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Article by Pattie Barron

All interior designers have a multitude of decorating sources at their fingertips, but for Robin Daines, project design manager for fabric and wallpaper company GP & J Baker, there is one stand-out source that he returns to again and again for his clients: eBay, the major online auction platform.

   “There are great bargains to be had, but you need to know how to navigate to be successful,” says sharp-eyed Robin, who filled Weston Homes’ Nightingale House, a fabulous show home within the newly converted Cambridge Military Hospital at Aldershot, with eBay treasures ranging from paintings and lampstands to consoles and a dining table.

   Here, he shares his plan of attack, honed over many hours of browsing and bidding.

* Different sellers list things in different ways, so you need to be quite specific about what you write in the search box. If that doesn’t yield results, broaden the search. It can take a lot of trawling!

* Once something catches your eye, select ‘watch this item’ which will automatically keep you informed of its status, ie it will prompt you to place a bid if the auction is coming to a close.

* About 50% of items listed are outright purchases. If the object of desire is listed as ‘buy it now’ with no negotiation, and the price suits you, make that purchase before you miss out.

* If the item is listed as ‘buy it now’, but there’s a chance to make an offer, if I’m desperate for the item I’ll offer full price, otherwise I will start low. Sometimes if the owners are desperate to sell, they’ll accept it.

* The seller must list and photograph any flaws. I always scrutinise pictures, especially for non-returnable items; it’s a case of buyer beware. Goods can be returned, but only if the seller accepts returns: this is predetermined before the goods are listed.

* When an item is on auction, I never place a bid until the 11th hour as otherwise, you may well wake up other bidders to bid higher. I always watch the item until 10 minutes before the auction ends, even if it means waiting patiently for a whole week.

* Auctions that end late at night or early morning are less likely to have many watchers at end of play. If there are few bidders, you stand a better chance. At these times, I wait until two minutes to the end and put in a really high bid, hoping that no one else has done the same. I never confirm that bid until 10 seconds before the end, so that another bidder will hopefully not have time to increase their bid. If no one else has done the same, you should win the auction at just £1 or £2 above the highest bidder, because the amount you pay automatically drops to that level. But be prepared to put your neck on the line.

* If you stumble across a covetable item that the seller has only sketchily described, try putting in an early bid. On rare occasions I’ve found that no one else places a bid and you end up with an absolute bargain!

* You have to pay for the item before the seller will send it. The delivery charge depends on whether it’s sent by Royal Mail or courier, and that price is pre-set by the seller. Sometimes delivery is free as an incentive to purchase, but these are usually fixed-price goods. Larger items are normally collection only, so unless you are local, arranging a man with a van or driving to collect may cost more than the item itself. If the seller is listed as a business, it’s worth asking if transport is an option as some sellers might do a weekly/monthly trip to your area.

* I once had a tea set arrive in a million pieces because it was sent loose in a box with no packaging. If this happens, take a picture so the seller can see their error and refund your money.

* There’s an element of luck involved, as well as patience and perseverance. You have to be there at the right time and right place to bag a bargain. Think of the whole experience as nail-biting fun but be warned – it’s addictive!

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