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Answers to the most common questions can be found in my following articles:
Auctioneer Bidding… Is it Legal?
Auction House Bidding & Selling
Auctioneer/Seller Withdraws an Item with Bids. Is It Legal?

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1,195 Responses to Your Questions & Comments

  1. Barb Norton says:

    My father & mother-in-law have hired a auction company to sell their collectibles. (In Wisconsin). The auction company has visited their home and taken pictures of the items for sale. In the pictures are several items shown as they were displayed ie.. 30 baseball cards on a table & several albums, cup & saucers–cookie jars on shelving, nascar-hotwheels cars displayed on a table, and porcelain dolls in a wall cabinet etc..). As of this post, there were four items that shouldn’t have been pictured for the auction. The auction company was notified about removing the items. They said the items can’t be removed from the sale. The items have been shown on their auction website. (They have advertised the sale, no newspaper or magazine advertising yet. Newspaper and magazine advertising will happen one week before the sale). It isn’t an on-line auction, the sale will take place over two days at a reception hall. If the family would like the items back, a family member can bid on them and not have to pay at the closing. The auction company has said they have had inquiries from Alabama, New Mexico, and Montana about the auction. They said they could be sued by anyone who comes from such a distance and the items aren’t here.The auction will take place 8/15/17. Is it legit/lawful in Wisconsin that the family can’t remove any items. We were giving the auction company plenty of notice.

    • Auction Law says:

      There appears to be several issues here.
      1. There are two types of auctions, “with reserve” and “absolute,” which would determine when a seller may withdraw an item from the auction.
      In an auction “with reserve”, the seller may withdraw any item prior to the call of “sold.”
      In an “absolute” auction, the seller may withdraw any item prior to calling for bids.
      Depending on your contract with the auctioneer, there may be a penalty fee for withdrawal, but it’s your stuff and you have the right to withdraw anything you want.

      2. As far as the seller bidding on the items. This implies that this is an auction “with reserve.” Only at an auction with reserves is a seller allowed to bid on their items, BUT only if the auctioneer gives notice to the bidders that the seller is allowed to bid.

      I understand the apprehension of the auction company not wanting to pull items after advertising has already begun and potential bidders inquiring about those items. However, if the seller is allowed to bid and there is really no intent to sell, then this could be considered unethical and possibly illegal under fair trade laws (i.e. bait and switch). It would be unfair to those in attendance – and especially to those traveling great distances – to show up with the intention of buying, only to have the seller outbid them because they decided to keep the items. So, it would be better to remove the items now, even if a few people have already inquired. It’s likely that these people will have plenty of time to notice the items have been removed… and will probably call again to find out why and save them a trip, unless they were also interested in other items. That’s the fairest option for all involved.

  2. Barb Norton says:

    Thank you very much

  3. Dennis Karam says:

    I was a winning bidder of an an auction for a piece of equipment. There was no reserve price on the auction and upon winning the item I was sent an email to make a bank transfer and told I have one week to remove items. I proceeded the drive down the California which is a 20 hour drive to pick up the item and pay for it. 5 hours into my drive I receive an email telling me that there was a clerical error and that I am no longer the winning bidder of the item. Can the auction house do this. The name of the auctioneer is Tac down in Southern California

    • Auction Law says:

      Payment and pickup terms are two different things. Typically, payment is due at the conclusion of the auction and/or within a particular period. Had you paid immediately, you might have had a stronger claim… although that doesn’t mean you don’t have a claim to the goods.

      Normally, once that hammer falls, you are considered the high-bidder. The problem with online platforms, especially when there is also a live component, is that the online software may deem you to be the high bidder, but the auctioneer may have sold it to a live bidder.

      Of course, there may be more to this story and I am only suggesting possible situations. My only recommendation is to contact an attorney to investigate the matter and determine if you might have a case or not.

  4. Barb Norton says:

    My 74 yr old father & 72 yr old mother-in-law two day auction took place last week.

    Day 1: My mother-in-law had several cup and saucers (over 20). She asked that the cups/saucers not be sold for less than $15.00 each. Auctioneer said no problem. The first day of sale, they put six cups in a cardboard flat. A flat was sold for $6.00, not $6.00 each, but $6.00 for all in the flat. A handler dropped a flat of cups and all were broke. The company comped them $6.00, the sale price for one flat. When questioned afterwards about what happened to the $15.00+, the auctioneer said a sale was needed. The entire first day felt like a private auction for the loyal auctioneer company followers/regulars.

