When you go to place a bid on an auction item, either in person or online, you want to know a few things about the item ahead of time. One of these important pieces of information is where the item came from. How did the seller obtain it? What kind of user history has it experienced? Though it may cost you some time and energy, finding out an auction item's history is very important.
But why is it so important? For one thing, the item could have been illegally obtained. Unfortunately, this is a very real problem at many auctions -- artwork, in particular, is purchased off the black market for low prices and sold at a price that more reasonably reflects its value, making a huge profit for the seller. You may be pleased to have an original piece of art in your house, but if you're caught with it, you'll be responsible for having illegal goods.
It's also important to check an item's history to assure quality and know that you're not getting a faulty item. If that car you're interested in came more recently from a junkyard, chances are there's something wrong with it. Also, checking an item's history gives you a contact in case something goes wrong or you want to trace its path even further back.
So you're convinced, eh? Start by asking if the auction has a catalog available and perusing that for items you'd like to buy. Some catalogs are more detailed than others, and will contain information about where the item came from, who currently owns it, and more. You can use these tidbits to start a more informative search.
Talk to the auctioneer if you get a chance. They are often given more details about each item so they can inform prospective buyers if they are asked about an item's origins. Auctioneers are usually more than happy to speak with you, as their job is to sell the items and curious questions usually mean you are interested in eventually purchasing the piece.
Especially when it comes to online auctions, try to contact the owner personally. The auctioneer may have information they can give you, although some owners prefer to keep their information private. Online, you can usually ask the seller a question via anonymous email, and most people are happy to give you an answer.
If it comes down to it, you can always use the internet as a research tool and check a VIN number, serial number, or other identifying code on the item. Antiques and collectibles might be more difficult to search for, but you can still trace the general history to get an idea for where it's came from.
More auction tips are available on our blog, along with a great garage sale community, with tons of resources for free!