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Nope. We just can’t do it. Auction bidders aren’t owed any honesty, nor integrity, and certainly not fair dealings. On the contrary, we can lie to them, not keep our word and treat them as inequitably as possible. Or, as auctioneers can we do better? We can.

First step? Be careful where you secure your advice. There are those in and around the auction business who tout that you can (and should) make your auction as seller favorable and buyer unfavorable as you can — without telling you that an auction without bidders/buyers can be a lonely place.

Most notably, we say, “Sold!” and mean it sometimes, and don’t mean it other times. We say the online auction is ending at 10:00 pm but it’s actually ending three hours earlier. We say it’s a “1963 Scuba Diver’s Helmet” and it’s not from 1963, nor is it actually a Diver’s Helmet. We hold auctions and refuse to allow the opportunity for in-person previews — because we can?

For decades auctioneers were told to say, “Sold!” and mean it. For those same decades, we were told that anything you say is an expressed warranty and that you have to stand behind it. For decades we were told that the opportunity to preview was intrinsic in the auction model. But no more … it’s all different now but it doesn’t have to be — and it shouldn’t be.

I would predict years from now, we will look back at this period of time as our darkest and possibly most concerning in the auction business. However, there is light … as, for example, Kurt Bachman‘s articles in the National Auctioneers Association magazine (Auctioneer) routinely and clearly demonstrate his intellect, reason, and insight. I would offer that Kurt is an excellent source from whom you should secure advice.

For example, we’ve written several times about the smallest increment at an absolute auction — given you are bound to sell to the highest bidder in such an auction. Kurt’s advice? For online auctions where the software may not allow that? Here’s an example of what I’m referencing:

Since the courts have not given specific guidance on this issue, the best option for auctioneers may be to avoid the issue if possible. That could be accomplished by either permitting bidding in fractions of a dollar on the website or conducting the auctions as a reserve auction with a low reserve.

“Avoid the issue if possible?” Wait, aren’t’ we being told we don’t have to avoid anything and can win a lawsuit — or even file our own lawsuit … even a frivolous one — and beat any claims? You may recall that we’ve offered staying out of court is better than winning or losing: https://mikebrandlyauctioneer.wordpress.com/2018/07/26/auctioneers-you-want-win-in-court-or-stay-out-of-court/.

I realize all this new counter-advice is shiny and somewhat bright but I would offer your instincts are likely a better guide. Where do you enjoy buying things? How do you feel when you don’t get what was advertised? Does your steakhouse immediately take back that well-done steak since you wanted medium-rare? Has a Walmart employee ever chased you into the parking lot claiming someone else actually purchased the item they sold to you?

Providing customers honesty, integrity, and fair dealings is paramount for our business as auctioneers. You can choose to ignore all of this (as some have,) but I would suggest that philosophy may contribute to your peril. Vigorous auction seller representation involves maximizing the bidder pool and thus can’t be all about the seller.

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 and Western College of Auctioneering. He is faculty at the Certified Auctioneers Institute held at Indiana University and is approved by The Supreme Court of Ohio for attorney education.