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The move comes after Christie’s amended its premium structure last month and the changes will apply in time for the upcoming New York auctions of Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary art.

Sotheby’s though has gone further than its rivals by expanding the range of the initial 25% threshold up to £175,000 in the UK and up to $250,000 in US – Christie’s equivalent ranges are up to £100,000 and $150,000.

Sotheby’s has also risen the percentage it charges at the upper-level from 12% to 12.5% for bids over £2m (or $3m).

The auctioneers described the changes as “modest” and said the new rates are only “expected to impact 5-10% of all lots”.

‘Squeezing the Middle Markets’

The new premium schedule however would appear aimed at squeezing more out of £100,000-1m category as well as works selling in the £2m-5m range.

Under the new rates, a bid of £200,000 for example will be subject to £48,750 in buyer’s premium, an increase from £45,000. A bid of £1m will be subject to £208,750 in premium, up from £205,000 under the old rates. The premium charged on a bid of £5m goes up from £749,000 to £783,750 after the changes apply.

The adjustments to Sotheby's buyer’s premium will apply not only in London and New York but also at sales in Paris, Milan, Switzerland and Hong Kong.

Sales in Beijing, where the buyer’s premium is a flat 18%, remain unaffected as do Sotheby’s wine auctions which take place in three locations (London, New York and Hong Kong).

Sotheby’s last adjusted its buyer's fees in February 2015.

Sotheby’s new buyer's premium rates*:


25% - up to £175,000

20% - from £175,000 up to £2m

12.5% - thereafter

New York

25% - up to $250,000

20% - $250,000 up to $3m

12.5% - thereafter

*The new rates apply across all collecting categories except wine.

Previous rates:


25% - up to £100,000

20% - £100,000 to £1.8m

12% - above £1.8m

New York

25% - up to $200,000

20% - $200,000-$3m

12% - above $3m

Last month Bonhams also increased their buyer’s fees by adjusting their premium thresholds. Their new rates exactly mirrors Christie’s rates in the UK, US and Hong Kong although they charge separate premiums for motor cars, wine and coins & medals.