The Job and What's Involved

Sale by auction is used in various situations to get the best market rate for sale items. The auctioning firm earns its money by taking a commission from both the buyer and seller. The job of an auctioneer is to ensure that each item sells for the best price, both through the auctioning process on the day, and through organising and publicising the sale in advance.

Goods commonly sold by auction include:

  • Moveable items, such as antiques, carpets, jewellery, fine art, cars and farm machinery.
  • Agricultural livestock, such as sheep, pigs and cattle.
  • Estates, such as buildings or land.

Most auctioneers specialise in one of these areas, but general duties tend to include:

  • Inspecting each item and assessing its value.
  • Reaching agreement with the seller on a reserve price (the lowest price the seller will accept).
  • Producing publicity material and catalogues, and distributing them to interested parties.
  • In the case of land or buildings, writing a detailed description of the property.
  • Describing each item to the customers from the rostrum (platform).
  • Closely observing all the customers and calling out their bids.
  • Accepting bids from the Internet and the telephone.
  • Deciding when to call a halt to the sale and move on to the next item, taking into account both the need to reach the best price and the need to keep to schedule with the sale.
  • Organising transport, security and insurance for goods.
  • Valuing items which are not up for sale for insurance or inventory purposes.
  • Researching current average prices to keep up to date.

During the actual sale of items everything happens very quickly. Mistakes can be costly, so there can be a lot of stress attached to the job.

Auctioneers work with porters or salesroom assistants, who carry and display the goods for auction, and may consult experts to value specialist items.

Auctioneering firms usually operate from 9am to 5.30pm, Monday to Saturday. Some sales and property viewings happen in the evenings or at weekends. Auctioneers may occasionally work late in the run-up to a big auction.

Most auctioneers divide their time between an office and salesrooms. Although porters do most of the fetching and carrying, there can be some heavy lifting and exposure to dust.

Some auctions take place on the seller's premises - for example, if a large house is being cleared or a farm closed down. Agricultural sales of livestock or equipment take place outdoors, in all weathers.

Auctioneers may need to travel to a variety of auction venues, and to carry out research and valuations, possibly abroad.

Starting salaries may be around £20,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

With the rise of internet auction sites or 'marketplaces', individuals are increasingly auctioning off their own goods without approaching a professional auctioneer. This may well result in a decrease in the job market, although employment opportunities are currently stable.

Employers include major London auction houses such as Sotheby's and Christie's, as well as smaller companies across the UK.

Just over 25 per cent of auctioneers are self-employed.

It may be possible to make a direct approach for employment to a firm of auctioneers.

Education and Training

The entry requirements to become an auctioneer vary, but employers typically look for outgoing people with good communication and numerical skills, and the ability to work well with others.

Part-time courses for professional qualifications are available, and entrants are likely to need good GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3). It may also be possible to enter as a salesroom assistant and work up to the position of auctioneer.

To enter a major auction house, a degree in fine or decorative arts may be required, followed by professional qualifications. Arts, humanities, science or language degrees may also be acceptable.

There are degree courses in fine arts valuation at De Montfort University and at Southampton Solent University (which also offers the course at postgraduate level). There is also a new postgraduate degree course in arts market appraisal (professional practice) at Kingston University. These courses are accredited by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). Other relevant RICS courses include property valuation and management studies.

Entry to a degree is usually with a minimum of two A levels/three H grades and five GCSEs/S grades (A-C/1-3), or the equivalent.

Some of the large London auction houses, such as Sotheby's and Christie's, run graduate entry schemes. These range from unpaid work experience opportunities to various kinds of internships. Sotheby's Institute of Art runs private courses, including an accredited degree studying the arts business. Christie's Education also offers a variety of courses, ranging from evening classes to postgraduate qualifications.

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Training is mainly on the job, working with experienced auctioneers before taking on the responsibility of running a sale. Trainees are expected to undertake personal study to gain knowledge of the particular commodities that their auction house specialises in.

Once in employment, it is possible to work towards RICS membership. The routes to membership were revised in September 2005 and now give credit for both experience and paper qualifications. See the RICS' website for more details.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

An auctioneer should have:

  • A strong, clear voice.
  • An outgoing, confident manner.
  • The ability to work well under pressure.
  • Good observational skills, both for close detail and to conduct the auction.
  • Good hearing and quick reactions.
  • Knowledge of the value of goods.
  • Good business sense and shrewd judgement.
  • An aptitude for finance.
  • Knowledge of laws relating to the sale of goods.

Your Long Term Prospects

Auctioneers can gain promotion by developing their contacts and moving to larger and more prestigious auction houses. They could also move into management, partnerships or self-employment.

Some UK auction houses have salerooms overseas, so it may be possible to work abroad.

Get Further Information

The British Antique Dealers' Association,
20 Rutland Gate, London SW7 1BD
Tel: 020 7589 4128

De Montfort University, The Gateway, Leicester LE1 9BH
Tel: 0116 255 1551

Kingston University, River House,
53-57 High St, Kingston upon Thames,
Surrey KT1 1LQ
Tel: 020 8547 2000

Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS),
RICS Contact Centre, Surveyor Court,
Westwood Way, Coventry CV4 8JE
Tel: 0870 333 1600

Southampton Solent University,
East Park Terrace, Southampton, Hampshire SO14 0YN
Tel: 02380 319000

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