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Old 3rd August 2019, 07:58 PM   #1
A. G. Maisey
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Default Buying at arm's length

By the term "arm's length", I mean "at a distance", and for many people that is the way they normally add to to their collections.

Over the last couple of weeks I have had several discussions with collectors who have in the past bought items that they collect, from sellers in Australia, or are considering buying from an Australian seller at the moment. I live in Australia, and I send items to other countries throughout the world pretty regularly. It has been suggested to me that if I were to pass on to others some of what I know, it might be useful to them.

To begin, here is the "Shipping From Italy" thread

http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showt...?t=25155&page=1

this thread has revealed a lot of problems that can be associated with international purchase of the type of things that we collect. Some of the posts to that thread are nightmare material. I believe that everything that has been said in this thread can apply to Australia if the applicable circumstances are not correctly managed.

Then there is the increasing difficulty that we face with ivory.

In Australia the laws in respect of both import and export of ivory are very strictly enforced. I have a reasonably large collection of ivory. Apart from well over 100 ivory keris hilts, I also have a large number of other ivory carvings. Some time ago I decided to downsize these collections and sell off some of my ivory. In theory, this is possible. In practice the cost involved makes both import and export far too expensive for anything other than highly valuable antiques, items that have values into the tens of thousands of dollars.

The problems outlined in the "Shipping from Italy" thread and that refer to the attitude of shipping companies in respect of shipping weapons also apply to shipping companies in Australia. However I have been shipping with Australia Post for over 35 years, my descriptions are always culturally accurate, and I have never had even the smallest problem with a post office refusing to accept a parcel from me. Courier companies such as DHL are just as difficult and as expensive here in Australia as they are everywhere else.

However, apart from the continuing problems mentioned above, there is another problem that is associated with buying at long distance, whether buying in our country of residence, or buying in a foreign country. That problem is the inaccuracy of descriptions offered by private persons, dealers and auction houses --- most particularly by auction houses.

This inaccuracy in many cases verges on misrepresentation, and in my own field of keris and other South East Asian weapons it is a recurring problem. Only last week I had a query from a long time friend who had bought a keris through auction, that I had originally sold about 25 years ago. The auction description was that the pendok was silver, and the "gem set selut" was silver.

This was straight out misrepresentation, because the pendok was silver plated brass, the selut had a body of tin, and the "gems" were cubic zirconia. The keris concerned was worth only a fraction of what it had cost him to buy at auction, and he had bid on the basis of belief that he was buying silver and gems.

Silver does not mean something that looks like silver, and a "gem" according to the Oxford Dictionary is a "precious stone". Cubics, pastes, glass, and bits of plastic are not precious stones.

We can never, ever trust any auction description. Auction houses go to great lengths to try to ensure that they cannot have legal action taken against them for misrepresentation, and include in their "Terms" statements such as this:-

"The description of the goods as presented in any catalogue, published by Smith & Jones Fine Art Auctioneers in any form or format, is meant as a guide to the description of the goods, their provenance, source, the integrity of the source and/or the integrity of the goods, and therefore should not be relied upon, by any buyer."

Don't worry, there is no auctioneer called " Smith & Jones Fine Art Auctioneers ", I made up that name, but this sort of disavowal of anything printed in a catalogue or said by the auctioneer is absolutely typical of the way that all auctioneers try to protect themselves. On the one hand, they describe things as "silver" in their catalogues, then in the small print they effectively say "well, basically we are liars, you cannot believe a word we say"

In my opinion, it is incumbent upon everybody who offers something for sale to ensure that the item offered for sale is accurately described, most particularly so where an inaccurate description will affect value, and where the nature of a material cannot be verified by simple visual examination.

It is all very well to speak of "buyer beware", but when we buy at long distance how is it possible to ensure that we know exactly what it is that we wish to buy, unless we can rely upon the description given by the seller? How can we rely upon an auctioneer's description when he goes out of his way to inform us that we cannot rely upon one word that he prints or says?

It is possible, perhaps probable that what I have written above is all too familiar to many people who will read it, but in view of some of the feedback I have had from people whom I would have expected to know the above, chapter & verse, perhaps it has done no harm for me to repeat it here.
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Old 3rd August 2019, 08:42 PM   #2
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Sadly true, Alan.

