Imagine calling a retailer in another state to purchase an item you can't obtain locally. At the end of the conversation the salesperson tells you that in addition to the purchase price you must pay:
25% for her "services"
3% for paying with a credit card
She cautions that the merchandise is not returnable and anything she has told you about its appearance and condition cannot be relied on, as you should have looked at it yourself. Buyer beware, or as the Romans said, caveat emptor.
My guess is you wouldn't complete the transaction... but let's assume you suck this up and proceed. You will ask the salesperson what the shipping charge is. She then tells you that the retailer does not handle shipping but she can refer you to MailBoxes or something similar. She reminds you that if your merchandise is not collected within a few days, storage charges per item per day will be added to your account.
By now, I am sure your enthusiasm for the item has evaporated and you don't want to know. You share your opinion with the salesperson, and hang up--words cannot describe your outrage.
But when we buy at auction, we commit to just such transactions. First, we have to struggle, beg, and plead for condition reports and photos that often arrive only hours before the sale begins. Admittedly, some auction houses are great about this, but most are not. On top of it, condition reports are increasingly unreliable. Often, the person writing the condition report is a generalist and does not know how to look at a ceramic figure for repair and restoration--even some "specialists" have a lot to learn. At major auction houses, major errors can be made---and at the end of the day, it is the buyer's "fault" when he buys a dud, because he was cautioned NOT to rely on the condition report! Now remember that this is the "service" we pay up to 25% for in the form of buyer's premium. This almost makes me wish that Eliot Spitzer had not been caught with his pants down (literally!) because we need someone with a bulldog mentality to look into this.
In addition to all this, UK auction houses must charge VAT on the buyer's premium, which makes a 25% buyer's premium soar to 29%. They also routinely charge an additional 3% for credit card payments--I am not sure if this is legal in the US, but it does seem to be a UK "issue." So expect to pay another 3% on the full 129%....putting us at almost 133% of the hammer price if you bid in person. If you use a credit card that charges a foreign transaction fee, expect another charge on your monthly bill!
All this math does not even factor in that you may have decided to bid online, for another 3% added to the buyer's premium.
I shan't even get into the high costs and problems of shipping. Read my blog to see a Sherratt style COURTSHIP group shipped by MailBoxes, now in shards, no insurance! But even if your auction purchase arrives intact, you can only pray you got what you hoped for. If the auction house goofed on the condition report, you are on your own. After all, they warned you before you bid.
Fine print: Some auction houses charge less than 25% for buyer's premium, but most rates are around 20%. I have known one auction house that did accept a return of a mis-described item.
To cheer you up, here is a beautiful figure pair bought NOT at auction, but from Elinor Penna. http://elinorpenna.com Maybe Elinor went through Auction Hell to procure them, but I am pleased to have acquired them so painlessly. Elinor is a long way away from me, but when I buy from Elinor I know the figures will arrive intact, and I know that if I am disappointed for any reason, however frivolous on my part, Elinor will want me to send them back!