Auctions get creative as the pandemic forces them online

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Just about every area of personal finance has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. That economic shock reaches all the way to some of the most aspirational purchases on the planet: art, cars, watches and wine.

The mechanism to buy and sell many of these objects — frothy, in-person auctions, with attendees dressed smartly and cocktails readily available — has been rendered untenable since March because of social-distancing measures meant to stop the spread of the virus.

But the desire remains, with sellers looking to shed valuable items to shore up their own balance sheets, and buyers who have reserves looking to collect on the cheap. To meet that demand, the rarefied world of the auction house has been forced online.

The electricity you feel in a room, as the bidding heats up and prices soar, is gone. But auction houses are working to make sure selling their high-ticket objects doesn’t devolve into an eBay frenzy, where wealthy buyers are sitting around in their pajamas stalking deals on their laptops.

To counteract that down-market feel, auction houses have become creative. — Paul Sullivan

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