Buying Long Distance - Updated October 3, 2016 - Changes in International Calling Section
Buying RLalique items that you have not seen in person can be a daunting and uncertain experience. This article addresses many of the the issues that a long distance buyer will face, whether buying at auction, on Ebay, or directly from an owner. Being able to acquire pieces long distance opens up quite literally a whole world of opportunities to enhance your collection. Much of the information contained in this article would also apply to items that you buy and inspect in person.
The challenges of long distance buying of the works of Rene Lalique are to figure out as accurately as possible the condition and quality of the item you are considering, and to sift through the details of how the transaction will proceed if you are successful. We recommend you make a Lalique Purchase Checklist, keep it on your computer, and refer to it whenever you are investigating a long distance purchase. Having a Lalique Purchase Checklist ensures you won't forget an important fact or item that you will want to know about before you purchase. We also recommend that you make a Lalique Bidding Chart, a spreadsheet of sorts, adding in the various expenses to each bid increment, so that you will know what you are really bidding in your currency, after accounting for all the other expenses of a long distance purchase as discussed below. The underlined links take you to a sample Lalique Bidding Chart which you can use for guidance in constructing your own, and a sample Lalique Purchase Checklist.
For the purpose of brevity, when using the phrase "auction house" throughout this article, we mean where applicable, any long distance seller, be it an auction, Ebay seller, or private seller.
If after reading this guide, you still feel you need assistance in trying to make a long distance acquisition of an R Lalique item, check the Lalique Consulting Services section of this web site to see the kinds of assistance we may be able to provide.
How to inquire: Call or Email?
We recommend calling the auction house and talking to them directly. There are times you will have to email just to get the phone number, but the personal contact is much more informative, it gives you the chance to ask follow up questions while they are on your mind, and it enables you to evaluate the seller a little more thoroughly than if you were corresponding by email. In addition, in many instances there is not time to email back and forth. You may find out about an item the day it comes up for sale for example, and email is just too slow. Here are the things we recommend at a minimum you should ask about: condition, shipping, premium, taxes, the time the item will sell, payment methods, returns, added photos, and export issues if any. Also, ALWAYS remember to ask if there are other RLalique items in the sale! Many times you find out about one item, but if you ask, you learn there are others.
International calling can be a little tricky. From the United States, you first have to access international calling by dialing 011. Then, you have to dial the country code for the country you are calling. For example, France is 33, the UK is 44. So any call to the UK starts out 011 44.There is usually a city code and then the phone number after that, but most places give you the city code as part of their phone number. Think of the city code as comparable to a US area code. The other sticky issue is that many international numbers are given with an extra digit, usually a zero, after the country code, which you don't dial when calling from the United States. So, let's take the main number for Christie's South Kensington in London as an example. They show their phone number in their sales catalogues as +44 (0)20 7930 6074. From the United States, you dial 011 44 207 930 6074. You add the 011 for international access, and you drop the (0).
There will also be times that you find something for sale and have a local number in another country that does not have the added information for international callers already included like the Christie's number above, and you may need to find the country code and maybe even the city code. For this, I go to the website www.countrycallingcodes.com. If you go to this website and select the options for calling from the US, calling the UK, and then London (inner), it will show you 011 44 20 7, which if you notice, are the same 8 numbers that start the Christies phone number above. The other great thing about this site is that it allows you to choose an option that you are calling from another country, not just the United States.
Check with your long distance provider or cell phone company for their international rates. Most companies offer a discount plan that saves you a lot of money for a small monthly fee in the range of $3 or $4. And there are several international calling companies that use the internet and have extremely reasonable charges (in some cases no charges at all) when compared to your local phone company.
The condition of an R. Lalique item is an important factor in determining its value and desirability. Condition is not just any noticeable damage. It also involves defects, poor or great examples, strong or weak color or opalescence, and repairs or polishing. Defects that might detract from the piece both from a value standpoint and from an esthetic standpoint include air bubbles (size, location, shape, and whether or not they have broken thru the glass or are fully contained in the glass); inclusions in the glass - sometimes RLalique has a piece of material that was in the glass mix such as dirt, that depending on size and location, could be problematic; "wandering lines" created in the molding process, that depending on location and number, could effect both the value and enjoyment of the piece; globs of glass that did not distribute properly and that alter the look of the piece; consistency in edge finishes of the rim and base; if the piece sits level and if the thickness of the glass is reasonably consistent throughout.
One other thing to consider is the following specific inquiry for for colored glass pieces. Modern patinating is getting quite good, and sometimes it is very hard to tell from a photo if the item is colored glass, or if the item is just coated with coloring on the outside. It is a safe practice to ask specifically if the glass is colored, or if there is just a coating that makes it appear colored, when you inquire about colored glass items. "Is this a blue glass vase, or is it a clear or frosted vase with a blue coating on it to make it look like blue glass?"
