Just to be clear, this is not a sponsored post. I just think it’s a cool website.
It’s great to be frugal, but it can be tough to find good deals on things like home improvement and home decor products — at least without sacrificing quality/personal aesthetics.
Sure you can use secondhand marketplaces and scout clearance sections, but those can be hit or miss. So at times it seems like we can’t really save money on home improvement and home decor (or myriad other things), while still getting the styles and brand quality we want.
Given that there are multiple improvement projects I’ve been planning on starting for ages, this has been a longstanding irritation of mine. So I was excited to discover — okay, fine, to be told about — a site that helps connect people with quality, usually unused products for what can be pennies on the dollar.
One night recently, as trivia ended, the other two people on my team that night (a husband and wife) were kibitzing about something on the husband’s phone. I asked what they were discussing, and it turned out to be a listing for a bathroom vanity cabinet on a site called Auction Nation.
Apparently, they’d been scouring the site for a while to find this specific product. They wanted to get the same cabinet that they already had in their other bathroom — but funnily enough, they weren’t keen on the cabinet’s retail price of $1,500. Go figure.
So they were using Auction Nation, which hosts online auctions for local liquidators. In the home improvement category, there are a lot items sold that are identical to the ones at Home Depot and Lowe’s — because the items are usually customer returns from those stores that the liquidators have bought up on the cheap.
The liquidators create a list of lots, and the site sets up an auction. There are images of each item, and there are usually preview days that customers can go to warehouses and inspect any of the lots in that auction. If they like what they see online/in person, customers place bids, and winners go pick up their items — generally won at a vast discount — at the liquidators’ warehouses.
And speaking of vastly discounted prices: The couple won the $1,500 vanity with a bid of $317.
A few important details
It’s also worth noting that all auctions start at $0. Admittedly, the first bid has to be $5, and amounts go up in $2.50 increments from there. But there are no reserves beyond the first $5 bid.
Now, all of this probably sounds pretty cool, but I should stress that there are some caveats:
- There is a 15% buyer premium for all purchases (presumably this is how the site makes money)
- Sales tax is applied, which for Phoenix is 9.2%
- There’s a very short pickup window. Most seem to be three days, but I’ve seen one that had just a two-day window. And if you don’t pick up the item in time, you forfeit the item and money. Moreover, the weekday pickup hours are usually 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and it seems to be only 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays.
- Once you pick up the item, you only have 24 hours to report any defects not advertised in the listing.
So it isn’t quite as easy and idyllic as it initially sounds. But even taking all of that into account, as long as my friends get to the pickup location in a timely manner, they’re getting a $1,500 vanity for an end total of just $398. That’s 73.5% off retail.
It sounded pretty cool, so while I waited to see if they’d win the auction, I did a search for bathroom light fixtures.
Let there be (attractive) light
When Tim and I moved in, the tiny master bathroom’s light was a long rectangle of thick glass on a small square metal base. Not remotely attractive.
It did have a plug in it (the only one in the room until we had a regular outlet installed a few years later) but even before someone had put in a medicine cabinet, I doubt it was convenient to have go above their head to plug in a hair dryer or an electric razor.
As if this wasn’t all bad enough, the glass was so thick that it muted a lot of the light. So I took the glass off, intending to get a nicer fixture at some point. That was around nine and a half years ago. (Yes, partly this was laziness, but it’s an old house so there have been plenty of other projects that needed attention sooner.)
But lately, the two bare bulbs with an ugly square of metal behind them has been bothering me more and more. So I had already been pondering scouring Craigslist for good candidates. This seemed like another good option, so I did a search for bathroom lighting.
Impulse but not impulsive
Within 30 seconds, I’d found a listing I really liked. The couple told me that I didn’t need to rush — that the same styles come up over and over again. And they actually told me this multiple times because I was already signing upto place a bid.
And yes, on the face of it, it’s not good to rush a decision like a fixture just because there’s an auction ending soon. But again, I’ve looked at fixtures off and on for years. So I already had a good idea of what was out there and what would work best for my style.
So I pounced on these lights.
I knew I’d like them, and that they wouldn’t quickly looked dated as styles changed. So I felt okay bidding.
Also, honestly… I really didn’t think I would win.
