A new auction house in Dubai is providing UAE shopper with a welcome alternative to Ikea and Dubizzle.
The Auction House Dubai set to give Ikea and Dubizzle a run for their money
Even for the most sensible shopper, there’s something alluring about an auction sale.
Television shows like Storage Wars, Pawn Stars and Bargain Hunt have created a whole generation of people who prefer the excitement of bidding over traipsing around Ikea on a busy Saturday morning.
Now, a new auction company in Dubai is giving buyers a chance to test their paddle skills in the UAE.
Run by an expatriate, Francis Morgan, The Auction House Dubai holds four sales every weekend, with guide prices ranging from about Dh50 to upwards of Dh20,000.
It’s the country’s first low-budget, general-sale auction, providing a fun opportunity for people who can’t afford to bid for a vintage Rolex watch or a piece of fine art.
“An auction is the only way you can get more money for your items; it’s about negotiating up,” says Morgan, a Dubai resident of 14 years. “Everything else in this country is negotiating down – the classified websites, for example.”
Morgan and his team do home appraisals and will not accept anything that is “Ikea, Dragon Mart or that sort of ilk”.
They accept virtually all indoor and outdoor furniture in “good or very good condition”. They also take pieces of art, mirrors, decorative pots, electrical goods, lamps, rugs, chandeliers and other miscellaneous items.
The auction staff recommend reserve and guide prices, but the final figure is decided by the owner.
“We give advice and recommendations,” says Morgan. “We try to keep the guide price low so more people bid. There’s no point setting a very high guide price that will deter anyone from bidding. It’s the same with the reserve – people need to be realistic.”
The 10,000-square-foot auction warehouse in Al Quoz is split into two. Items in one half go under the hammer on Friday; the rest goes up for sale on Saturday. These are again split into two auctions: one for pieces with guide prices lower than Dh1,000 and one for the more expensive pieces. Any items that don’t sell on the first day are put into the following day’s sale.
If again they fail to sell, the owner has three choices: remove the item from the auction house; lower the reserve and pay Dh100 to keep it in the next week’s auction; or pay Dh100 to keep in the next auction and keep the reserve the same. The purpose of the Dh100 fee is to stop people from abandoning unwanted furniture indefinitely.
The house’s first auction was held on August 1. The deal of the day was secured by Ruth Mason, from New Zealand, who triggered a round of applause in the auction room when she won two large sofas for Dh5.
“They’re for my friend to use as scratching posts for her cat,” she says. “They are actually cheaper than scratching posts.”
Everyone attending an auction must put down a deposit in exchange for their numbered paddle. It’s Dh750 to enter the auction of items less than Dh1,000, and Dh1,500 to enter the sale of lots for more than Dh1,000.
The money is returned in full at the end of the auction if no bids are won. Aisha Ali, 27, and her husband, Shahin Shamsabadi, both Emirati, are on the lookout for some pieces to furnish their new Dubai home before the arrival of their first baby.
“I grew up in the United States and auctions are pretty popular there and you can find little knick-knacks and furniture that you might not see in the mainstream shops,” says Ali, who works at New York University Abu Dhabi. “The problem here is everyone is buying from the same shops, so on Dubizzle it’s the same selection of things. When people start bringing things [to sell] that they have brought from their home countries, that’s when we will get newer stuff.”
Like many of the other bidders, Ali and her husband are fans of the auction programmes that dominate the morning slots on most television channels. After picking up a few tips, they’re successful on a number of lots, including a 42-inch plasma television that costs them only Dh400.
“It was fun – my husband and I ended up with a few things,” she says. “He was bidding on everything that we didn’t come here for. I will probably bring my friends back next week.”
There are no reserve prices on electrical goods, because, Morgan says, “they are so fast moving in the market”.
At the first sale, a seven-piece NAD turntable-and-speaker set was snapped up for Dh400, and another three-piece turntable set sold for a similar price.
Of the 382 lots in the less-than-Dh1,000 auction, most pieces were sold for less than their guide price. A handful of lots went unsold because the winning bid didn’t meet the reserve price or the items didn’t attract any bids.
Amy Pritchard and her husband Ashley, who are with their 16-month-old daughter, Ruby, are also successful.
“We’ve just moved to the country from Australia,” says Mrs Pritchard, 26. “We’re trying to furnish the house we’ll move into. We’re doing Ikea, too, but this is a bit more fun. I love auctions and I love second-hand stuff.”
The couple are staying with family before moving into a villa of their own. Mrs Pritchard also had her eye on a large outdoor plastic Wendy house with a guide price of Dh1,000. “That would cost three times that in Australia,” she says. “But we don’t know where we’ll be living, so we’re not sure.”
All auction experts recommend setting a budget before going to the sale. “We had a budget, but she just blew it,” says Mr Pritchard, 30, adding that his wife was “buying the whole place”.
“Obviously you save on one thing, so you have more to spend the next,” his wife says, justifying spending Dh700 on a pair of triangle-shaped wooden shelves with a Dh500 guide price. “I got a big mirror for Dh10, so it balances out.”
Graham Orme and his son Kevin, 16, paid Dh100 for four pictures and also bought a steam cuisine cooker and a few other lots.
“We watch the auction stuff on the television, Storage Wars, Bargain Hunt,” Orme says. “We just came to have a look around; there’s a couple of things I like. It’s something interesting to do.”
As well as first-timers, the auction attracted a few experts. One such person is Mike Crater, the managing director of the property company Home Choice. He furnishes apartments and villas that are up for sale, so he’s always on the lookout for cheap pieces in good condition.
At the first auction, he won about 20 lots, including a 10-seater dining table and chairs, four chandeliers, five lamps, beds, shelves, art, mirrors and chests of drawers. Clearly confident in his technique, he walks around the auction room throughout the sale, often not even facing the front of the room when he raises his paddle.
“It’s business to me,” he says. “If I fall in love with something, then I’m going to run it, I’m going to bid it. I like competition, but I draw the line when it comes to bid money, because you can get wrapped up in the moment. I also like to bid to get other people going, too. I can’t stand seeing some things going too cheap.”
Crater did house clearances in the US, so he’s familiar with the concept of “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”.
“I’m from New Jersey, and this is what we do,” he says. “It’s all hustle; I have bought and sold everything in my life. If I see a dollar or a dirham in it, I do it.”
Customers can also visit the showroom every weekday, between 11am and 8pm, and place early bids that, if the owner chooses to accept, will secure the item before it goes to auction. The risk of refusing an early offer is that the item might not sell at auction. The benefit is that it might sell for a higher price if two or more people bid against each other.
“I came in this week and offered Dh600 for something – the client said: ‘No.’ Today, I got it for cheaper. I say a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush,” Crater says. “If this keeps going, it will be one of the truly enjoyable places to have fun. I hope it is a permanent fixture.”
Over the next five years, Morgan hopes to set up four auction houses: two in Dubai, one in Abu Dhabi and one in Doha, Qatar.
He’s also planning to offer fixed stalls at his warehouse, for Dh500 per day, where people can sell smaller, specialist items, such as clocks or cameras.
• For more information, visit www.theauctionhousedubai.com