Many sellers of R. Lalique will tell you that a particular item of condition or damage doesn't mean much. but of course, the best examples command a premium among knowledgeable collectors. Not just those in the best condition, but also those with the greatest overall quality. The blood red no bubbles and no problems Poissons Vase is worth much more than the orangey red, bubbly, chipped Poissons Vase. And when it comes time to sell the piece, the higher the quality and the better the condition, the bigger the market and the easier it is to sell. So condition is not just about money, it's about enjoyment and ease of disposal.
Always ask for additional photos to be sent to you via email showing the areas that most concern you, as well as the overall piece in profile. This is also a good protection against fraud for example in the case of an Ebay seller that does not have the item, and therefore cannot get more photos.
Condition Reports from Auction Houses: Always ask for the auction house's condition report, and if possible, get it in writing via email no matter what you are told on the phone.
Condition Reports from other sellers: Always ask for the condition in writing, with specifics. A general statement, such as "good condition" is open to varying interpretation when your view of good condition does not match the seller's view. A better statement would be, "No damages, no defects, and no repairs or polishing!". This is much more specific and much more buyer friendly.
This is a question that requires a good amount of experience in dealing with, when considering the purchase of R.Lalique items. Two of the same model vases can be different in height, weight, glass thickness, etc., and both can be original and good examples. The most important question before worrying about measurements is whether or not the piece looks like it should, if it's in proportion overall, and if it appears to be a good example from the photos. The measurements can sometimes protect you from a hidden repair or defect, or just a low quality example that left the factory over-polished. Many pieces do not even measure to the height in the R. Lalique Catalogue Raisonne, so you would have to have a reference to know what other examples of the same model piece measure to. For this, you can begin keeping records yourself, and you can check out our T/A Section, where as part of the information we provide on specific pieces, we give your measurements of other examples. The big thing here is not to be talked into (either by yourself or others) obtaining a bad example of a piece on the basis of the infamous statement, ".... it was made that way....". Usually, when you hear that, you want it made the other way.
Once you get past the quality and condition issues and want to proceed, there are other more mundane things to be concerned with.
Terms of Sales
What kind of payment will they accept? Best for the buyer is credit card or Paypal using a credit card. Many times this is not possible and you may decide it's worth the risk to wire the funds or send a check. When figuring out how much you are going to bid at an auction, or spend in total, the exchange rate (and associated fees charged by banks or credit card companies) can be significant. For example, most credit card companies now charge a 3% foreign currency transaction fee for purchases made in a foreign currency. For a $20,000 item, that adds $600 to the price. Banks charge varying wire fees, and give varying exchange rates based on the dollar amount involved. Sometimes the apparent best deal is not the best one at all once you figure in all the costs of making the payment by that method. There's also the hassle involved in some payment methods that you have to take into account. For example, many banks make you come down to the branch to do a wire. On Ebay, some sellers require "postal money orders". Figure the hassle of going down to the post office and waiting in line when you decide to pursue a low cost item with those terms.
Buyer's Premium and VAT or Sales Taxes
Most auction houses charge a buyer's premium. This is usually a significant amount (up to an additional 25% of the purchase price), and should be kept in mind when deciding how much to bid. Also, depending on the country, there may be added taxes, such as VAT taxes which also add significantly to the price. Always ask about these two figures; the buyer's premium and and sales or VAT tax. Some countries also charge what amounts to a tax on exporting the item, again, as a percentage of the purchase price, or require a license to export certain items, which costs money and also takes time.
VAT, Sales, and other Taxes
In the US, usually if an item is being shipped out of State to the buyer, no sales tax is required to be paid in the State where it was purchased. A similar concept applies in some, but not all other countries, where if they are shipping it out of the country, there might not be a local tax due. Sometimes you will have to pay the local tax and then apply for a refund. Many times your shipper can do the paperwork for you in this instance. Sometimes, if you use the auction house shipper, or a recommended shipper, they don't make you pay the VAT up front, but if you use any other shipper, they will make you pay it and apply for a refund down the road with the local government.
Most countries have import duties, or what we call in the US, customs duties or charges. These have to be taken into account when purchasing. In the US for example, we have seen RLalique assessed by customs for duties ranging from 5 to 8 percent of value. Items over 100 years old are generally not charged however. And one of a kind works of art are generally duty free as well. So that Cire Perdue vase you have been considering that is for sale in Iceland might be duty free upon entry into the US. And when you get the bill for the import duties, don't assume that your item has been properly classified. If the charge is more than 7 or 8 percent of value, look at the category and talk to the shipping company that processed it thru customs. You can protest these charges if they are not proper or reasonable and get partial refunds if things go your way.
