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Today we discuss children at auctions. What we mean by that is children attending and/or participating in a live auction, and to some extent an online auction as well. Every day all over the United States, children (individuals under the age of 18) attend and participate in auctions.

And it would be hard to find an auctioneer who wouldn’t want children exposed to the auction method of marketing. In fact, it’s likely those hiring auctioneers today are people who as children were exposed to auctions.

However, to what extent is that attendance and/or participation advisable? Our answer is: only to some extent. Relatedly, we discussed auctioneers under the age of 18 here: https://mikebrandlyauctioneer.wordpress.com/2010/05/03/auctioneers-younger-than-18/

First, let’s analyze attendance. Most all auctions are suitable for children to attend, except:

    1. Rolling stock auctions, including cars, often involve large items being moved about and are frequently not suitable for children.
    2. Auctions with high valued breakable items are sometimes not suitable for children.
    3. Some auctions are designed around the crowd being quiet, and are often not suitable for children.
    4. Auctions of a commercial nature, with large machines or the like turned-on and working are not suitable for children.
    5. Many insurance policies issued for commercial or industrial auctions requires that no one under the age of 18 is permitted on the auction premises.
    6. Any children — at any auction — who would cause a material distraction to the auction’s general proceedings would be unsuitable to be in attendance.

Secondly, let’s analyze participation. Most all auctions are not suitable for children to participate in, as auctions involve a series of contracts — and valid contracts must have two or more competent parties (aged 18 or older.)

Therefore, even if a minor (aged less than 18) bid or otherwise participated in an auction, the contract would be voidable by the minor.

For instance, if the high bidder on a $5,000 diamond ring was a young woman or young man aged 16, all either child would have to do is say he or she didn’t want to complete the transaction (pay, for example) and the contract for $5,000 would become void.

Worse yet for an auctioneer and/or seller, even if the young woman or young man paid for the ring, either could come back later and successfully demand their money back.

Some say that children can indeed bid as they are bidding for their parents, and as such bind a competent party to a contract. However, if the parent doesn’t consent to the bidding at the time the bid is placed, the child is essentially acting as an agent for their parent — which would also require he or she was 18 or older — and the contract (if formed) is only formed with the child.

However, despite there being some instances where children are not suitable, and the legal/contractual matters with minors … having children exposed to the auction method of marketing is important for our industry to be appreciated by future generations.

In conclusion, given there are some issues with children attending auctions, and a multitude of issues with children participating in auctions, maybe the best scenario is if children are permitted to attend an auction, they are encouraged to tell their parents about property they hope their parents buy … for them?

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. He serves as Adjunct Faculty at Columbus State Community College, Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School and Faculty at the Certified Auctioneers Institute held at Indiana University.