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Auctioneers use a variety of marketing platforms — techniques — to advertise and promote property. Today, auctioneers use newspapers, magazines, periodicals, postcards, fliers, letters, email, websites, social media, radio, television and signs to advertise auctions.

Many auctioneers find that signs actually are one of the most important (if not the most important) advertising mediums. A recent survey I saw indicated the sign in the yard, particularly for real estate auctions, attributed upwards of 50% of the auction day traffic.

Interestingly, of our advertising mediums mentioned earlier, the sign is practically the only one which is highly regulated. auctionsign

Cities, towns, townships, communities, and other political subdivisions all over the United States regulate sign usage. No sign over “3 feet square,” no sign “in the yard,” no sign “over 5 feet high,” and many instances of no “signs at all,” for example.

Yet, can a political subdivision prohibit an auction sign altogether? It appears not.

In the Supreme Court of the United States case Linmark Associates, Inc., v. Township of Willingboro, 431 U.S. 85 (1977) the Court ruled that a real estate sign (and like signs) constitute protected commercial speech. In other words, they can’t be prohibited.

But just because the Supreme Court of the United States says something is law, it doesn’t mean states or local jurisdictions follow that law; similarly deed restrictions in violation of the Federal Fair Housing Act are still being written every day …

What is an auctioneer to do? If a local ordinance, deed restriction or other covenant or condition prohibits an auction sign, the auctioneer is faced with being denied the protected right of commercial speech. Certainly the local governing body could be noticed that their regulation is in conflict with the Supreme Court of the United States?

With the importance of signs, maybe the cost of a fine or penalty is outweighed by the benefit? Auctions are fairly time efficient events — maybe the sign would be up and back down before any material action could be taken?

Lastly, laws or rulings such as this can be further regulated so long as those additional rules don’t create an “undue burden” to the rights the original law provides. For instance, the 2nd Amendment is said to allow anyone to “keep and bear arms,” but the government can require in some cases a background check approval or restrict otherwise so long as those laws do not create an undue burden to the right to keep and bear.

Have an auction coming up? Want to put a sign up to advertise? With possibly some restrictions on size or placement, chances are in the United States, you have the right to place a sign as dictated by the Supreme Court of the United States.

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 Hondros College of Business, Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School and Faculty at the Certified Auctioneers Institute held at Indiana University.