For a while, I was considering naming this article “How to channel your inner vulture”. The reason is quite straightforward. When I tell people what I have been up to last week, I get some slightly judging looks: I’ve been looking at auctions.

Recently, I bought a house. One of the things I want to do in this house is renew the floor, as currently it looks a bit like the one of a depressing high school. Still unsure whether I wanted to buy a (significantly more expensive) parquet or laminate, my eyes stumbled upon an auction site.

People have weird ideas about auctions. They immediately picture a room with a ridiculously priced painting at the front and people offering even more ridiculous sums. The majority of auctions however do not fall under that rather niche category.

Auctions are organized by bidding houses. In Belgium, a lot specifically focus on selling the inventories of shops that went bankrupt or just stopped. Generally, these items are quite specific. If you are bored, just visit some of the links I have shared at the bottom of this article. You will be stunned about the number of obscure items being sold. The majority of auctions actually takes place online.

The majority however are quite regular, normal items. Frequent things that pop up are either electronics or furniture. The latter category is of course very appealing to a recent house owner. A big chunk of the lots that went on sale were also big chunks of parquet or laminate. Intrigued by the prices I went to the visiting day; which also coincided with the day the auction closed (virtually) online.

Driving to a rather remote & obscure warehouse, I was shocked to see the number of people visiting. I was expecting some professionals, perhaps looking to boost their stock for a decent price, but instead I found a lot of people like myself: in their end 20’s or early 30’s looking to save some money but still wanting to buy decent quality goods.

Example of auctions

I found 5 or 6 lots which I found very interesting and that evening I installed myself 10 minutes before the deadline at my desk, glaring at my screen. As you can imagine, this can be a nerve-wrecking experience. Each bid increased the countdown-timer by 6 minutes, and unfortunately there were a lot of competitors (and hence bids).

I soon scrapped the parquet: it went to a regular-market price. If I put down this amount of money, I’d prefer to do it at a shop where I have some contact point and where I have a say on how much square meters I’d like to buy. That is a downside of auctions: the lots usually are ‘fixed’. In this case, that meant I would probably have to buy a bit more than I actually needed.

Ultimately, as the minutes ticked on, there were 2 candidates left. Both (very) solid quality laminate lots with a market price which I would say is about 20% less than you’d pay on average in a store. After a frantic half hour, I had secured my lot. I am now in possession of a lot more than I actually need, and at a price I am very happy with. As I plan to install it myself, I’m happy that I have a significant margin for error, and I still count on recuperating a small sum by selling the leftovers.

Some people steer away from these type of auctions, as they feel it is vulture-like behavior. Of course, I’ll not head into the ethics of this, but at least by this the shop manages to still get in some money to pay its creditors. It’s an exercise everyone has to do for him/herself.

In this particular example I will actually use the goods I bought myself. If you have a frequent look at these sites however, you will sometimes find that interesting opportunities arise. A few months back I almost bought a lot of about 25 bikes in still significant good state. Some had to be patched up a bit, but only minor repairs could have doubled the money that you could get for such bikes if you sold them individually. I saw an exciting chance and a fun project to invest in. However, my significant other was not that keen on it, stating things like “are you going to store them in our bedroom?”

Just wait until the upcoming fire truck auction ends.

Tips & Tricks

  • Think about transportation, especially when buying big items or lots with a high quantity of goods. Some bidding houses arrange transport, but this comes at a cost as well. If you don’t own a van, renting one will not be free as well. Take this into account when bidding.
  • Very often, a lot is a lot. For instance, a lot consists out of 6 chairs. This means you will have to take all 6 of them if you have the highest offer. If the lot consists out of 3 fire trucks, you are obliged to take home all three of them.
  • If you can find the goods sold on another site, do a quick price comparison. Already think upfront what your highest bid will be. For instance, we saw (new) chairs being auctioned. We looked them up online and found them for 60 / piece online. We decided we wanted to go no higher than 45. Ultimately someone offered about 52 / piece for them. For us, this was not worth it, as having very often limited customer support can be a pain.

Any other tips & tricks? Feel free to share them in the comments section below!

Links to some (Belgian or Dutch) auction sites:

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