will give you the lowdown on all upcoming auctions. If you live in Alberta, try the Auctioneers’ Association of Alberta ( or 403-340-2070), based in Red Deer. Or, if you’re an Ontarian, log on to Auctionsfind. Both sites will give you information on all the auction action in their respective provinces. But be warned: once you attend an auction, department stores will never look the same again.

Click here to get swinging into auction.

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September/October 2003 issue.

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