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Exploring the benefits of selling items in no reserve auctions as opposed to setting a starting bid.
5 Mins

Reserve VS no reserve

Jacob Margiotta
Jacob Margiotta

So, you’ve decided to consign your items to auction.

Family heirloom? Customer returns? Scarce artefact? Or liquidated assets?

They all share one thing – they all hold value to you as the seller.

And one thing is for sure – you want to see that value returned to you in the form of as much cash as you can get. Let’s face it, that’s why you’re here!

If you wanted to give it away, then you could take it to a car boot sale. If you wanted to sell it and then let someone else take 50% of the proceeds, then you could take it to a traditional saleroom. I hope you still like waiting 6 weeks and cashing actual cheques if you do that. Who knew that was still a thing?!

No, you’re not daft – you’ve come to William George because you can list your consignments from the comfort of your own home, you can access a global competitive audience, you pay 0% seller commission and you get paid by bank transfer on 14 day terms. 

The only question that remains is what reserve price do you put against these items? 

What are your considerations?

You know what you want…

We’ve all seen Antiques Roadshow. The night before the auction ends, you lie awake thinking of how you’re going to spend the millions of pounds you’re inevitably going to get when two collectors realise the sketch you bought for £1.50 in a bric-a-brac store on holiday in Yarmouth is an original Matisse, and they fight to the death for it.

The auction starts and you realise you’ve been a little ambitious. So, you go to the other end of the spectrum...what is the least I would take for this? 

It’s a more sensible consideration, but still – are you being honest with yourself? Try this experiment with me. Think of your favourite item in the world… what would you accept to sell it? Let’s say the figure you come up with is £5000. I’ll give you £4999 for it. Deal? Or No Deal? Go away Noel Edmonds! 

You get my point… when you’re faced with the cold hard cash, even your lower limit isn’t as hard a line as you think. 

Pro tip: 
Be realistic. You want to let the bidder be sentimental when it comes to financial decisions – not you!

Are you in a rush?...

Sometimes you come to sell at auction because you want access to the money sooner rather than later. You’ve seen something else you want to buy, you want to invest your money elsewhere, or it’s costing you to store the items. Time is money.

Other times it’s a leisurely affair. You’ve got all the time in the world, and you want someone to work hard to tease these gems out of your hand. 

These considerations have a bearing on setting your reserve prices – of course they do. But picture this… 

  • You want to take your time to ensure you get the most from your auction sale. 
  • Why would I sell it today for that much? Tomorrow it might get double that? 
  • You get an offer, but you decline in favour of a potentially better price. 
  • You cycle it round a second time. 
  • This time for sure, you’ll get what you want, right? 
  • Wrong!

Pro Tip:
The first offer you get is almost always the best one. 

Of course, this isn’t always true, but if you give us the chance to market your items properly, with long enough lead times (we recommend between 3-4 weeks and a modest budget for additional promotion) then it’s a good rule of thumb. 

As soon as bidders see your item a second time, they make a series of conscious and usually correct, decisions. Firstly, no one else wanted to buy the item first time round, and secondly, the seller will now surely be accepting lower offers than they wanted the first time. They smell defeat, and it will be reflected in the bids you see. 

If it doesn’t sell first time round, we recommend waiting for a couple of months before you try again, and then only by making improvements to your photos, or descriptions. 

Pro Tip:
Get it right first time!

So, how do you do that? Well, yes, your photos and descriptions are essential to promoting your items of course.

We are talking money here. 

Consider putting your items in with No Reserve…

I’m not suggesting being reckless and risking selling a priceless treasure for £1. I’m suggesting that if you have taken as much pride in your listing and photos as you have in owning your item, and you’ve given us 3-4 weeks and a small budget to do it justice then you will achieve a higher sale price if you list with no reserve. 

How can that be true?

Buyers come to auction because they hope to find a bargain, because they believe they will find items that others won’t uncover, and because they enjoy the thrill of competition.

Any auction without reserves is a massive draw for bidders for all of these reasons – and so quite simply you will see a bigger audience. A bigger audience means more bids and more competition. More competition equals bigger hammer prices. It’s as simple as that. 

If you set your reserve at the amount you want to achieve, you have to accept you may well have misjudged it. The bidders may place some opening bids, but they will become frustrated when it shows the reserve is not met, and quickly lose interest. If you put the same lot in the same auction twice, once with no reserve and one with a reserve of £1000 and opening bid set at £500 which do you think would achieve the highest hammer value? I’m sure you know the answer!

Other options:

No one wants to commit to selling an item for next to nothing. There are other options to protect you from that event.

Firstly, talk to your account manager about the bidding increments. If you don’t have one, then you will be assigned one when you register, and you can get in touch with them directly. 

You can set opening bids or alter the bidding increments to suit your needs. You can choose to have your lot featured. If you have multiple lots, you can inform them of the total return you want to see across all of your items and give them the discretion lower or remove reserves against some items if others go above and beyond your expectations.


You must be pretty savvy to have found yourself consigning with William George. Don’t fall at the final hurdle – draw in bidders by offering them no reserve excitement, or at least a very modest reserve, and watch the bids fly in. 

Don’t price yourself out of the market, after all, with 0% seller commission payable to us, we give you the best chance of walking away from the experience happier and richer!