Above and beyond the above, the fees tacked on to the hammer prices, and the taxes, shipping and so forth can amount to a considerable overage. Depending on the cost and size of the item, one can conceivably increase the amount of purchase by 40-50%.

I'm coming to the conclusion that auctions based in other countries have a considerably increased risk factor. In the absence of a reliable buyer's agent in place, the chances of a pleasant outcome are substantially reduced. Further, you are at the mercy of a nation whose laws and customs are obscure to you, while the auction house is keenly aware of details that skew results in their favor.

That said, I've bought successfully from auction houses known to the members here; of course, here in the USA the issues involved in international transactions are not in play.
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Old 4th August 2019, 03:25 AM   #3
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Hi Alan,

You have nailed the problems well.

In an attempt to address some of these issues, I'm presently working with an Australian auction that has twice-yearly auctions of firearms plus some edged weapons. I will have a number of items in their next auction and provided descriptions of those items for their catalogue. They have accepted my descriptions and my estimated prices for these items. They also asked me to look at several edged weapons submitted to the same auction. I provided descriptions and my estimated prices for these also. They have again accepted my descriptions and price recommendations for their catalogue.

The substantial majority of what other people submitted comprised decorative pieces made for those who travel. I was allowed to use terms such as "low quality," "non-functional blade," "decorative item," "silver wash," "village quality" and other descriptors that would indicate to a knowledgeable prospective buyer that these are likely to be inexpensive items.

Lots of two or three items can be a clue to their lack of quality and a desire for the organizers of the auction to move them in a group rather than waste precious auction time by selling them individually for little monetary return. Sometimes this can backfire, and a sleeper can leak through for a low price. I've been a beneficiary of that good fortune a few times.

I'm hoping that by knowing the directors of this auction, and having some input into the edged weapon descriptions and valuations that appear in their catalogue, may offer buyers a more realistic idea of the items for sale and their respective value. I'll let you know how it goes.

Ian.
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Old 4th August 2019, 06:39 AM   #4
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in the final analysis i think it boils down to "know what you buy". I've bought quite a few items from auction houses from USA and Europe and I hardly paid any attention to the description which can sometimes be completely wrong. But if i like what i see i will still bid for it.

my only worry is with regards to shipping as i don't know exactly how stringent the rulings are in these countries with regards to ivory materials even if they are clearly old but do not come with cites cert. my only recourse is just to request the shipper to word the description of the item creatively (but correctly), a prayer and hope for the best. so far no problem encountered (yet) and hope it will continue to be so
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Old 4th August 2019, 09:13 AM   #5
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Yes, most of us encountered at least some, if not all of the problems mentioned above.

To my utter dissapointment not once, but many times I have encountered wrongly described items even with very prestigeous and reputable auction houses.

Not long ago, I purchased a sword from a reputable auction house. All the photos showed the sword and scabbard in good detail and everything seemed to be in good order. The sword was also described to be in good condition but...

... When I received the sword, I noticed the chappe of the scabbard was wrapped in tape. I thought it was for additional protection, but when I removed the tape the chape literally burst open into 3 parts.

I contacted the auction house and they asked me if I know a restorer, have it restored and send them the bill... So a lot of hassle and problems on my side. Now I will try to make them take the sword back for a full refund...

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Old 4th August 2019, 09:26 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Green
in the final analysis i think it boils down to "know what you buy". I've bought quite a few items from auction houses from USA and Europe and I hardly paid any attention to the description which can sometimes be completely wrong.


I agree with Green, and I bought the bulk of my collection "at arm's length" and with time I have learned to carefully select and assess the quality of the items on the basis of clear pictures. Of course I am mistaken from time to time but much less than years ago when I totally lacked experience. One surprising phenomenon these days is that some auction houses sell ivory-hilted krisses as bone or antler for avoiding Cites issues!
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Old 4th August 2019, 12:00 PM   #7
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In my initial post I mentioned two examples of what I believe could be construed as misrepresentation:-

1) material that is not silver presented as silver

2) material that in no way could be considered to be gems presented as gems.

this is the point I am trying to drive home.

