1. The purpose of selling at auction is to let the market set the price for an item. This is especially true when you know something is probably valuable because you’ve done your research before selling, but you don’t know exactly how valuable. End an auction early to accept an offer and you never get the opportunity to find out how high the price might have gone. It’s one of those times when that proverbial “a bird in the hand” isn’t always the best option. After all, an auctioneer at a live auction would never do this, so why should you?
2. Someone else wants to buy your item at a low price and resell it for big bucks. This reportedly happened to a friend of a friend who sold a valuable unsigned Juliana (DeLizza & Elster) bracelet without attributing it as such in their auction listing. It was promptly resold through an online antique shop for a much higher price, and the original auction seller was unfortunately crushed when she found out. If the seller had let the auction run its course, she would have likely realized far more than the lowball offer she accepted (even though she really should have done her homework before ever listing the bracelet – see “research before selling link” above).
3. It’s a sign that you’ve overlooked something important in your listing and/or you didn’t do your research. Buyers routinely pore over online auctions, just like they do at flea markets, looking for misattributed antiques and collectibles. That will never change and it’s a big part of the antiques business. It's no secret that the folks with the most knowledge in this game often come out on top. When someone approaches you to end an auction and let them “buy it now,” there’s a chance there’s an important detail you’ve overlooked. Perhaps you’ve tried to research and are ready to sell and move on, and that’s fine. But if you’ve slapped an auction together without even trying to find out what the item is and what it’s worth, just know that an offer of this nature might be sending you a valuable message.
4. Someone is trying to take advantage of you. Probably the harshest lesson to learn is that people don’t always tell the truth when they make offers. They’ll say their wife loves the item and they want to buy it for her birthday but they got laid off and it’s not in the budget. They’ll tell you they broke their mother’s whatever and want to replace it but can’t afford to pay full price. You get the picture. While a percentage of these folks might be telling the truth, many of them aren’t. They’ll tug at your heartstrings to get you to do something you normally wouldn’t consider. It’s one of the not-so-nice realities of buying and selling antiques online, and unless you know the individual you’re dealing with personally there’s a good chance someone who emails you with a low offer is not being forthcoming. It’s easy to hide behind the Internet and connive a story to try to score a deal. Do yourself a favor in these instances, and just say no.
5. Many people wait until the last minute to bid. If you’re afraid your item is going to sell for a really low amount, you can set a reserve price for the minimum you’re willing to accept or list it for that value as the starting price to begin with. But don’t get panicky into an auction because the price hasn’t jumped up to where you think it’s supposed to be and accept an offer while second guessing yourself. Whether a buyer “snipes” manually by logging in at the last minute to bid or uses a sniping service, item prices can jump dramatically during the last few seconds. Following through till the end of an auction most always yields the best result.
In summary, the only really good reason to end an online auction early is because a buy it now offer triggered the realization that you’re not ready to sell an object before doing further research. Everyone makes mistakes selling antiques from time to time, but you don’t have to let ending an auction early to accept a lowball offer be one of them.
Pamela Y. Wiggins is, in addition to being the expert guide to antiques for About.com, the author of Buying and Selling Antiques & Collectibles on eBay published by Thomson Course Technology.