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As most all know who work in the auction business, there are two types of ringmen: product ringmen and bid assistant ringmen (and those who perform both duties.)

Now, before we discuss this particular subject of, “sellable position,” we’ll talk about what a ringman normally does.

Ringmen work the live auction ring; they …

  • Assist the auctioneer in holding up what is selling
  • Point to what is selling
  • Point to who has the bid or who is out
  • Look for other bidders
  • Get the next item ready for bids
  • Consult with bidders about what the bid is, and what the auctioneer wants (or is saying)
  • Help the clerk or other auction staff
  • Help bidders (customers) with other questions

In other words, ringmen are essential staff for virtually any live auction event.

In discussing ringmen duties the other day, we heard in great detail about another ringman duty:

    Getting the property into a, “sellable position.”

Here’s the gist of that conversation:

    “When I’m working the ring, I don’t do anything as important as get the property into “sellable position.” It’s my job to [pretend to] take bids from other bidders [when they don’t exist], and push the bid up to an amount so that the next bid will buy the property.
    The other day, we we only had one bidder at a real estate auction, and the property was not selling for enough, so I took bids off the mailbox until we got the bid where it needed to be. I don’t remember [although it was just “the other day?”] but if we got another bid, it actually sold, or otherwise our auctioneer just said, “Sold!” but it didn’t.”

Oh really? That’s a ringman’s duty? Well, of course we’re familiar with the subject.

While we recognize that there are “with reserve” auctions where the seller, or someone on behalf the seller, is permitted to bid — and while we also recognize that sellers may bid at forced sales — we find this practice described above as misrepresentative, unethical in nature, and dishonest behavior, which is considered illegal in the United States.

In the above scenario, this ringman is taking bids from a mailbox in order to make the other bidder or bidders believe there are other legitimate bidders present and participating.

This is akin to our story about “The Drop Off,”

Auctioneers have struggled for centuries to gain creditability and professional status. However, this type of behavior apparently still goes on which erodes consumer confidence in the auction profession.

With the right for the seller to bid, auctioneers and ringmen continue to abuse this right by inferring that someone else is bidding, when in fact it’s the seller — or legally couched in the right for someone to bid on behalf of the seller.

If the seller is bidding, bidders have a right to know that. It is materially different if the seller is bidding versus if another legitimate bidder is bidding. To act as if another bidder is bidding, while actually bidding for the seller, constitutes misrepresentation and most likely fraud.

If this above real property auction had a reserve of $75,000 and the bid was only $25,000, why not just tell the $25,000 bidder that the reserve hasn’t been met, and the reserve is $75,000?

Maybe a better question is, “Why was this being sold at auction at all?” If the bid is only $25,000 and the reserve is $75,000, quite possibly this seller isn’t (wasn’t) a good auction candidate, or inadequate marketing was done to attract potential buyers, or both?

It seems to us that in order to get property into “sellable position,” the seller should have been counseled that the $75,000 reserve was unlikely to be met, or made necessary improvements in the property to increase its market value — and/or more marketing was needed to attract appropriate bidders.

In other words, the time to get any property into “sellable position” is before the auction, not during the auction.

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 serves as Adjunct Faculty at Columbus State Community College and is Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School.