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By Enkosi Selane

Digital Journalist

Auction return policy: A guide for buyers

Not all auctions have the same guidelines when it comes to returns, though SA auction houses are prone to having similar policies, while some are not.

Auctions are an easy way for buyers to acquire unique items, collectibles, memorabilia or even high-value items. It is also human nature to be unsure of an item when it is already in your possession.

Which is why it is important for buyers to thoroughly read and understand the return policies of the auction house they are dealing with and take the necessary precautions before placing a bid.

Returning an item purchased at an auction is generally not as simple and easy as returning an item bought from a traditional retailer.

While South African auction houses may have limited provisions for returns in cases of misrepresentation or damage during transportation, international auction houses may have different policies based on location, shipping, and customs.

Can you return an item you bought at an auction?

Unlike traditional retail stores, auction houses generally have different return policies due to the nature of their business. 

Auction sales are often considered final and it is the buyers responsibility to thoroughly inspect items before bidding.

However, while it is not guaranteed there are situations where returns may be possible, depending on specific conditions and the policies of the auction house.

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Return policies of South African auction houses

Not all auctions have the same guidelines when it comes to returns, though SA auction houses are prone to having similar policies, while some are not.

According to SA Auction , their policy states that they “shall not be liable for any errors of description of any items. No refunds shall be made for any items and no items may be returned after the purchase, irrespective of the claim”.

“The sale by auction is complete at the Auctioneer’s fall of the hammer or any other customary manner,” according to Aucor.

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See some common scenarios and the corresponding return policies:


If an item was significantly misrepresented in the auction description or proven to be a counterfeit, some South African auction houses may often allow returns. 

Buyers should provide evidence to support their claim, such as expert evaluations or authentication certificates.

“A voetstoots clause or indeed any exemption clause can be avoided and a seller held liable for a defect if a seller makes a fraudulent or deliberate misrepresentation,” according to NRE auctioneers.

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Damage during transportation

If an item is damaged during transit, most auction houses will require buyers to report the issue immediately upon receiving the item. 

The buyer may then need to follow specific procedures to initiate a return and potentially request compensation for the damages.

Buyer’s remorse

Auction houses generally do not accept returns due to buyer’s remorse, where the buyer simply changes their mind after winning the bid. However, some auction houses may offer limited options for returning items on a case-by-case basis, but this is not common.

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International auction houses return policies

International auction houses often have their own unique return policies. While some may align with the general guidelines mentioned above, it is crucial for buyers to carefully review the specific terms and conditions of each auction house.

Location, fees and reputation.

International auction houses may have different return policies depending on the buyer’s location. Some auction houses may have separate policies for domestic buyers and international buyers.

The location may also influence the price of returning the item, where the buyer is fully liable for all returning fees.

“When returning an item, you will be solely responsible for any return shipping costs, including any taxes or custom duties (as applicable),” Sotheby’s site reads.

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Given the complexities of shipping and customs regulations, international auction houses may have specific return policies in place for items that encounter issues during transportation.

Established international auction houses often prioritise customer satisfaction and may be more flexible when it comes to returns.

However, this does not guarantee a universal policy across all international auction houses.

“At Christies we want your online shopping experience to be a pleasure without any perceived risk by you. 

We are happy to exchange or refund within 30 days purchases made online under most conditions; Shipping is not Free. Someone has to pay for this.”

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