    Auction company was told about an item that was worth a minimum $200.00 plus. Item was to be placed in display case on the second day of the auction. Item was specially wrapped & labeled rare. Item was placed in a plastic tote and purposely placed on the bottom. The tote was labeled “day 2” sale. The item was sold on the first day of the auction in a shoe box with other items for $6.00. Scanning the auction pictures taken that day, the item can be seen. The family was upset and asked what can be done, possibly a deduction on labor fees for set up, or reduction of moving truck rental fees. Basically, the auction company said oops, sorry. This seems like an inside job by an employee they hired for the unpacking process. Yes company billed for unpacking and placing the items on tables, it was written in the contract.

    The two day auction took place at a old high school gymnasium. The night before the second day of the auction, we drove past the gym and saw people entering & leaving. When we went inside, auction company was having private showings. They didn’t appear too happy that we were there. We were never told this was taking place. Is this normal practice?

    Auction took place in Wisconsin. Father & mother-in-law are Wisconsin residents. Auction company cut two day check on the last day of auction. (Auction company had 15% of sale total, plus $12.00 hour labor, plus gymnasium rental, and the moving truck fees.) There was never any pre-auction announcement of reserve or absolute. It seemed like a hybrid that worked for them. They told the in-laws whatever they wanted to keep, to let them know. They didn’t want the people attending thinking the family was bidding. What is the proper way to complain and question this company? Is there an auction board to notify, contact local law enforcement, or is the family been taken advantage of? Are there any options?

    • Auction Law says:

      You seem to present a lot of issues in an effort to find some sort of wrong doing.

      You ask if you have recourse. If the auctioneer actually did something wrong, you can file a complaint with the Wisconsin Auctioneer Board:
      http://dsps.wi.gov/Default.aspx?Page=c8e35bcd-1601-417d-a98a-12c2d877116c

      You indicate that there was a contract. This is used to determine if the auction is conducted as absolute or as a reserve auction. In addition, any item with a reserved minimum price should have been noted in the contract.

      In all states, except Louisiana, an auction is considered to be a “reserve auction” unless specifically advertised as “absolute.” However, the term “reserve auction” does not mean that any item in the auction has a specific minimum price that must be met before it may be sold. It does allow for many other factors, including the withdrawal of any item prior to the call of sold (whether it had a reserved minimum or not), the refusal of any bid or bid increment at the auctioneer’s discretion and other terms that the auctioneer may reserve, usually to their benefit to keep the auction moving along. Therefore, an auction not advertised as “absolute” is a “reserve” auction, even if no items have a minimum price.

      As far as the proclaimed “value” of any item, I would have to ask who conducted the appraisal of such items? I might be a bit skeptical when I hear someone claim that cups and saucers are worth $15… especially in today’s market. Twenty years ago, I might agree, but today those “collectible” cups and saucers are not in demand, in any sense of the imagination. The fact is, they are almost worthless, as most people do not want them anymore (especially the younger generations). This can be verified by looking at “completed” listings on ebay. You’ll find most of the listings ending with no one bidding or buying hardly any of them. The ones that do sell are picked up at bargain basement prices, with only a few that might be an exception to the rule.

      Concerning the “preview”… I don’t understand the objection to this. I would surmise that the auctioneer was trying to entice people to return for the second day, as most 2-day auctions often result in a smaller crowd on the second day.

      As far as the family attending, it can have an effect on bidder participation, especially those that know the family members. Some may not feel comfortable bidding on someone’s property that they know, especially since the lure of an auction is the hope of getting a deal. Other reasons may also be due to the seller (or family) which may cause disruptions over things that don’t bring what they thought they were worth, which can also drive away bidders.

      Keep in mind, the success of an auction should never be based on the price of any particular item(s). The only key to success is whether the overall end result was met. Some things are going to sell for less than hoped/expected, while others may sell for more than expected. If one had reasonable expectations, then everything typically averages out in the end… i.e. it’s the bottom line that counts.

      • Barb Norton says:

        Thank you for your advice and the link. You have been very helpful. I will definitely help my in-laws fill out the on-line form.

