Buying Basics

Sotheby’s experienced staff will guide you through a simple and seamless buying process: from selecting a work, to placing a bid, to (should you be successful) shipping your purchase. Collectors rely on Sotheby’s to understand current market trends and acquire pieces that have lasting value, allowing you to bid with confidence. View glossary of terms to familiarise yourself with the language of auctions.

How can I find out what's for sale?

1. Browse our e-catalogues on Sothebys.com from your computer or mobile device.
2. Purchase our print catalogues, which are available by subscription or single order.
3. Visit our presale exhibitions. View Upcoming Auctions
4. Register to receive e-mail alerts so that you never miss a sale in your area of interest.

How do I register to bid?

Register in Person
You can register in person to bid at the sale location before the auction begins. You will need to create an account and provide a government-issued proof of identity such as a driver’s license or passport. A bank reference may also be required. You will also have the opportunity to record your communication information (email or post) and shipping preferences (collect or ship). 

Register Online
You can also register on Sothebys.com by selecting Register to Bid from the drop-down menu under the Auctions heading. You will be taken to a page with a list of forthcoming events and, once you identify the desired auction, click on the Register to Bid button for the selected event. Additionally, the detailed page for each auction gives the option to register. You must complete your application 24 hours prior to the auction to be included in the bidding.

If you require further assistance while registering to bid, please contact the bids department using the information provided below:


London: +44 20 7293 5283, bids.london@sothebys.com

New York: +1 212 606 7414, bids.newyork@sothebys.com

Paris: +33 1 5305 5348, bids.paris@sothebys.com

Hong Kong: +852 2822 8142, bids.hongkong@sothebys.com

Milan: +39 02 2950 0239, bids.milan@sothebys.com

Geneva: +41 22 908 4800,  bids.geneva@sothebys.com

Zurich: +41 44 226 2200, bids.zurich@sothebys.com

How do I place a bid?

There are four ways to bid at Sotheby’s. You will be prompted to select your preferred bidding method when you click Register to Bid.

1. Bid in person to experience the live excitement of an auction first hand.
2. Place your bids in real time via BIDnow or (for Wine Auctions Only) LiveBid. You can always access BIDnow online via the drop-down menu of Auctions.
3. Register to Telephone Bid with a Sotheby’s representative. Please check the “telephone” box on the form.
4. Submit an Absentee Bid online. If you have previously participated in an auction, you must complete this form four hours prior to the sale.

If successful, our Post Sale Service teams in each selling centre will be happy to assist you with payment as well as the collection or shipment of your purchase.

How do I pay for my purchase?

Successful bidders can pay immediately after buying, on the day of the auction; otherwise the Post Sale Service team will send you an Invoice and any Shipping Quote according on your pre-sale preference. The final amount due will include the hammer price, the buyer’s premium, and any local taxes. In certain locations, Sotheby’s may also be required to collect a re-sale royalty (droit de suite), which goes to European Economic Area (EEA) living artists and artists’ estates where the EEA artist died in the last 70 years each time one of their works is resold -- such lots are marked by a .  


You can pay by bank transfer, cheque or cash (subject to certain restrictions and legal limits).  Certain credit cards are accepted at particular Sotheby’s locations but please contact these sale locations directly for specific information. Payment must be sent from the invoiced party and not from a third party.  See our Conditions of Business for the full details.

How will I receive my property?

Fully knowledgeable on all international regulations, the Sotheby’s Post Sale Service team can arrange expert and insured shipping and convenient delivery of your property. We offer exceptional service and competitive rates whether consigning a single picture, a diamond bracelet or a large piece of furniture.

For sales in London and New York, simply provide us with your delivery address when you register for a sale. Following a purchase, we will simply send you a comprehensive shipping quote. For property purchased in any of our other salerooms, contact that office directly to arrange for the transport of your purchases.


What are the symbols that appear next to the estimates on Lots?


The symbols seen on the Lot Details are referred to as Lot Symbols;  such as a triangle, square, or circle, are listed next to the estimates.  The symbol may indicate a note such as a guarantee or lack of reserve. For complete list of Symbols and their definition click here.  

Buying Step-by-Step

Select Your Object

There are several ways to view Sotheby’s forthcoming lots: browse our e-catalogues, order print catalogues, visit our pre-sale exhibitions, or register to receive e-mail alerts about categories that interest you.

Place a Bid

Before your first auction, you will need to register in person or create an online account to provide government-issued proof of identity such as a driver’s license or passport. A bank reference may also be required.  After you have registered to bid, you may bid in person, online, by telephone or by submitting an Absentee Bid.

In Person
To place a bid in the saleroom, raise your paddle until the Auctioneer acknowledges you. The auctioneer increases the bids by increments that usually do not exceed ten percent of the previous bid. When a sole bidder remains, the Auctioneer brings down the hammer and declares the lot sold, as long as the reserve (minimum price) has been met. If bidding ends before the reserve has been met, the lot will not sell. The Auctioneer will then say either, “Pass” or “Bought-In” and move on to the next lot. Please note: if you are bidding on behalf of a third party, you must provide a letter authorising you to bid on their behalf.


Online
BIDnow, Sotheby’s online bidding portal, allows you to watch a broadcast of the live auction online in real time as you place bids with a click of your mouse. You can sign up for BIDnow by clicking Register to Bid or BIDnow Online from the drop-down menu of Auctions. For online bidding for Wine auctions, please register for LiveBid. It is necessary to arrange for this service at least 24 hours prior to the sale.


By Telephone
If you would like to bid by telephone, complete an Absentee Bid Form online and check the 'telephone' box. During the auction, a Sotheby’s representative will call you from the saleroom and relay your bids to the Auctioneer. It is necessary to arrange for this service at least 24 hours before the sale. Additional time may be needed to accommodate bidders requiring assistance with other languages.


Absentee Bidding
If you are unable to attend an auction, we will execute confidential written bids on your behalf after you register an Absentee Bid online. When we execute such a bid, the lot is always bought for the lowest increment that exceeds all competing bids, providing it meets or exceeds the reserve price. In the event of identical absentee bids, the bid received first takes precedence. Please submit your absentee bid at least four hours prior to the auction. If you are a first-time bidder, you must register at least 24 hours prior to the auction.

Complete Transaction

Immediately following the sale, we will calculate your final payment, which includes the hammer price, the buyer’s premium and any local taxes. In certain locations, Sotheby’s is required to collect a re-sale royalty (“droit de suite”), which goes to the living artist each time one of their works is sold.

Collect or Ship

All purchases should be paid for and collected or shipped from Sotheby’s premises within ten business days after the auction, otherwise property may be subject to additional fees. Sotheby's can provide a full range of services for you, including collection, packing and arranging for shipping and transit insurance, for international or domestic transportation. We offer exceptional service and competitive rates whether shipping a single picture, a diamond bracelet or a large piece of furniture.  

For sales in London and New York, simply provide us with your delivery address when you register for a sale. Following your purchase, we will send you a comprehensive shipping quote. For property purchased in any of our other salerooms, contact that office directly to arrange for the transport of your purchases.