This is a major expense and potential problem area and should be dealt with before you bid or buy. Get a quote if possible in advance of your purchase. It's best if you can get the auction house or seller to ship. But if you have to get an outside shipper, many sellers or auction houses will recommend a local mail box type store. For more expensive items, you may want to use a specialty art shipper. Regardless of your plan, it's best to have it made in advance of buying so that unpleasant surprises can be avoided. Most shippers will take a credit card email or over the phone. If you give the shipper specific instructions (i.e. double box the vase in the specific box sizes) they will follow them, or at least try to. Also make sure the shipper is using new boxes and bubble wrap. Another good idea is to ask the shipper to examine the piece with the seller or auction house when they pick it up, and to call you while they are together if there are any surprises or unexpected damages or problems. This helps avoid the question of when damage occurred if there is a condition issue upon delivery. If the shipment is from a different country than you are located in, make sure the shipper is experienced in international shipments and knows what forms are required to be filled out. Also, make sure that the shipping service you get from another country is door to door, meaning that the item will be delivered to your house or office, and not to some warehouse at the airport where you then have to go and deal with customs and duties directly, as well as all the import documentation.
Always recommended. Check with your homeowners insurance company on insurance options. For a very low cost, you may be able to insure your collection, and sometimes this will include coverage on an item from the time you purchase it, even when in the hands of a third party shipper that is sending it to you. This would save a lot of money on shipping insurance for your purchases and may actually pay for the total insurance package, depending on the cost. Shippers tend to charge high mark-ups on insurance. We have seen rates as high as 10 percent of value for insuring a shipment, which is totally ridiculous.
Some countries require you to obtain an export license for items of a particular nature or value. Check with the seller or auction before you buy, AND with the shipper you are using. These licenses can take months depending on the country and the item, so it's important to know if the item you want to buy requires a license, or whether it might require one depending on the price you pay.
Some sellers will agree in advance to take back an item if it is not as described. Others will agree to take back an item for any or no reason, with or without expenses to you, such as shipping costs both ways. It never hurts to ask. Generally however most auction houses say they sell "as is", and at your risk. However, if there is some major misrepresentation (such as the item being a fake), many reputable auctions will be willing to take a return. Find out these policies in advance and conduct your investigation of the item accordingly.
So you have decided to bid on the R Lalique item you have found. Many auction houses require you to send in details about yourself. It's a good habit to give out the least possible information (name, address, phone number). The more you have floating around, the more likely you will join the ranks of identity theft victims sooner or later. All auction houses, and all countries are different and there are no standard requirements. In Paris, it's typical they ask for a fax, with your info (name, address, and phone) and your bank's name and address. Some auction houses will insist on a social security number, and it's for you to decide if the piece is important enough for handing that out. Some auctions want a credit card to make sure you pay if you are successful.
It is best not to leave a bid, and to just bid on the phone during the auction. Give the auction house at least two numbers so if there is a problem connecting to the first number, they have a back up number to call. If you have call blocking on your phone line, this can be an issue with incoming calls from some countries, so you should turn it off when waiting for a call from an auction. Find out the local time in the location of the auction that the item will sell, and figure out what time your call will be coming.
A lot of auctions have bidding on live auction websites (such as Live Auctioneers) as well as over the phone. Just be aware that the buyer's premium is usually higher on these third party live auction websites. It's not a bad idea to sign up for the live auction version of the sale and monitor the auction a little as the time approaches. This has several benefits, one of which is that if the phone bid call never comes (and this DOES happen), you can bid online. But many times, it is cheaper to bid over the phone.
Over the phone, when bidding, it's a good idea to chat with the person on the other end and get to know how they talk, make sure you can understand them, that you have a good connection. and to discuss how you are going to proceed. Are you going to wait until the bidding in the room stops and then start bidding, are you going to just jump right in saying bid bid bid? The first option is usually best. It gives you a chance to hear the bidding, the person on the phone can keep you informed, and you can judge the pace of the auctioneer, and bid accordingly when the time comes. Talk to the person on the phone about what they will tell you when asking if you want to bid. You might want to know what the bid is, and what the auctioneer is asking for, and also for them to let you know if the current high bid is on the phone with someone else, or in the room, or if it's just the auctioneer bidding away either by reserve or with absentee left bids. Also, ask the person on the phone to let you know if there are any pre-sale announcements about the item, for example, if someone dropped it at the preview, or if the auctioneer makes a condition announcement prior to the bidding commencing.
