Christie’s last increased its fees on 30 September 2013. At the time the auction house chose not to change its buyer premiums but rather to increase the thresholds to 25% for lots selling under $100,000, 20% for lots selling between $100,000 and $2 million, and 12% over $2 million.
Now, the auction house owned by French businessman François Pinault has decided it is the buyers’ turn. As Melanie Gerlis explained to The Art Newspaper, auction houses are generally more willing to tamper with buyer premiums. Collectors with rare, sought-after works can pressure auctioneers to lower the seller premium under the pretext that they have had a better offer from another auction house, which is why it is always hard to find out what the buyer premiums are and the auction houses’ websites often ask visitors to contact the auction house directly for information.
In order to keep as much flexibility as possible, rather than increasing the seller thresholds, Christie’s International has decided to add a 2% premium to the hammer price if the auctioneer sells the lot above its high estimate. ‘The purpose is to incentivise and reward high performance that exceeds consignors’ expectations,’ says Paddy Feeny, Christie’s head of communications. This should also encourage experts to be a bit more reasonable with their estimates.
When an auction house of this calibre increases its premiums, everyone else tends to follow suit, which means we can expect Sotheby’s, Phillips and Bonham’s to make a move in coming weeks.