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How is speed measured in the live auction business? How many hours did the auction take? How many items sold in an average hour? How many per minute? Yes, all those are measures auctioneers use.

With the advent of online bidding, some are arguing that the computer-assisted bidders can slow down an auction. Some argue bidders who bid by phone also have this same effect of slowing down the auction.

I disagree with both these statements. I don’t believe the computer bidders, phone bidders or even any of the live bidders have the ability to mandate the auction move slower. I would argue it is the auctioneer who has control over the speed in which property is sold.

So, how are some auctioneers slowed by computer bidding (or phone bidding?) They are slowed because the computer (or telephone) requires a bit more time for information to pass to the bidder, and then for information to pass back to the auctioneer. And, computer bidders are probably, on the whole expecting the auctioneer to wait until their decision is made, and therefore don’t bid as quick as a live bidder.

Nevertheless, who’s decision is it to wait another 2 seconds for a computer bidder to decide to bid? It is up to the auctioneer, not the bidder. For that matter, who decides how long to wait for a live bidder to bid? Same answer.

Two ways in which auctioneers allow auctions to slow — no matter where the bids are coming from (live, phone, computer, another planet, or elsewhere):

  • The auctioneer gives the bidders who are out too much time to decide
  • The auctioneer uses too small of increments in his chant

On these two points, the first is merely asking, for example, “I have $2,500 and I want $2,600, $2,600, $2,600, $2,600, $2,600 … $2,600 … $2,600 …” and so forth. Conceivably the auctioneer could ask for an hour for someone to raise the current bid of $2,500 to $2,600, but that’s his decision, not the bidders’ decision.

On the second point, if an auctioneer is selling a 10 Carat Solitaire Diamond Ring, D color, VVS1 clarity and has a bid of $35,000 and is asking $35,001 that would generally be considered too small of a increment at that stage of the bidding. The bidding could continue for quite some time by taking $1.00 bid increments up to, say $45,000, and thus would slow the auction. Again here, this would be the auctioneer’s decision, not the bidders’ [a note here, that at an absolute auction, any increase must be accepted, or that might constitute a reserve].

Just how fast are some auctioneers when they are selling chattels? Many auctioneers sell at a pace of 2 items per minute (120 per hour) and some sell upwards of 200 items per hour. Of course, there are auctioneers who sell slower; maybe 1 item per minute, or 60 per hour.

An interesting distinction here: Ground speed versus engine speed.

Ever heard an auctioneer talking really fast? Sure you have, and that’s what is called engine speed. It’s how fast that auctioneer’s “engine is running.” As you know, a car can be sitting still, with its engine racing, and this happens at auctions as well. An auctioneer can be talking really fast, but this doesn’t dictate how fast items are sold.

Items sold per minute, or hour, is called ground speed. Ground speed is independent of engine speed, as your car could be coasting down a steep hill, with the engine at idle, but going really fast. Auctioneers can do this too, by taking slowly (slow engine speed), but sell an item every 15 seconds.

Next time you’re at a live auction, notice the auctioneer’s ground speed (how quickly items are sold,) and engine speed (how quickly the auctioneer talks.) After you listen to a few different auctioneers, you’ll probably see one of these four combinations:

  • Fast engine speed, fast ground speed
  • Fast engine speed, slow ground speed
  • Slow engine speed, fast ground speed
  • Slow engine speed, slow ground speed

Lastly, some believe that the faster the auctioneer goes, the less money the seller will receive. In other words, if the auctioneer went slower and repeatedly asked for more money, he would get it, and therefore net his client better results. This is generally false.

If an auction has 1,000 lots and auctioneer A is selling an item every 2 minutes, where auctioneer B is selling an item every 30 seconds — it’s quite likely auctioneer B will receive more money for his client. Why? Because at auctioneer A’s auction, his bidders will eventually leave, growing tired of waiting around — less bidders, less money. Too, at a quicker paced auction, more emotion is involved, and quick buying decisions are more likely “yes” than “no.”

What is the speed of an auction? It’s up to the auctioneer.

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.face book.com/mbauctioneer. He is Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School.