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I walked out of my last day of auction school many years ago … and among my many fond memories, I recalled registering bidders with the same terms and saying “Sold!” to the actual highest registered bidder and meaning it. In fact, many auctioneers I’ve worked for have this same sense of proper procedure.

More recently, however, as understand it, auctioneers can register literally “anyone” and then put the lot up for auction and sell it to “anyone?” Yes, it seems hard to comprehend, but that’s the news I’m reading … it’s entirely up to the auctioneer who to allow to bid, and then entirely up to the auctioneer to decide who to sell to — independent of price.

The auction industry had a robust and well-established history until about 2015. Thereafter, the auction community has been told about capricious arbitrary registration policies, along with missed, tied, disputed, mistaken, and “good faith” bidders. Sure a different world than it was when I began working in the auction industry.

If our industry is going to survive, it seems to me we’re going to have to “tighten the reigns” a bit and return to establishing registration requirements prior to the auction and saying “Sold!” to the actual highest registered bidder and meaning it. I know bidders and buyers will appreciate this plan, thus benefiting our sellers.

In fact, a court in West Virginia (Alex Lyon & Son, Sales Managers and Auctioneers, Inc. v. Leach, 844 S.E.2d 120 (W.Va. 2020)) confirmed a similar lower-court ruling that goes a long way in regard to righting the ship. Further, I’m glad to report that I’m seeing other courts rule in more reasonable ways lately.

The argument that auctions should be complex, confusing, inconsistent, and unpredictable defies what consumers want. Consumers long for easy, understandable, consistent, and predictable ways to buy things; as such, more bidders participate, thus benefitting the auction seller.

I’m waiting for that major court case where an auctioneer and/or seller are sued because an auctioneer refused to reopen the bid “while the hammer is falling in acceptance of a prior bid …” As we’ve noted, there are so far four (4) such material cases where the auctioneer did reopen the bid in this circumstance: https://mikebrandlyauctioneer.wordpress.com/2021/06/10/court-cases-and-one-important-lesson/.

As an auctioneer, you are free to make your auctions (with your seller’s knowledge and consent) as complex and difficult as you desire — but there is no doubt bidders/buyers are looking for easy, understandable, consistent, and predictable — with less (but maybe some) friction between them and what they want to purchase.

I noted “friction” in that some degree of required effort may be a good thing. While easy, understandable, etc. are worthy goals, could an auction be too painless? We explored some time ago here: https://mikebrandlyauctioneer.wordpress.com/2014/12/24/our-frictionless-auction-environment/.

However, why do we need to reopen bids and treat bidders capriciously and arbitrarily? Why do we continue to do things when there are lawsuits which clearly suggest we shouldn’t? Why do we provide bidders (and as such, sellers) with far too much pain just because we can?

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.