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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:

He loves me; he loves me not

We’ve all heard about or played this game, pulling petals off a flower, going back and forth. Auctioneers play this game too … often.

This is how it’s played: “Folks, a nice one here … somebody give me $100, $100, $100, well I’ve got $50, and I want $75, $75, $75, well $60, $60, $60, I’m at $50 and I want $60, well I’ve got $25 … give me $30, $30, $30 …”

What happened here? The auctioneer was asking someone to bid $75 because he HAD a bid of $50. He apparently couldn’t get $75, so he asked someone to bid $60 because he HAD a bid of $50 … but still didn’t get a bid, so, suddenly the $50 bid went away.

This technique of “he loves me; he loves me not” is played and works especially well when bidders rely on other bidders to help them determine value. If I don’t know what his “nice one here” is worth, I just might bid $60 if I believe someone else is really on at $50 and therefore thinks the “nice one here” is worth $50.

Legally, per adoption of the UCC 2-328, this unethical bid calling technique is certainly not illegal — if the auctioneer considers that aforementioned $50 bid his own bid. If it is his bid, then he has the right, as all bidders do prior to the “completion of the sale,” to retract his bid.

However, I think one could make a case that if an auctioneer did this all day long … which many auctioneers do, this constitutes misrepresentation at best, and possibly fraud at worst. Could an auctioneer argue that he was genuinely bidding on every item, and then on every item, he retracted his bid — for no other reason than nobody else would bid more?

Unethical bid calling? Yes. Creative? Yes. Illegal? Probably not given that most auctioneers would argue, under questioning, that those starting bids were theirs. Otherwise, possibly illegal technique.

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.