10 Tips for Selling Art Through Auction

1. Read and scrutinize the terms & conditions you sign. Sellers beware: apart from the estimate of value and the auction house's fee (which you will obviously discuss about), there are a whole range of terms contained in small print that ultimately translate in $, £, ! Make sure you scrutinize each term and condition before you enter into a binding legal agreement with an auction house. Consult your lawyer so you can have advice according to your best interests and yours alone.

2. Sell at the right moment. Learn as much as you can about the highs and lows of the art market in general and about the current art market for the specific artist  in particular. Why? Your chances of selling successfully, or even at all, largely depend on the market's current appetite (demand) as well as on various factors influencing the supply. 

3. Think hard about how you will market your artwork to the auction house. Transmitting confidence in your art to the house can affect a whole range of parameters that will ultimately determine the sale result (such as the setting of the estimate of value). Depending on the work, you may need to highlight and promote a wide range of factors from market conditions to the work's provenance and weigh them appropriately.

4. Avoid getting an estimate too high or too low. Estimate the value of your art too high and you may intimidate potential buyers; estimate it too low and you may be selling cheap. A combination of the work's unique characteristics and specific market conditions will determine whether to push for an aggressive estimate or to stay on the conservative side. 

5. Negotiate a fair auction house fee. Auction houses' role in selling your art is valuable. But keep in mind that you are valuable to them as well. So make sure you remember that in order to negotiate a fair deal before signing any binding agreement.

6. Sell at the right place (country, auction house, sale). Find out which market generates more interest for the category of your art. Is it better to sell at a specialized sale at one of the big hubs or going more local will pay off better? Even selecting between the different departments of an auction house is crucial; one house may have a stronger Greek sale department but a weaker Russian sale record. Learn as much as you can about which is the right place to sell!

7. Get the right insurance. No doubt, you will need to be adequately insured for the value of your art. At the same time, you don't want to see the auction costs eating up a large part of your sale proceeds. You will need to make sure that you negotiate a fair insurance premium with the auction house or otherwise that you are able to arrange for independent coverage from established art insurers.  

8. Get the auction house to promote your work the way it deserves. Engage with the house on the auction catalog text description, space dedicated and positioning of your lot. Request a favorable positioning for your art during viewing week. Make sure the presentation and promotion reflect your art's quality!

9. Find out about any transport restrictions. Depending on the work and its location, its transport may be subject to cross-border trade restrictions (for instance, works made of ivory require special export licenses). Gather all the necessary information to avoid any unpleasant last-minute surprises; then take all the safety measures by assigning the transport to established art movers while keeping the costs from skyrocketing.  

10. Again! Read and scrutinize the terms & conditions you sign! This cannot be stressed enough! Get independent legal advice on the terms and conditions you sign, as these may translate in costs affecting your net proceeds, or worse, costs without any net proceeds.

If you don't have the time necessary to to get to know the market and factor in the above considerations, take the advice of a professional before you approach the auction houses. If you want to save time and frustration, hire one to handle the sale.

Phoebe Kouvelas is an attorney-at-law specializing in art law, offering legal and commercial advice on issues related to the acquisition, retention, lending and disposition of fine art.