Anatomy of an auction


On a Saturday afternoon, a cross section of people—old gentlemen with glasses of wine in hand, Titas of Manila exchanging the latest news, housewives trying to keep their children under control (and failing) and a few young people simply browsing around—gathered inside the auction room at the back of the Harringtons Lifestyle Auction.

Four years after its inception, Harringtons Lifestyle Auction has established itself as one of the country’s trusted auction houses in the country, and has become one of the best-kept secrets in the South, offering unique pieces of furniture, pre-loved furnishings, one-of-a-kind-collectibles, vintage items, artworks by masters and National Artists, among others.

A safari-themed collection is conceived using a deer and buffalo horn wall décor and vintage pieces like the R&M hunter electric stand fan, Hang Ten safari jacket along with a safari hat.

People wanting to buy and sell items head to the lifestyle auction showroom, located off the East Service Road. To reach it, visitors need to take the SLEX, get off at the Sucat Exit, and enter the SM Hypermartket Compound. Harringtons is located near the entrance of the giant supermarket chain.

It’s not difficult to find.

But the road to success has not been as easy.

“We came from nowhere. When we started, nobody knew about us. Why would people trust us with, say, their artwork priced at a million or so? That was the biggest challenge—gaining the people’s trust. During our first auction, everything was consigned. We needed HMR Philippines (Harringtons’ mother company) to back us up,” shares Cila Chua, Harringtons general manager.

A 1950’s leather egg chair, a vintage candy dispenser and a John Lucas red painting acquired from Mandarin Hotel.

For its part, HMR Philippines has been in the business for 30 years now, bringing in imported and surplus items from Australia, New Zealand and USA, and holding auctions focused on redundant assets for industrial and corporate clients.

Years later, the company decided to shift the paradigm and create a lifestyle auction, still in line with their business of surplus selling and auction, but more upscale.

In addition to vintage items, Harrington also auctions paintings.

To set itself apart from other auction houses in the metro, Harringtons targeted the middle and upper middle class, and focused more on unique furniture, collectibles and other lifestyle items sourced from Europe, US, India, China and other parts of the world.

“We want to create our own niche. Most auction houses in Manila focus on artworks and antiques; we will leave those to them and focus on our strength,” says Chua.

How to mount an auction
So, how does an auction work?

Two weeks prior to the auction date, Harringtons does a pre-sale exhibition, at which timeprofessional bidders meticulously curate the items on the auction block.

Harrington also sells custommade items like this vintage coffee table with a piano top.

These potential bidders are allowed to freely walk around, closely examining the lots and trying to appraise their value before deciding whether they would want to bid on them or not, and noting what other items they’d be interested to bid on.

“Having our own showroom is an advantage. When we were starting, our first two auctions were held at Rockwell Tent, in Makati. The logistics and legwork that came with organizing those auctions were challenging. We needed a day to set-up everything. We would bring all the items from the warehouse to the venue, making sure they arrived in good condition, double checking the artworks, and making sure there would were no untoward incidents such as crystals breaking or canvasses of paintings tearing,” shares Chua.

One of Harrington’s displays features a Cleopatra sofa and accent chair sourced from Europe.

What happens at a pre-sale exhibit
The 700-square meter showroom also serves as a direct-selling space. When they are not auctioning items off, they sell items at reasonable prices. People can come anytime and see what’s on display here and buy items they are interested in.

For the auctions, Harringtons hires a valuator to evaluate the items and measure their fair market value. The fair market value may be used to gauge the reserve price or the confidential minimum price agreed upon between the consignor and the auction house. Each item is also given low and high estimates, which give the bidders a preliminary guide on the value of the item.

Harrington’s Lifestyle Showroom European display.

“All our items are sold as is. While the items are all in good condition, they also might contain faults and imperfections. So we encourage bidders to inspect each item carefully before bidding on them,” advises Chua.

Aside from the pre-sale exhibit, Harringtons also prepares auction catalogues, containing factual information about the lots including the name of the artist or maker and a detailed description of the object. It may also include the year the item is made, history of ownership, and a condition report, among others.

Chua personally picks and buys the items for the showroom and auction. She would travel around the world just to find unique pieces.

“Aside from exploring places where other people don’t normally go, what I love about my buying trips is I meet people from all walks of life, learn about their cultures as well as the history behind the pieces that I buy. I get to choose firsthand the items we sell and auction, while driving hard bargains to get them at a good price,” says Chua.

When bidding commences
Those who find something that interests them can return on the day of the auction. If they want to bid, they must register and pay the P5,000 deposit. “The bidder’s deposit is refundable. If a person doesn’t come away with anything, he can get the full amount back before he even steps out of the showroom. The deposit can also be used to pay a portion of the hammer price on bids that they win,” explainsCila.

On the day of the auction, the bidders are given a paddle with the number assigned to them when they register. This paddle is raised whenever they wan to place a bid.

An auctioneer presides over the auction and initiates the sale of the lots. After he announces the starting bid price, the bidders can outbid each other. If there are no more bids, the auctioneer gives fair warning before the hammer falls.

“Once the hammer falls and the auctioneer shouts ‘Sold,’ the final bid is binding. The winning bidder cannot back out. He must complete the purchase,” says Chua who adds that absentee bidding is also allowed as long as the person makes arrangements prior to the auction.

Once the lot has been knocked down at the hammer price, the bidder must complete the purchase. The winning bidder can take his purchase home on the same day or the following day after he settles the price, either by cash, check or credit card.

There have been spectacular lots auctioned in the past, Chua intimates.

In previous auctions, lots included vintage crystal wine glasses, hand-carved chests, paintings by National Artists Arturo Luz, BenCab and other masters, pieces of furniture that drip of bespoke elegance, wooden cabinets with intricate detailing, accessories and priceless jewelry, among others. At one point they even auctioned off a restored 1972 Lambretta motorcycle.

Once in a while, they would get automobiles to sell.

Harringtons auctions are casual affairs.

“Visitors can come in their casual attire. Some of our bidders would come here in their shorts and shirts. We don’t mind. It doesn’t matter who the person is or what he is wearing as long as they want to bid, we welcome them.”

Something for everyone
“At the auction, people who know their way around can find many good things, at a reasonable price. In our four years in the industry, I’ve observed that people will come to the auction as long as you have good items. That’s the challenge, finding the right item at the right price. Bidders will come as long as you have something that interests them.”

But more than that, Chua wants to change the perception that a person needs tons of money to join an auction.

“Here, at Harrington, we shatter that mindset. We have items with estimates as low as P2,000. Our bidding prices can be as low as P100 or as high as millions, depending on the items and the bidders. Harringtons also has ‘no reserve’ items, which means they can be sold at any price. If the highest bid is P100, we will award it.”

In previous auctions, there have been items whose prices had gone up much higher than the estimate. But of course, there have also been times when bidding would not even reach the minimum price. If the reserve price has not been met, Harringtons would always seek the approval of the consignor first before awarding the item.

“At Harrington, we do honest business. We do not engage in tricks just to reach the reserve price or make the prices go higher. You won’t find funny business that sometimes happens at auctions. We don’t allow our consignors to bid for their items. If they do bid and win, they have to pay double the price,” shares Chua.

Because bidding can be fun and intense, Cila advises would-be bidders to work out their own budget and stick to it.

“You have to know your limits. Have fun. That’s what is important,” says Chua.


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