I did not mention incorrect descriptions of type or style, I did not mention opinions. I mentioned material of little worth presented as material of worth. In other words misrepresentation.

Of course we need to have an understanding of the items that we may bid on, of course we need to assess quality as best we can from photographs that are very often completely inadequate. All this is a given, and it is not at all what I was writing about.

But how is it possible to know if one is looking at silver or polished mamas or silver plate from a photo, if experienced people need to test the material when they have it in their hands in order to know with certainty what it is?

How is it possible to differentiate between cubic zirconia and diamond when all you have to go on is a bad photograph?

This is what I'm talking about. Plain, pure, old fashioned lies.

Nothing at all to do with quality or "knowing what you buy", or incorrect general descriptions, however, when a considerable part of the value of the item that you expect to bid upon is tied up in the material from which it is made, then any naming of that material must be accurate.

If you buy from a photograph and a description that description needs to be accurate, and all the disavowals in the world that can be found the Terms section of an auction catalogue do not replace honesty and care.

In fact, it is many years since I purchased anything that I could not either handle, or that was not offered to me by an experienced person whom I trusted.
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Old 4th August 2019, 12:13 PM   #8
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Auction houses are notorious for poor accuracy. While I am firmly in the don't look for malice where ignorance is enough camp (they have a bewildering array of items to know, after all), I do believe that some of them honestly don't care a jot. Many don't even provide decent photographs.

Of course, this works both ways and while it can be a minefield one can also find the odd bargain.
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Old 4th August 2019, 01:19 PM   #9
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True, but I say again:- I am not addressing the inaccuracy of description, I am addressing the naming of materials as materials of worth, when they are not materials of worth, in other words misrepresentation.

To know what precious metals and precious stones are they need to be tested, so if something is named as a precious metal or precious stone then that implies that it has been tested, but I have encountered numerous cases where silver plate or mamas has been named as silver. If it had been tested then it would be known that it was not silver. So what we have is either a lie or gross stupidity.

If the auctioneer has not tested, then he does not know what the material is and it should be made clear that he does not know. An opinion should be identified as an opinion, not as a statement of fact.
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Old 4th August 2019, 09:24 PM   #10
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Hi
Interesting topic.
My personal mantra for purchasing, off topic but I taught I would include

do not spend more than 300 euro on an item unless I am certain
If more than more than 300 try and view in person
If an item has more than 3 flaws do not purchase it
Stop when I have reached my max price
Never trust auction descriptions or opinions always go with pictures
If something is under 50 and looks interesting take the gamble, sometimes I get lucky sometimes not
Mistakes are annoying but you learn from them
And of course
I regret more what I didnít purchase than what I purchased badly
Regards to all
Ken
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Old 5th August 2019, 04:00 AM   #11
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I find interesting items and put in low bids without looking until the auction is over. I recently won two items this way and both are worth 6x and more of what I paid in total. If you do not have a bid in you cannot win just like a lotto ticket but much better odds..
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Old 5th August 2019, 04:26 AM   #12
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Yes, you're right Will, buying at auction is a form of gambling, and just like any form of gambling you are best not to bid more than you are prepared to lose.

But then I don't gamble. Never have. I was given an excellent piece of advice by my grandfather when I was still a little kid:-

"Never gamble unless you own the game"

This came from a man who owned billiard rooms, poker machines, dice and card games, starting price bookmaking, in fact, every form of illegal gambling there was on offer, and who was a professional "negotiator" into the bargain.

Best advice I ever had.
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Old 5th August 2019, 11:01 AM   #13
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Ok I did use the word gamble in my post.

But is it really gambling when you are putting your knowledge up against others
If you know more than the house and the other bidders it is more perhaps outsmarting the house?

Auctioneer always wins as they get commission either way and have only to host the auction. Venue staff and advertisement costs is all they have in the game.

I have purchased rubbish for 50 euro worth nothing and similarly I have purchased v good items for 20

But I need none of what I purchase so it is all a bit of fun

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Ken
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Old 5th August 2019, 12:22 PM   #14
A. G. Maisey
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Ken, the problem is that you do not have the opportunity to use your knowledge.

If you go back to my opening post you will find that I am talking only about misrepresentation:- silver plate or mamas presented as silver, pastes presented as gemstones.

