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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 chicken or the egg?

Which did come first? The chicken that laid the egg, or the egg that cracked open to reveal a chicken? Some have pondered this for centuries. In bid calling, however, which comes first? The bid or the bid amount?

Typically, auctioneers are asking what they would entertain (and likely accept) as the next bid. “I have $1,000 and would like $1,100 …” is an invitation for someone to raise their bidder card and immediately be put in as the high bidder at $1,100. Contractually, the bidder is actually offering the $1,100 and the auctioneer is accepting.

What is interesting is that at several auctions I’ve attended over the years, there are bidders holding up their bid cards before the “want” amount is being announced. For example, “I have $1,000 [and the auctioneer is about to say he would like $1,100, however at this moment another bidder’s card is raised before he says $1,100] I would like $1,500, thank you, and now $1,750 …”

If we consider the normal way bid calling takes place, the auctioneer would suggest a number, and the next bidder is acknowledging that he will indeed offer that amount, and there is more or less automatic acceptance. Let’s call that the chicken then the egg.

In the egg then the chicken, the bidder actually bids first, and then since the auctioneer has agreement to bid at the next increment, the auctioneer raises the increment amount in order to obtain a higher bid at the expense of the impatient and/or untrained bidder.

Contracts require competent parties, consideration, and mutual assent. Clearly, when a bid is made before an amount is determined, there is likely no mutual assent. Not much different than someone making an offer to buy your house, but leaving the purchase price blank — for you to fill in. Would a seller be tempted to fill in a bit higher amount given the choice? Would that contract be enforceable? Certainly not.

This is eerily similar to the Have/Want Shuffle when auctioneers use Old English style bid calling technique to trick bidders.

Unethical bid calling? Yes. Creative? Yes. Illegal? Most likely yes, although possibly more applicable in a civil action than criminal.

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.