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It’s always been difficult — to some extent — to buy things. However today, buyers must have the money, search out what they are looking for … and click to buy it, pretty much. That is, except at auction.

I’ve been a long-standing advocate for auctioneers to join the 21st century — simpler, more equitable terms and conditions. Yet, complex, one-sided, inequitable terms abound in my industry. In fact, sometimes the terms and conditions are so long and complex it’s advised bidders/buyers seek legal counsel:

Let it be understood that the auctioneer advises all potential buyers to seek legal counsel if for any reason they do not understand any part of the auction’s terms and conditions.

Your terms and conditions as such are possibly so complex that I may need an attorney to interpret? If there was ever a reason to shop elsewhere … consumers shouldn’t need legal counsel to buy things these days … and they largely don’t … even cars and homes are being sold without complexity nor attorneys.

The entire terms and conditions for this personal property auction included 3,592 words. Yes, three thousand five hundred ninety-two words. I guess I might need an attorney after all? Actually, I won’t, I’ll find what I’m looking for somewhere else.

Of course, this auction is not requiring I seek out attorney guidance, but I’m guessing that if there is any sort of dispute — and I don’t show evidence of my use of an attorney — that I’m on the losing end. My attorney charges about $600 per hour so maybe I should look at this as a type of additional “buyer’s premium?”

And how many people will really seek out their attorney’s opinion of an auction’s terms and conditions? This seems as minimum a clear way to counter virtually any claim of misrepresentation or the like. While this may deter claims, it will likely deter participation as well.

3,592 words is far from the most words in an auction’s/auctioneer’s terms and conditions. We’ve moved from maybe one paragraph of terms 50 years ago — if any — to pages and pages of terms while the rest of the world has moved to simpler.

Of course, do companies like Amazon have terms and conditions? They sure do and they are extensive, but the actual buying process is almost seamless and for most the terms and conditions are not relevant.

Are auctions largely different? Indeed, selling property “as-is” and “where-is” with no guarantee nor warranty and no return/exchange policy. Sound like Amazon? Not hardly. We wrote more about this here: https://mikebrandlyauctioneer.wordpress.com/2018/10/22/id-rather-buy-from-amazon-than-at-auction-is-it-any-wonder/.

Here’s our challenge as auctioneers. Can we make our buying experience better, easier, simpler while still protecting ourselves and our seller? I think we can … in fact I think it’s in our interest to do so.

Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, CAS, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, RES Auction Services and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. He serves as Distinguished Faculty at Hondros College, Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School, an Instructor at the National Auctioneers Association’s Designation Academy and America’s Auction Academy. He is faculty at the Certified Auctioneers Institute held at Indiana University and is approved by the The Supreme Court of Ohio for attorney education.