At no time have I been talking about the silly little errors and misunderstandings in general descriptions.

If you bid on the basis of silver and you get silver plate or mamas you have been flim-flamed. Conned. Lied to. You have paid too much.

That has absolutely nothing at all to do with knowledge, it has a great deal to do with the lack of knowledge, a lack deliberately, or perhaps because of laziness, created by the auctioneer.

But since we have strayed so far from my original intent in starting this thread and we are talking about appraisals on the basis of photographs, I will comment on that.

Very frequently I am approached by people to give opinions and valuations of keris. I get a couple of usually rather poor photographs, and I get asked the value, or description of that keris, often I get asked how old it is. Now, although I have something like 65 or 66 years experience in the study and collection of keris, I usually cannot tell too much at all from those photos, most especially I am not able to give any sort of approximately accurate valuation. If I cannot value nor appraise a keris from a photograph and no usable description, what chance has anybody else got? Unless of course they're psychic.

The auctioneer owns the game, not me, and that is why I do not bid at auction unless I can handle the goods beforehand.
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Old 6th August 2019, 12:21 AM   #15
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I have benefited from poor descriptions (just recently picked up a incredibly early rare kukri that is 19th C not mid 20th thanks very much) but also watched on annoyed at what would seem to be a deliberate mistake - "ivory" when it is clearly bone or such like. Reverse that I recently inquired on a lovely UK auction tulwar with small accompanying scabbard knives - described as bone hilt knives and I asked the auction house to confirm this (looked ivory to me) and they came back oh yes ivory - i passed - could have been an interesting discussion with customs.

I have avoided the military weapons world where fake stamps and misrepresentations seem to be more common.

I think one has to know what they are buying. I'm making far better decisions now than even a couple of years ago. But some things are not visible in any image - I recently bought a kukri with scabbard from a UK antiques dealer and the scabbard had clearly been crushed at some point and was lets say flexible. This was not mentioned in any description but to me an important part of the condition not visible in any photo.

Don't really know Keris/Kris well but those small description "errors" could easily lead to someone shelling out more than they should. Seeing the term "silver metal" used.

Oh and many sellers photos are terrible and it is hard to get the full picture. I often have to ask for more and certain images.

I'm in Australia too and incoming international shipping is a real consideration in terms of price and just the hassle when auction houses don't ship or arrange shipping.

Last edited by RAMBA : 6th August 2019 at 01:09 AM.
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Old 6th August 2019, 01:45 AM   #16
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Yes Ramba, it is possible to benefit from incorrect descriptions, just as it possible to lose. In other words, its a gamble.

Knowing what you wish to buy is a given, nobody should ever buy anything at auction unless they know the field, but as you point out, there are many things that cannot be picked up from a photo, especially a bad photo, so we need to rely upon the auctioneer's description, but these descriptions are very often so incorrect as to be ludicrous, moreover, the auction houses go out of their way to tell you that you cannot rely upon a single word they say.

Then we have Australian Customs, and I guess they are no more strict than any other Customs services anywhere in the world. Its their job, and they do it very well indeed. However, a little bit of common sense would perhaps not go astray sometimes.

Not long ago a friend attempted to send a piece of antique jewellery from here in Australia, to her daughter in USA. It was 19th century stuff, and it contained ivory. It was accepted by the post office, but on the way out of Australia it was stopped and opened by Australian Customs. They still have it, and my friend is waiting to find out if she is going to be prosecuted.

So, insofar as ivory is concerned, here in the Land of Oz we don't only have to be concerned about import of ivory, but export of ivory as well.

The lesson is that at least in this country you need to know the law in detail, and never, ever screw around with Australian Customs.
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Old 6th August 2019, 03:52 AM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by A. G. Maisey
Yes Ramba, it is possible to benefit from incorrect descriptions, just as it possible to lose. In other words, its a gamble.

Knowing what you wish to buy is a given, nobody should ever buy anything at auction unless they know the field, but as you point out, there are many things that cannot be picked up from a photo, especially a bad photo, so we need to rely upon the auctioneer's description, but these descriptions are very often so incorrect as to be ludicrous, moreover, the auction houses go out of their way to tell you that you cannot rely upon a single word they say.

