U Win
By Paul Lukas

(MONEY Magazine) – Live auctions are fun, but you can't go to one every day--or in your pajamas at 3 a.m. The next best bet is eBay. There's no foolproof way to win, but there are ways to increase your odds of scoring a treasured item at a reasonable price.

• Be Patient

Bidding early only increases the likelihood of a bidding frenzy, which can push up the eventual sale price as other bidders get sucked into the excitement. Unless you're going to be away from your computer for a while, there's no reason to bid before the day the auction closes.

• Beat the Buzzer

The ultimate late-auction bid--submitted in the closing seconds so that other bidders don't have time to react--is called a snipe. Once derided by eBay users, sniping is now generally accepted as the most effective strategy to win an auction without triggering a bidding war. But because sniping necessitates placing a bid at a particular moment, it can be inconvenient. Fortunately, an array of sniping programs with names like PowerSnipe and Auction Sentry has appeared. These products--many of which are actually sold on eBay, usually for between $10 and $15--allow you to preprogram a last-second bid for a particular auction so you can win even if your computer isn't turned on.

• Don't Give Up

If you lose a bidding war, hang in there. E-mail the seller and ask if he has similar items available. Also, your rival bidders might in fact be commercial dealers, so e-mail the winning bidder and ask if he's willing to sell you his newly won treasure. You'll probably pay a markup over the auction price, but if it's a rare item you just gotta have, it's worth it. --PAUL LUKAS