Something About an Auction

Reader Contribution by Lois Hoffman
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There is just something about going to an auction. The excitement, the hunt of what you will find, and how good of deal you can get on an item. Auctions benefit the buyer and the seller alike. There are, literally, some “professional auction goers” who can be found at nearly every auction in an area. Some do it for resale and some do it to add to their own collections of … whatever.

I, myself, am not an auction person. Perhaps I got tainted on them from  going with Jim to farm and antique auctions. It doesn’t matter what he found that he wanted, it would inevitably be the last item sold. Perhaps it is because I am short on patience sometimes, but my idea of shopping is to buy it at the moment I see it. They do, however, provide an excellent opportunity to sell at a fair price — whatever someone is willing to pay.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to an auctioneer, Darrel Hartman, and get an idea of what it is like “on the other side of the fence.”  He is a seasoned auctioneer and there is no doubt that he enjoys what he does. He used to do auctions on his own but now works for Lestinsky Auctions, admitting that it is easier to let someone else have the headaches while he can still do what he likes.

One of the biggest things he stressed about auctions was the fact that prices reflect what items are really worth based on the value people place on various items. Many times, stores inflate prices and consumers have no choice. At auctions, the people actually set the prices.

It used to be that an auction was an auction. That has changed in that there are more specialty auctions now.  There are the general consignment auctions where anything goes, the farm auction where land is sold, and estate auctions where household wares and other personal items are auctioned after a person passes or simply because they wants to downsize. But then, there are the specialty auctions such as motorsports, gun, jewelry, and sports memorabilia.

“The key to an auction’s success is to have a specialty item, something that will attract the crowd,” Darrel says. “This is something that is unique, not a lot of them around. Anything that is different will definitely draw people and the more people that you draw, the better it is because it seems that when one person wants something, everyone wants it.”

There is also the interaction between people. “You have to be a people person to be an auctioneer,” Darrel says, laughing. “Many times when they bring items for you to sell, there is a story that goes with it. It’s interesting to see where an item came from and how it got to where it is today and sometimes relating that story strikes a cord with the buyers and we get a better price.”

It can also cause conflict. I have always found it sad to attend estate auctions because many of the items have been in a particular family for many years and now they are being sold to strangers. It just seems like they should stay with the family. However, after going through this with my parents’ estate, I understand more clearly why this is necessary. We three kids divided up most of the mementos, but when a couple has run a farm and household for over 50 years, there is just too much stuff to keep. I guess it is better for it to find a new home as to set and deteriorate.

Darrel admits that this situation can often cause tension. “I have run into more than one case where siblings couldn’t agree on who should inherit a particular item, so it was put on the auction. Then one of the siblings will come to me and complain that the item just can’t be sold, that it should go to the family. As much as we as auctioneers hate to see this happen, it is out of our hands. Once an item is placed on an auction bill, it must be sold. If we didn’t, it would be false advertising. All I can say to families is to make sure before you do place an item on the docket.”

Of course, this serves another purpose, too. If family absolutely cannot agree about an item, by placing it on auction it gives everyone a fair advantage to purchase it. I do think it is sad to see folks bidding on items that have been in their family for generations, but at least then every member has an equal chance to keep it.

Darrel notices another trend in auctions, too.  Many people are into antiques and the younger generation is getting further and further removed from items that maybe their great grandparents used on the family farm. Before everything was mechanized and computerized, most everything was done by hand. Horse-drawn farm equipment, butter churns, and crocks are just some of the items that are becoming shorter in supply simply because there is no need for them to be manufactured any longer. Thus, finding them is getting to be harder and harder.

“This can be good or bad,” he says. “It can be good for the seller because of the law of supply and demand, the fewer there are, the higher the price. But then, sometimes the demand isn’t there because this generation sometimes has no idea what items are because they have never seen them used like their parents and grandparents have.”

Some people, though, delight in the old. I knew a former auctioneer whose two sons were auctioneers. He would actually buy unique items at auctions and fill his barns with “unique stuff” and then resell these items to folks looking for a particular item. Another couple I know from Pennsylvania built a new house and furnished it completely with primitives. They say that half the fun is having the treasures and the other half is going on the hunt for them.  Another friend of mine can take an item that no one else wants and make it into something that she could sell over and over. It’s all in the potential  that you see in the piece. Some folks have the vision and some don’t.

“It’s all in what sets you apart from the next guy,” Darrel explains. “Once a year we do our anniversary sale on January 1. It’s huge, with six auction rings running at once. It gives folks something to do on New Year’s Day and it really packs them in.”

The excitement of the auction has a place all its own. I do enjoy seeing the folks and being in the auction atmosphere. I guess I am just not big enough on patience to wait for something I really want! As Darrel points out,  I definitely enjoy the adrenaline of the moment when I hear “Going once, going twice!” and I have to decide in a split second how badly I want an item. That very second describes the draw of an auction in a nutshell!

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