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A few years ago, the National Auctioneers Association International Auctioneer Championship (IAC) posed this question to contestants. Let’s explore here the answer.

For our discussion, we are referring to bid calling as the usually rapid oral exchange with bidders, accepting bids, and asking for further bids, ultimately declaring the subject property sold.

Obviously, this bid calling would require proper authority from the seller (owner) of the subject property to permit the bid caller to place the seller in contract with the high bidder. In most jurisdictions, and always prudent, a written contract between the seller and the bid caller would be necessary, outlining this authority along with other terms of the engagement.

Sometimes bid calling is performed for an entity other than the seller (owner) directly. In cases such as this, an individual or company has contracted with a seller (the contractee) to sell certain items at auction. Then, the contractor hires the bid caller to actually perform the oral exchange with the bidders (with the contractee’s consent.) Most would conclude this type of situation describes a “contract bid caller” or “subcontract bid caller.”

  • Is an auctioneer a bid caller? It is fair to say that most people in the United States consider an “auctioneer” to be a “bid caller.” However, there are people in the auction business who don’t bid call. This is either by choice (as they sell online only, hire others to do it for them, or are retired) and/or by necessity (as they feel they are unable).

So what is the difference between an auctioneer and a bid caller? I can imagine such a conversation:

  • “I’m an auctioneer …” “So, you are a bid caller?” “Yes, sure I call bids.”
  • “I’m a bid caller …” “So, you are an auctioneer?” “Yes, I’m an auctioneer.”

It seems clear to me that an auctioneer is essentially a bid caller. If someone is solely hiring others to bid call on behalf of his clients, or only selling items online, rather than live with bid calling, or not bid calling otherwise, then he is not acting such that the public would (or, possibly should) perceive he is an auctioneer.

This is distinctly different from someone saying they are in the auction business, selling by auction, operating an auction company, operating an auction platform, hosting an auction website, taking items to sell at auction, being an auction manager, and so forth.

My observation is that selling something by the auction method of marketing does not make that someone an auctioneer. However, someone who is bid calling at an auction is most definitely an auctioneer. It is noteworthy that in many jurisdictions, someone who is bid calling is holding themselves out as an auctioneer and would require the proper licensing as an auctioneer.

Some have suggested that a bid caller isn’t an auctioneer because they are somehow less in stature than a full-fledged auctioneer. It would seem that this argument rests on minimizing the act of bid calling, and claiming auctioneering is much more than just bid calling.

I would agree that for most auctioneers, there are many tasks involved in conducting an auction other than bid calling. Advertising has to be placed, staff has to be hired and trained, terms and conditions have to be prepared, property has to be readied, and of course the client has to be maintained.

Yet, what if this same auctioneer, who regularly does all these other tasks, is hired to bid call for a large equipment auction in Mexico? Is he then only a bid caller, and not an auctioneer because all he’s doing is bid calling? I think that’s a tough argument that suddenly this person isn’t an auctioneer anymore. In fact, if this person only did contract work bid calling, I would suggest he would still be an auctioneer.

Could a so-called bid caller do marketing, hiring, preparing, and readying? I know of no particular rules that prohibit bid callers from doing more than bid calling. In our aforementioned large equipment auction in Mexico, if the hired bid caller is suddenly needed to ring, clerk, or help with client relations, does he suddenly become an auctioneer?

The argument that an auctioneer and a bid caller are two distinctly different occupations seems equivocal.

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