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The question regarded personal property left at an auction house that didn’t sell because the final bids did not meet nor exceed the reserves. Apparently, the property is still sitting there and the auctioneer can’t get in contact with his or her client.

I would suggest there’s one of three possible problems here:

  1. Selling any personal property with a reserve.
  2. Selling any personal property with reserves far too high.
  3. Selling anything without a provision in the contract about any leftover property.

First, when selling personal property, it demands far more attention and most likely high prices selling without reserve. Secondly, auctioneers should be particularly good at discerning any personal property with reserves in excess of market value. Third, why isn’t there a provision in the contract concerning this situation?

Of course, if you are selling personal property with reserve, and there’s property not meeting nor exceeding those reserves and you don’t have any provision in your contract concerning … what do you do now?

Some have suggested this situation might constitute mislaid (or misplaced) or abandoned property. We wrote about lost, mislaid, and abandoned property here: https://mikebrandlyauctioneer.wordpress.com/2017/12/28/auctions-with-lost-misplaced-and-or-abandoned-property/.

In the case of mislaid or misplaced personal property, if the owner doesn’t return to retrieve within a reasonable time, it becomes property of the owner of the real property where the personal property is located.

In the case of abandoned personal property, if the owner doesn’t return to retrieve within a reasonable time, it generally becomes the property of the person who finds it, although some states say such property escheats to the state.

Actually, I’m not completely convinced this is mislaid, misplaced, or automatically abandoned, as this property was acquired in an agency relationship, and more so a consignment (and necessarily not a bailment.) Agents taking consignments are bound to protect (account) for property and the like put in their care.

However, care has its limits as “reasonable care” is also a duty of agency … and if this property has been stored for weeks or months, with no response to emails, phone calls, text messages, certified mail, etc. then it looks like abandoned is the best fit here.

Auctioneers should first endeavor to avoid this type of situation. Next, given these circumstances, auctioneers should document and retain a complete record of attempts to contact the client concerning any leftover property and give the past client at minimum a reasonable (or more) time to retrieve.

If such subject property is not retrieved within a reasonable time following notice, it would seem to us the auctioneer could discard, keep, sell — or whatever (unless it escheats by state law) — at that point as if the property belonged to the auctioneer.

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, and an Instructor at the National Auctioneers Association’s Designation Academy He is faculty at the Certified Auctioneers Institute held at Indiana University and is approved by The Supreme Court of Ohio for attorney education.