Auctions and a “level playing field”


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It’s unfortunate that yet again we have to note that horrible advice was fortunately countered by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals in 2020. In that ruling, auction bidders are to be held to a “level playing field.”

The case was Alex Lyon & Son, Sales Managers and Auctioneers, Inc. v. Leach, 844 S.E.2d 120 (W.Va. 2020) and we’ve written extensively about this including here:

We also encourage you to read the National Auctioneers Association (NAA) blog ( including a post addressing this topic:

In that analysis, we note the NAA states:

On the other hand, bidders at a real estate auction are on a level playing field. Auction bidders are fully aware of other buyers’ offers, and all bidders must abide by the same terms and conditions. Typically, auction companies conduct bidding either at the property or in an online-only auction.”

How Real Estate Auctions Help Buyers in a Seller’s Market

Yes, this case was resolved in 2020, but still today my phone rings. “Can I …?” “But I’ve heard that …” “Is it possible for me to …” Generally, the auctioneer (or attorney) has the facts somewhat conflated.

To summarize, a “level playing field” involves all bidders agreeing to the terms and conditions (real or personal property) prior to the auction, and nobody’s bid is to be accepted if they don’t. Could the terms say “Cash only?” Could the terms say “Cash or check?” Either would be acceptable.

Further, these terms and conditions would apply by lot (“auction” — per the UCC 2-328). It’s not uncommon that a 1,000-lot chattel auction has the same terms and conditions for all lots, but it’s not required. Real property is no different in this regard.

What to do? Set your terms that both endeavor to protect your seller from unwanted bidders and allow all desired participants. Set those terms when the auction (lot) is first advertised, and don’t change them thereafter.

Lastly, be ever skeptical when you’re told it’s in your interest to be unreasonable. Being reasonable is almost always in your interest.

Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, CAS, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, Brandly Real Estate & Auction, and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. He serves as Distinguished Faculty at Hondros College, Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School, and an Instructor at the National Auctioneers Association’s Designation Academy and Western College of Auctioneering. He has served as faculty at the Certified Auctioneers Institute held at Indiana University and is approved by The Supreme Court of Ohio for attorney education.