After all, the light fixture retails for $215 — I verified this on the Home Depot website before bidding — and I was only setting a maximum bid of $35. Aka a mere 16.3% of the price in stores. Surely someone would outbid me.
But I didn’t watch to find out. I plugged in my maximum bid and closed the window. This was for two reasons.
First, each time a new bid comes in at the end of an auction, the closing time is extended by three minutes. So raising small amounts and waiting to see if you’re outbid can take ages. The couple did it incrementally, so the auction was open around 40 minutes longer than its official close time. I didn’t have the patience for that.
Second — and more importantly — I didn’t want to get caught up in the excitement of bidding and go higher than intended. So I plugged in a $35 maximum, closed the window and drove hom.
When I walked in the door, I checked the listing. I’d won with a $31 bid. Even after tax and fee, I’d pay just $38.93 — 18% of the retail price.
My post-auction experience
But of course, bidding is the easy part. Given the pickup window and short time to report issues, I was pretty nervous about how things would go.
But I’m happy to report that it was relatively seamless.
The pickup did take longer than I expected, but that was probably due to four or five other people being ahead of me. Employees had to get your invoice number and bidder number, then locate the item in what seemed to be a very large area full of many, many boxes.
So it took around 20 minutes, but that’s hardly a huge deal.
I of course had to install the light that night to be sure I’d be covered if it didn’t work. But it did! And looks great — although it definitely highlights the need for a new medicine cabinet.
There are plenty of far cooler, more modern styles to be had on the site. Honestly, I was pretty tempted when looking at some a few days after the black ones went up. But then I reminded myself that I’m paranoid about ending up with something that looks dated a few years down the road. So I am once again happy with my more traditional choice.
Other things I’ll hunt for
But of course, once you start thinking about updating your home (or just the decor), a slew of other items pop into mind. So here are a few other items on my “I’ll keep an eye out” list.
As mentioned, the current medicine cabinet is not great. The mirror has a couple of faked spots and the side has a big scratch and oak doesn’t really go with my aesthetic. Also, since I eventually plan to nix the bulky (for the space) vanity cabinet in favor of a pedestal sink, a slightly bigger cabinet would be good so that I can house all the crap currently in the vanity drawers.
Unfortunately, so far I’ve only seen listings for sleek metal ones. Pretty, but not my aesthetic and also about half the size I want. I suspect I may have to go to Craigslist/Facebook Marketplace to find what I want, but I’ll keep doing a search on Auction Nation every day or two to see if anything interesting pops up.
The current faucet is silver with gold accents. It can work in many cases, but not with my particular decorating style. So once I’ve secured a pedestal sink — alas, Auction Nation doesn’t seem to sell those so far — I’ll scout a nicer faucet that’s all one color.
Matching bath hardware
Did I mention that the hand towel ring, toilet paper holder and the towel bar all match the faucet? So yeah, they’ll need to go too.
I’ve seen plenty of listings for towel bars and even some sets (towel bar, hand towel ring, toilet paper holder) so I should be able to locate something good once I’ve figured out what style and finish I want.
One day, the dream is to get a lovely tiled shower stall. That will likely be pretty far in the future cuz, uh, those things ain’t cheap. But when I do finally indulge, Auction Nation has a slew of super fancy looking sets.
Granted, I don’t know what the really nice sets go for, but this very attractive one was went for $25 (so $31.40 after tax and fee).
So I think that bodes well for my changes of getting a swanky set for a relatively small amount.
We had a fair amount of comic book art up in the house when I was married. That all went with Tim, so I’ve had bare spaces for a while that I’ve wanted to fill.
But of course art is pricey. Sometimes you can find an affordable print and be lucky enough to find a frame at Michaels/Joann that make it pop. But I haven’t been tlucky in that regard very often.
Of course, getting something professionally framed is a lot of money. Even with Michaels/Joann coupons, you’re looking at more than $100 for most pieces.
So I was delighted to find two auctions on the site from art shops. All of the items are framed, so anything I win will be ready to hang immediately. Granted, I haven’t seen any art listings’ final prices yet, so time will tell where the bidding for this type of thing ends. But I’m hoping to get some things for $30 to $40 (or preferably less) a pop.
