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I teach a class on Auctioneer Ethics, and have so all across the United States.

Most recently in Indiana, with a group of nearly 100 auctioneers I was asked (during the class) how ethical I thought auctioneers were.

It should be noted that the class prompts the participants to compare auctioneering to other occupations, and discuss what makes any occupation perceived as ethical.

Only then do we look back at auctioneering to gauge how the auctioneering field matches that criteria.

Typically, the attendees express that based on data presented in the class, there are some patterns in regard to who is perceived ethical versus unethical:

  • People paid a salary are more ethical than those on commission.
  • People with more education are more ethical than those with less.
  • People with jobs portrayed as ethical on television are more ethical than those who are not.
  • People in the personal-care industry are more ethical than those who are not.
  • People who provide a service are more ethical than those who provide a product.
  • People who are paid indirectly are more ethical than those paid directly.
  • People who have more consistent contact with a client are more ethical than those who may only have one contact.
  • People in non-sales jobs are more ethical than those in sales jobs.

Using these criteria, groups of auctioneers around the United States usually make two conclusions:

  1. They believe auctioneers are generally ethical.
  2. The data suggests that the public probably disagrees.

For that auctioneer (or auctioneers) who wanted to know my opinion, it is largely the same. I believe auctioneers are on the whole very ethical, and much more ethical now than they were 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago.

Yet, I look at the data (drawn from USA Today, Gallup Organization, CNN, National Association of Attorneys General reports, and other data) and see the same patterns, and conclusions — that the public generally doesn’t perceive auctioneers as ethical.

The reasons for this latter conclusion are fairly straightforward.

Auctioneers are:

  • In the sales field
  • Paid mostly on commission (and usually directly)
  • Required to have little or no formal education
  • Not in the personal-care industry in contrast to nurses, doctors, teachers, pharmacists …
  • Typically involved with one client only one time

On the other hand, auctioneers are generally perceived on television today as ethical and do provide more of a service than a product. So, it’s not 100% unethical, but certainly not 100% ethical based on that analysis.

How ethical are auctioneers? I think very ethical. How ethical are auctioneers perceived? That’s the more important question.

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.