Actually, it turns out that this is one art I don't need to perfect. I've already got the overbidding skill down pat!
RC and I went to an auction in Worcester (good-sized city in central MA) where there were 14 units up for auction. As you might imagine, this generated a big crowd. The first unit was clearly junk and it went for far more than we thought it was worth. A lovely unit went for $1450, far above our cash on hand. We bid on a few items but kept getting outbid. With only a few units left, a promising looking locker with furniture, well packed boxes and storage tubs came up. A couple that we'd seen at other auctions who clearly had been in the business for a while were bidding on it, so they saw value in it.
Unfortunately, RC and I hadn't had a chance to check in before the auction on this unit began. We typically look at the unit individually then discuss our reactions to it ... buy? pass? if buy, what's our max? We talk about the items of value we saw, since we both see different things, and the junk that'd prompt a trip to the dump (especially with a premium for mattresses and tvs). As a result, in this case, we hadn't collectively decided how much to bid.
So that couple was bidding away and I decided to join in on the fun. I thought there was value in the furniture I could see, and knew we'd find some value in the boxes and tubs.
Well, turns out the furniture was all junk. Cheaply made, worn and dirty. Off to the dump. The glass-topped tables we saw had broken glass tops and the glass to replace was about as much as I expected we'd net on them. Large DJ speakers were in tough shape and one was missing a horn speaker. The washing machine was beat up. We did find tools, a working Wii and games, and an Xbox and games. So, there's some value here but not enough to make up for the amount I paid.
Bottom line: I looked at those items through rose-colored glasses because I really wanted to buy a unit. I need to be a bit more skeptical when I'm spelunking. There are always other auctions and other units.