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I’ve decided to start a series of posts on what I would characterize as creative, unethical, and probably illegal bid calling techniques I’ve witnessed over the years. While I believe most all auctioneers act in an ethical, moral and legal manner, there are some auctioneers acting the opposite, while bid calling, and it is quite concerning.

Standard bid calling in the United States involves the auctioneer suggesting a price a bidder might bid, the bidder bidding that amount, and then the auctioneer asking for a higher bid. Commonly, these two numbers (what is bid, and what is desired) are called the “have” and the “want.”

For example, an auctioneer might say, “I would like $100 for this item,” and as a bidder raises his card, the auctioneer would continue, “I have $100, and I’d like $125 …” and so forth.

However, way too many auctioneers (even if that was only 1) bid call in creative, unethical and probably illegal fashions. Here’s the one we’re discussing today:

The Have/Want Shuffle

In this scheme, the auctioneer is using old-English style bid calling, where instead of suggesting a bid to the audience, he is repeating what bid he already has, and asking for, “any advance?”

For example, in the United States, most all auctioneers get a bid for $100 and then ask the crowd, “give me $125.”  In England, and some other parts of Europe, auctioneers get a bid for $100 and then ask the crowd, “any advance?”  In the latter, if a hand goes up, the auctioneer says, “I have $125, any advance?” and so forth.

I was quite surprised to be in the Midwest United States hearing old-English style bid calling, but even more surprised why I was hearing it.  Because, in part, the auctioneer was able to do what I call the “Have/Want Shuffle.”

Here’s how it works:  All day, the auctioneer is noting the crowd what he “has.”  “I have $100, $100, $100 …” and then a hand goes up, and he would say, “Now I’m at $125, $125, $125 …”  No problem here — so far — other than this is terribly unconventional in the United States.

The shuffle works to increase bids artificially.  The auctioneer says, only occasionally, “I have $100, $100, give me $125, $125 …” and a hand goes up.  At this point, the auctioneer says, “I have $150, $150, $150 …”  In other words, the bidder was put in one increment above what the auctioneer “wanted,” and two increments above what the auctioneer already “had.”

I witnessed this just the other day, and have to admit that I’m not sure the ploy was intentional the entire auction, but nonetheless, it was prevalent.   Even more importantly, however, I don’t think even one other bidder sensed what was going on.

Unethical bid calling? Yes. Creative? Yes. Illegal? Maybe not, but certainly open to civil cases where bidders are put in contract for amounts they didn’t actually bid.

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.