Then we have Australian Customs, and I guess they are no more strict than any other Customs services anywhere in the world. Its their job, and they do it very well indeed. However, a little bit of common sense would perhaps not go astray sometimes.

Not long ago a friend attempted to send a piece of antique jewellery from here in Australia, to her daughter in USA. It was 19th century stuff, and it contained ivory. It was accepted by the post office, but on the way out of Australia it was stopped and opened by Australian Customs. They still have it, and my friend is waiting to find out if she is going to be prosecuted.

So, insofar as ivory is concerned, here in the Land of Oz we don't only have to be concerned about import of ivory, but export of ivory as well.

The lesson is that at least in this country you need to know the law in detail, and never, ever screw around with Australian Customs.


I have no problems with our "Border Force" or their representatives opening items - but I have had a number of items treated like a bit of scrap metal. And damaged in the process.

I also have a sneaky suspicion that i have bid against an auction houses proxy on these online auction platforms. Seeing an item go for a high price only to reappear a month or two later with the same seller - buyer could have always not paid.

Last edited by RAMBA : 6th August 2019 at 04:15 AM.
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Old 6th August 2019, 04:29 AM   #18
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I used to buy a lot at auctions in the days when Lawsons in Sydney used to charge a seller 10% and a buyer nothing. I started buying at auction when I was around 15 or 16, usually left bids. However, I rarely buy at auction these days because of the buyers premium, plus the fact that it is frequently a matter of bidding against people who do not seem to have any idea of the true value of an item. But I do understand the way auctions work.

There are a number of ways that an item can appear to have bids placed on it that the auctioneer is pulling off the wall. There are left bids that I have used, the auctioneer is entitled to lodge bids to keep a lot moving and maintain the pace of the auction, ordinary general auctioneers aim for between 60 and 90 lots an hour, that means that the bidding moves quickly.

There are telephone bids, there are internet bids. There are people in the bidders present who have pre-arranged a signal with the auctioneer so that others do not know they are bidding, this sort of thing is usually used by someone who is a known expert.

Then there is the reserve price.

The cream on the cake are the auction houses who own the auctioned goods themselves, but pretend that they are auctioning a deceased estate or whatever. Basically, they're all shonks and liars, and they tell you this themselves in the "Terms" section of their catalogues.

Often a lot will finish and you don't really know if it has sold or not, so you need to check at the end of the auction.
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Old 6th August 2019, 07:15 AM   #19
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I haven't experienced such a thing

I don't see the value in the auction buyers premium - can't even get half of them to sort the shipping for that fee. Add on the online bidding fee etc. and you can be up to 30% on hammer.
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Old 6th August 2019, 07:55 AM   #20
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You mean the 10% for sellers only?

That's history Ramba. I think it probably disappeared in about the 1970's.
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Old 6th August 2019, 10:40 AM   #21
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On a medal forum i frequent I read the following


DNW plans to hike buyers premium to 24% from 20%, starting in September. This will mean that successful bidders will now need to add 28.8% to the hammer price (due to VAT on the buyers premium)

it is getting to be a large %

Keep well

Ken
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Old 6th August 2019, 11:18 AM   #22
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Which I guess means less for sellers.
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Old 6th August 2019, 11:58 AM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by A. G. Maisey
Which I guess means less for sellers.

I assume, so commission with them is 15% plus VAT!
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Old 6th August 2019, 02:27 PM   #24
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With the advent of the big online auction platforms of recent years it makes sense that fees have gone up as the houses have found a greater audience and with this connectivity has come greater costs. Is some of it greed? Yes, of course. Personally, I dislike all the fees anyway because I'm a simple chap who likes to know the price without having to do calculations on the fly.
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Old 6th August 2019, 08:50 PM   #25
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You have a very generous heart Ken, and I compliment you upon your humanity.

When I said "--- less for the sellers." I was not thinking in terms of commissions, but rather in terms of how much the seller will receive for an item put to auction.

At the end of the day everything has a perceived value, and that value is what the buyer will usually not go far beyond, so if fees for buyers rise, that is an inbuilt element in total cost, and the hammer price will fall accordingly, resulting in a lower payment to the seller.
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