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Auctioneers deal with all types of numbers — when writing a contract, bid calling and settling auctions.

In the latter, auctioneers must correctly calculate seller commissions, sales tax and buyer premiums — both when reconciling with bidders and when settling the auction with the seller.

Among questions I often hear when I’m teaching auctioneer continuing education or at auction school include two about this topic:

  1. Is sales tax charged on the hammer price or the hammer price + the buyer’s premium?
  2. Is seller commission charged on the hammer price or the hammer price + the buyer’s premium?

We’ll address these questions by using several examples. In these scenarios, the base numbers are as follows:

  • The item’s hammer price is $1,000
  • Sales tax is 7%
  • Buyer’s premium is 10%
  • Seller commission is 15%

Case #1 Seller commission, with no sales tax nor buyer’s premium:

  • Buyer pays $1,000
  • Seller nets $850
  • Auctioneer earns $150

Case #2 Buyer’s premium, with no sales tax nor seller commission:

  • Buyer pays $1,100
  • Seller nets $1,000
  • Auctioneer earns $100

Case #3 Sales tax (with no other charges):

  • Buyer pays $1,070
  • Seller nets $1,000
  • Auctioneer pays $70 to state or local taxing agency

Case #4 Seller commission with sales tax, with no buyer’s premium:

  • Buyer pays $1,070
  • Seller nets $850
  • Auctioneer earns $150
  • Auctioneer pays $70 to state or local taxing agency

Case #5 Buyer’s premium with sales tax, with no seller commission:

  • Buyer pays $1,177
  • Seller nets $1,000
  • Auctioneer earns $100
  • Auctioneer pays $77 to state or local taxing agency

Case #6 Seller commission with buyer’s premium, with no sales tax:

  • Buyer pays $1,100
  • Seller nets $850
  • Auctioneer earns $250

Case #7 Seller commission with buyer’s premium and sales tax:

  • Buyer pays $1,177
  • Seller nets $850
  • Auctioneer earns $250
  • Auctioneer pays $77 to state or local taxing agency

All these calculations assume that the auctioneer does not charge seller commission on monies earned as buyer’s premiums nor sales tax.

For example:

    If the seller commission is applied to the total the buyer pays inclusive of the buyer’s premium, the seller’s net is reduced by 1.50% (0.10×0.15).
    If the seller commission is applied to the total the buyer pays inclusive of sales tax, the seller’s net is reduced by 1.05% (0.07×0.15).
    If the seller commission is applied to the total the buyer pays inclusive of the buyer’s premium and sales tax, the seller’s net is reduced by 2.655% (((1.10×1.07)-1)x0.15).

These three preceding examples show what I think would be unusual charges if they took place. However, if the auctioneer and seller contracted as such, with the auctioneer having the seller’s knowledge and consent of this manner of charging seller commission, then it would be acceptable.

Regardless of how seller commission, sales tax and buyer’s premiums are calculated, auctioneers, clients and customers must all have knowledge of — and consent to — the exact manner in which they are in order to properly play their role in auction settlement.

Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, Keller Williams Auctions and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. His Facebook page is: www.facebook.com/mbauctioneer. He serves as Adjunct Faculty at Columbus State Community College and is Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School.