Ebay represents a unique opportunity from the typical long distance purchase, and a few pointers can help minimize your risk of problems. First, check the feedback of the seller, and how long they have been on Ebay. If they have a negative or feedback or two, out of 3000 feedbacks, it might be OK to ignore those couple negatives. But if they have a lot of negatives, or a rating not near 100%, this is an obvious caution sign. If the overall feedback numbers look good, look at the specific feedback left by others, and see what kind of items they have sold and if they are in the value range of the item you are looking at. A seller with 100 feedbacks on 5 cent postcards, who is selling a $20,000 vase might require more scrutiny. The guy with only 3 feedbacks that last transacted 2 years ago that appears with a $10,000 item would also require extra scrutiny. Check the terms. If you can pay via paypal, using a credit card, then you have your credit card company and Paypal between you and a potential problem. Check the terms. Does the seller offer a no-hassle refund? Does the seller clearly state the condition of the item in specific terms ("good" is not a specific term)? Does the seller say all sales are "as is" and no refunds for any reason, basically trying to override everything else they way in the ad? And would you want to buy from someone that does this? Always write the seller and confirm the condition no matter what the ad says. Always ask for more photos on expensive items. It never hurts to ask in an email if you can return the item if not satisfied, no matter what the ad says. Many sellers will agree to that and do so in writing by reply email. Always get the shipping price and method of shipment settled in advance. And remember, if you are in the US and buying from Australia or Europe, the shipping method of "postal" or "mail" could be a three week boat ride, or a three day airplane trip. Ask for specifics. Does the shipping include insurance? When they say no extra charge above direct cost for packing, are they talking the cost to have it packed at a UPS store, by a professional art packer or are they packing it themselves?
The Item Arrives
A few basic steps when your Rene Lalique item arrives can save major headaches down the road. If the box is damaged, point it out to the delivery guy. Take photos before you open it. If the damage is major, ask the delivery guy to stay while you open the box and see if the item is damaged. If you hear glass chunks making noise when you move the box, ask the delivery guy to stay put while you open it and also to note his records that you could hear broken glass. For expensive items bought from a stranger, you might consider having someone video the process of opening the box and getting the item out, just to document the condition of the item (and the fact that the item in the box is what you bought) when you open it. Most cameras today can take short videos, and the video can be saved if needed for insurance or a credit card company, or just deleted on the spot if all is well when you get your hands on the item and get it out of the package. If there is any problem upon delivery, notify the seller and shipper immediately, and don't throw away any part of the box or packing material.
Helpful LInks - Translations, Currency Conversions, Time Zones
Language barriers and currency issues often deter collectors from pursuing great items in other countries. For quick translations of item descriptions, you can copy and paste foreign language text into the translator at www.babelfish.com. It's free, easy to use, and self explanatory.
For currency conversions, a free and easy to use web site is www.xe.com. Keep in mind when checking currency rates, that not only do they change daily (actually, they change by the minute), but the rate your bank or credit card company gives you may not be the same rate as the one shown in the converter. It's best to add 3 or 4% to the rate you see in the converter based on the credit card company fee, or the higher rate your bank may charge. If you are pleasantly surprised by a lower total cost than what you figured, it will be better than getting bad news by not planning for some up-charges or fees. Also, most banks and credit card companies will give you a quote upon request so you'll know exactly what the cost will be, but they usually will not hold a quote, and the rates do fluctuate. However, getting a quote can give you a good idea of the spread they charge above what the converter says, and you can plan accordingly. And don't forget, since most credit card companies charge a fee (usually 3%), you have to add that to whatever they quote you for a conversion rate.
To check time zones, www.timezoneconverter.com is a great site.
Mac users with the latest operating system, have access to similar tools found in the three web sites linked above, in their Dashboard. However the language translator in the Dashboard only accepts limited amount of text for translation, maybe a couple of sentences at most. However, these three tools found in Dashboard can be easily installed on your Mac and are fast and easy to use.
There are a lot of things to consider when buying R. Lalique items long distance. Seeing so many considerations written down in one place, can make it seem a bit overwhelming to deal with, and it can seem like there are all kinds of problems. But most of the items in this article are just common sense precautions and common sense ideas on how to conduct yourself, and they flow logically as you go through the process of a long distance purchase. Most buyers will never experience most of the potential problems outlined in this article. Being aware of many of the potential pitfalls and taking reasonable precautions will make it that much less likely that you will have a disappointment with your long distance purchase.
Now, the MOST important thing. If you see an item in our Lalique Auction Items Section, and call to inquire about it, remember to tell them you saw it on RLalique.com!! And if you find an item on your own that is not listed at RLalique.com, when you call to inquire ask them why it's not listed here! The more auction houses know that listings on our site generate customers, the easier it will be for us to provide you with the maximum amount of information on upcoming Rene Lalique auction items.
Finally, if you have any helpful hints or added information about long distance buying of R.Lalique, let us know.
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Note that the information and ideas in this Buyers Guide are given free of charge and without warranty or representation. Every purchase comprises different circumstances and it is the responsibility of every buyer to fully check out any potential purchase and all issues that may effect the purchase. Basically, this is free guide and not a guarantee!