A variety of products
While I’ve focused mostly on home improvement stuff here, that’s far from the only items Auction Nation has listed in my area.
I’ve seen auctions for:
- Sports & celebrity memorabilia
- Restaurant equipment
- Sporting goods
- Home decor (rugs, art, lamps, fans,* etc.)
- Kitchen items (includign small appliances)
Auction Nation also has auto auction listings, but those types of things make me nervous, given that I have no idea what to look for or watch out for when it comes to used cars.
* I saw a listing for a standing oscillating fan (generally $40+) with a winning bid of $7.50. That’s $9.41, which is cheaper than thrift stores!
So if any of this sounds intriguing — and if you’re in one of the 27 states that have listings on the site — I encourage you to check it out. But. I have a few tips based on what I’ve seen in about a week of using the site.
- Use preview days: Sellers all have at least one day when people can come in and see the lots in person. If you can spare the time, go look at the items for yourself. I plan to do that on Thursday for some of the art pieces I like.
- Save money — use the search option: In less than one week, I’ve seen everything from vintage handbags to forklifts listed on the website. And the Garage Sale Effect means that if you just surf around looking at everything, you’ll eventually buy something you didn’t really need/won’t really use just because it was cheap and seemed cool. So use the search feature to find the listings with the exact type of product you’re hunting for. Your wallet will thank you.
- Check very carefully: The listings will sometimes include information about defects or missing parts, but each listing has a slew of disclaimers that can make it easy to miss the seller’s comments. However, any issues seem to always be documented in pictures, so be sure to look closely at every image in a listing.
- Read product reviews: Art aside, the items in listings are commercial products. So do a search for the item in question and check out the reviews. Especially for home improvement products.
- Check your schedule before bidding: As I said, most items have a two- or three-day pickup window. So before you plunk down money with a bid, make sure you can definitely get the item in the time frame allowed. And if it’s a fixture or something that needs to be put together, make sure you definitely have the time to install/assemble it within 24 hours of pickup. You need to be sure it works and all necessary pieces are accounted for.
- Set it and forget it: As I said, I think it’s best to settle on a maximum bid early on. If you follow the auction in the closing minutes, it’s just too easy to get caught up in the immediacy/excitement and bid more than you wanted to pay.
- Remember your final bid isn’t your final price: When you go to set that maximum bid, remember to factor in the buyer’s fee and any sales tax. This is especially important for pricier items.*
- Know the guarantee time at pickup: Most auctions have the aforementioned 24-hour guarantee. But I’ve seen some electronics and art listings with on-site guarantees. Meaning that you have to inform them of any functionality issues or physical defects before you leave with your item. If you notice something later, you’re out of luck.
- Weekdays are your friend: According to the couple, auctions that end on weekends have more bidders, which makes sense. This means that you’ll probably get a lower price if you’re bidding on items that end Monday to Friday. Or maybe Sunday to Thursday?
* For example, if I decide my max price for a listing is $200, I can’t just bid $200, or I’ll end up paying $251.16. Instead, I have to work backward to figure out what bid will have me pay no more than $200 total. If you’re not sure how to do that, divide your end price first by the sales tax rate (so for 9.2% sales tax, I’d divide my max price by 1.092) and then divide that number by 1.15 to account for the buyer’s fee.
All in all
Auction Nation seems to have a lot of possibilities. I think I’m going to get some really great deals there in the future.
But as mentioned earlier, I (and other customers) need to be careful when it comes to determining the maximum bid — and what to bid on in the first place.
And with chronic fatigue, I’m going to have to be very careful about choosing auctions, since I can’t guarantee that any one specific day I’ll be able to pick an item up, let alone assemble/install it. So I can only bid on auctions where my schedule is free for multiple days of the pickup window.
It’s also worth noting that Phoenix seems to be a major hub compared to some of the other spots in the country.
We have listings in Phoenix, Glendale, Tempe and Mesa — and each area seems to have several auctions going on. I clicked on a few of the other 26 states Auction Nation has on its site, and some only had three or so auctions going.
So this site definitely won’t work for everyone. But I think it’s definitely worth a look. (But if you’re in Arizona, any non-metal medicine cabinet over 20″ wide is mine. Back off!)
Has anyone else tried Auction Nation? Are there any other auction sites I should know about?