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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 Red Herring

This technique is typically used in combination with the “Run, Run, Run” technique, or other similar bidder abuses.

The auctioneer using this technique is caught, only to his knowledge (but probably his staffs’ knowledge as well,) however, that he has run the bid and is “on” himself, rather than having a genuine bidder “in” at the current high bid amount. At this point, The Red Herring technique is used to divert attention from this high bid. For example:

“I have $100 (genuine bidder), give me $125, thank you (false bid), now $150, $150, $150, $150, got it (genuine bidder), now $175, $175, I’m at $150 and I want $175, got it (false bid) and now $200, $200, $200, I’m at $175, and I want $200, $200, $200 … how about $185? $185, $185, well $180, $180, $180? I’m at $175 and I want $180, $180, $180 …”

The auctioneer in the above example is caught running the bid and is on at $175 hoping someone will outbid him at $200, or $185, or even $180, but there are no takers. So, The Red Herring appears …

“Folks, let’s hold up here as I have to tell you I had a pocket knife of a very similar color as this one as a kid … remember that Earl, when we used to go out to the woods, and you had your knife, and I had mine … boy, where those the days … Now, where was I?”

The clerk or ringman, who is undoubtedly familiar with The Red Herring says, “Bob, you had him at $150!” “Oh that’s right, I had you at $150 (a genuine bidder, who was on at $150 but was outbid by the auctioneer [really, nobody,] but has since forgot, and was successfully diverted by The Red Herring story) now, $175, $175, $175 …”

The Red Herring is a story used to hide a retraction by the auctioneer, who was representing to the crowd that a bid for $175 had indeed been made. Retractions are allowed in auctions; however, this previous $175 bid was not really a bid, but just a represented amount bid in order to hopefully require the other bidder to bid more, such as $200, $185, or even $180.

Unethical bid calling? Yes. Creative? Yes. Illegal? Most likely yes, although difficult to prove, as the auctioneer is essentially pleading a level of forgetfulness.

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.