Auctioneers sell personal property at auction every day in the United States and other places around the globe. For one auctioneer, that could be a used earth mover, another a 2 carat solitaire diamond ring, another a rare oil painting, and another a box of vintage sewing patterns.
The variety of personal property at auction is as immense as the world we live in. If we assumed that there were about 2,400 live auctions in the United States every day (outside of foreclosures and other forced sales), it appears about 20% (or 480) involve real property and 80% (or 1,920) involve personal property.
If these 1,920 personal property auctions had approximately 500 lots in each, that would be nearly 1,000,000 items of personal property sold at auction every day. In a year, that would be about 360 million items.
My questioner continued, “So, what’s the future hold for someone such as you? Will you be selling personal property at auction 10 years from now? 20 years from now?” “Probably,” I replied.
So what does the future hold in regard to personal property at auction? I think the future is as bright as it has ever been. People need personal property to function in the world — they need food, clothing, furniture, appliances, transportation and the like.
Too, people seem to genetically or inherently collect and/or enjoy owning other items such as artwork, jewelry, decorative arts, toys, games … the list goes on.
As well, the world of business needs personal property to function. From items such as desks, chairs, file cabinets, copiers, printers, computers, office machines and related equipment to trucks, tractors, agricultural/industrial machines and vehicles, helicopters, airplanes and all types of specialty items.
Additionally, the agricultural industry regularly buys and sells livestock at auction. Swine, poultry, sheep, cattle, horses, fish, and virtually all other types are bought and sold at auction every day in the United States.
Further, people attend auctions to buy all kinds of things, with the intent to resell for a profit. These “dealers” place their auction purchases in storefronts, shops, in shows, online, and otherwise hoping to sell for an amount in excess their purchase price.
Which brings us to a different question: What’s changing in the personal property auction business? In other words, what’s selling well, and what isn’t and what’s the future hold?
Yes, while all personal property sells at market value at auction, some items have lost value over the past several years, while other items have increased in (or maintained) value.
Where a Zenith console stereo 8-track player sold at auction for $750 in 1983, it might demand only $1.00 (if anything) today. Where a pristine 1956 Chevrolet Belair might have demanded $500,000 at auction in 1990, today it might only demand $50,000.
However, a particular Eero Saarinen tulip style chair that sold at auction in 1990 for $75 might demand $7,000 today. And, a vintage McIntosh amplifier that sold at auction in 1981 for $50 might demand $1,000 today.
Outside of commodities (gold, silver, grain, lumber, etc.) which sells at auction commensurate with the ever-fluctuating greater world market, collectibles tend to follow another pattern. As collectors age to the point of greater financial security, they tend to collect items from their childhood influences, when they were aged 6-13.
The collector car market is a perfect example of this.
When the 6-13 year-old’s were growing up in the 1950’s, they saw the 1955, 1956 and 1957 Chevrolet automobiles which they sought to collect when they were 40-50 years old in the 1980’s and 1990’s. However, as those collectors aged, they retired, downsized, and otherwise started to sell their 1955, 1956 and 1957 Chevrolet automobiles, this creating more supply than demand and lowering prices beginning in 2000 and beyond.
Meanwhile, those growing up (6-13 years old) in the 1960’s and 1970’s were getting to the age that they wanted to collect cars from their childhood. For a Chevrolet collector, those were not 1955 Chevrolet’s, but rather more like 1967 Chevrolet’s. Thus beginning around 2001 and thereon, the prices of these cars rose substantially.
To confirm this theory even further, as I was teaching this very concept at an auctioneer continuing education class back in 2003, an attendee brought to my attention that those “1950’s and 1960’s cars” were of little interest to him, as he pulled out of his wallet a picture of a 1931 Ford. “This is what a car looks like” he proclaimed. His age at the time of this declaration (in 2003?) Eighty-four years old.
Many auctioneers are destine to sell at auction what their clients supply them. Yet, anything with immense supply tends to depress prices. As we wrote about Auctions: Is it supply or demand, once bidders and buyers see high prices of particular items at auction, they are more likely to consign those same items hoping to take advantage of those trends.
So, how’s the personal property auction business? Largely, one could say, virtually unchanged for centuries in respect to a bird’s-eye view, but ever changing otherwise, in terms of what is in more or less demand, and what is in more or less supply.
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.