A curious auction claim — and a “slip of the tongue”


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We receive many calls about alleged auctioneer misconduct. Here is the gist of such a phone call a few months ago … and we enlist Omar Sharif for help.

As Mr. Sharif knew well, in American Contract Bridge rules, bids by players which are deemed inadvertent (a slip of the mind, slip of the tongue) are permitted to be corrected if there is no “pause for thought.” A bid of 4 Diamonds might should have been 4 Hearts, for example.

How could this same principle become an issue for an auctioneer? Auctioneers conducting live auctions typically talk fast. As such, it’s not all that unusual for an auctioneer to express a number out of sequence, or otherwise say one thing, but mean something else, and quickly correct.

For instance, what if an auctioneer had a bid of $550,000 and was asking $560,000 — and in the heat of the moment, asked $650,000, quickly and without pause for thought correcting this ask to $560,000? Yet, a bidder happened to hear the $650,000 and not the correction and didn’t bid — only later learning the next bid could have been $560,000 which he was prepared to pay.

In our proposed situation here, the bidder cries foul, citing that his assumption was that the next bid (advance) had to be $100,000 more … and thus he didn’t bid … rather than the $10,000 advance which he would have bid. Of course the auctioneer/seller counters that the wrong number was promptly corrected without pause for thought.

I like the auctioneer’s chances in this … let’s say unlikely litigation. Just as in American Contract Bridge, these things happen and if corrected promptly and without pause for thought — such restatements stand. Further, it is almost assuredly the bidder’s responsibility to recognize the required increments at that price and listen for such rephrasing.

Further, and more importantly, bidders can (although rarely do) retract their bid. This is permitted per state law (UCC 2-328 as adopted.) Therefore in our example, a $650,000 bidder realizing his bid was rather to be $560,000 could retract, and then bid again. Similarly, who isn’t familiar with the eBay message “Entered wrong amount?”

Too, bids do not merely need to be an agreement or acquiesce of the auctioneer-suggested next bid. Bidders can as well offer (bid) a desired amount so long as it exceeds the current bid. However, only in a without reserve (absolute) auction is the auctioneer obligated to accept if adequately delivered.

Lastly, bidders are advised to check with ring personnel and/or the auctioneer if any clarification is desired on the current bid amount or what is the next bid desired. In fact — with a question regarding — we would deem this the bidder’s responsibility to question, rather than specifically the auctioneer’s job to (overly and/or repeatedly) explain.

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, RES Auction Services and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. He serves as Distinguished Faculty at Hondros College of Business, Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School, an Instructor at the National Auctioneers Association’s Designation Academy and Faculty at the Certified Auctioneers Institute held at Indiana University.