What is a Buyers Premium?

A buyers premium is a common term in the auction world, but it can often lead to confusion, especially for those new to auctions. Understanding what a buyer’s premium is and how it affects the total purchase price is crucial for anyone looking to participate in an auction. This article will guide you through the concept of a buyer’s premium, its purpose, and implications for buyers.

Step 1: Understanding the Basics

What Is a Buyer’s Premium?

A buyer’s premium is an extra fee added to the hammer price (the final bid at an auction), which the buyer is required to pay in addition to their winning bid. This fee is typically expressed as a percentage of the hammer price.

Purpose of the Buyer’s Premium

The buyer’s premium is primarily used by auction houses to cover operational costs such as venue hire, staff salaries, catalog production, and marketing. It shifts part of the auction house’s expenses to the buyer, allowing sellers to retain a higher portion of the final sale price.

Step 2: Calculating the Buyer’s Premium

How It’s Calculated

To calculate the total cost of an auction purchase, add the buyer’s premium to the hammer price. For example, if the hammer price is $1,000 and the buyer’s premium is 20%, the buyer’s premium would be $200, making the total cost $1,200.

Variability in Premium Rates

The rate of the buyer’s premium can vary significantly between different auction houses and sometimes even within the same auction house, depending on the type of item being auctioned or the specific sale. It’s essential to check the buyer’s premium rate before participating in an auction.

Step 3: The Implications for Buyers

Increased Final Cost

The most direct implication of the buyer’s premium for buyers is the increase in the final cost of the purchase. This can significantly affect the buyer’s budget and the perceived value of the item.

Bidding Strategy

Knowledge of the buyer’s premium can influence a buyer’s bidding strategy. Buyers might adjust their maximum bid to accommodate the additional cost of the buyer’s premium, ensuring they do not exceed their total budget.

Step 4: Legal and Ethical Considerations


Auction houses are generally required to disclose the buyer’s premium in their terms and conditions. This ensures transparency and allows bidders to make informed decisions. Failure to disclose the buyer’s premium could lead to legal repercussions and damage the auction house’s reputation.

Impact on Market Perception

While the buyer’s premium is a standard practice, its size and application can affect market perception. Excessive buyer’s premiums might deter potential buyers from participating in auctions, impacting the auction house’s ability to sell items effectively.

Step 5: Buyer’s Premium in Different Auction Formats

Online Auctions

The buyer’s premium is not exclusive to traditional, in-person auctions; it is also prevalent in online auctions. The rates and terms might differ, so it’s crucial to read the specific terms and conditions of each online platform.

Private Sales and Galleries

While primarily associated with auctions, similar fees can sometimes be found in private sales and galleries, where they might be referred to under different names, such as “service fees” or “handling charges.”


The buyer’s premium is an integral part of the auction process, serving as a key revenue stream for auction houses while also influencing buyers’ bidding strategies and overall auction experience. By understanding what a buyer’s premium is, how it’s calculated, and its implications, bidders can better navigate the auction landscape, make informed decisions, and manage their budgets effectively. Whether participating in traditional auctions or exploring online platforms, awareness of the buyer’s premium and its impact is essential for a successful auction experience.

Team ONH
Team ONH
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