        I didn’t understand your statement, “You seem to present a lot of issues in an effort to find some sort of wrong doing”.

        (August 10) Pre-sale meeting, my in-laws were asked for any special instructions. Mother-in-law said not to sell her cups/saucers for less than $15.00ea. Rest of the afternoon was spent unpacking the blue totes .

        (August 15 — Day 1 Auction)
        Cups/saucers were sold to “make a sale”. Her instructions were not listened to. They requested instructions, they were told, they didn’t listen.

        (August 16) Pre-sale meeting, afternoon was spent unpacking green totes . The beer totes unpacked. The rare cone shaped beer can & the special clear uncolored glass soda bottle missing. This was odd, these special items were purposely packed & placed on the bottom of their container. As stated in previous post, searching thru pictures of the sale, the items were shown in shoe sized box that sold for $6.00. When confronted about what can be done about the loss, the auction company said oops, accidents happen.

        Later, driving thru town, we noticed people going/leaving from the gym. We had just worked on the set-up and were never told about a special viewing. We received the “what are you doing back here”. I found it strange, especially after mysteriously losing two special items. I’m a opened minded person, but I think it was justified to be skeptical.

        (August 17 Day 2 Auction) sale takes place. Instead of sitting back, the family watched more closely. The trust & confidence in the company broken.

        Weren’t these legit examples of wrong doing? My father-in-law is very upset about the loss of the can and that soda bottle. Its perplexing how these two items unpacked themselves and found their way to day one of the auction. The auction company rented the gym and the family was charged for its use and storage. Who is responsible for the security of the items?

        I respect your opinion & advice. Didn’t the beer can and bottle loss seem hinky?

        Thanks again.

      • Auction Law says:

        My comment was because there seemed to be a lot of irrelevant statements concerning the scenario.

        It basically comes down to the contract. Were the items listed in the contract with minimum reserved prices? If not, then it is difficult to claim that there was a meeting of the minds on the value of the items.

        While a verbal agreement may be considered a contract, the problem is the interpretation of what the parties said. If you said that an item is worth $15, the other person may have only thought that was your opinion of value. That is not necessarily the actual value, nor does it form a contractual obligation. That’s the problem with oral contracts… if it’s not in writing, it’s difficult to prove exactly what the other person said and the interpretation of what was meant. So, a written contract is best and should always clearly state what and how something is to be done.

  5. Lu B says:

    I was the winning bidder on a set of flatware. After the hammer came down the auctioneer sent me an invoice. A couple hours later the auctioneer s by an email stating that additional pieces of the flatware set were found. The auctioneer cancelled the transaction in order to offer the larger set of flatware at their next auction. Is this legal?

    • Auction Law says:

      In a real live auction, the answer would be “no.”
      In an online auction, it is not as easy to answer, as you have not paid for the goods and until payment is made and you have received the goods, the transaction may be subject to postal laws and others, in which the seller is responsible for delivery of goods. It can also be determine by the Terms and Conditions of the auction. So, without seeing that, I couldn’t really say, either way. However, I don’t find such things to be ethical, although that doesn’t mean they did anything illegal. In such case, I probably would not participate in their auctions, anymore.

      • Lu B says:

        Thank you for your quick response! This was a live auction with pick up a short distance from the auction house. I was required to wait overnight for my invoice in the mail.

      • Auction Law says:

        If it was a live auction, then there was a contract formed at the call of “sold” and only subject to you paying for the item won.

  6. Ron Gee says:

    I purchased a 1949 Harley Davidson motorcycle at a live auction.
    I found out latter after paying for and receiving the motorcycle, that the VIN number has been altered.
    what recourse do I have ?

    • Auction Law says:

      In most states, that can be a serious issue. This is something that should have been checked prior to the sale. Did you get a title?

  7. Rosemary says:

    Is an auctioneer in the state of Ohio allowed to stop bidding on certain products and tel the bidders they are bidding to high and restart the bidding process. Await your reply

  8. Rudy says:

    In New York State may a consignor bid on their own items as long as they will be paying the premium for doing so?
    Seems the better auction houses let you do this without hesitation (some even post it), while the ones that will hold your items until most buyers have left, and then sell to friends and family members at a great discount over fair market value, won’t.
    I buy and sell items at auctions and don’t see anything unethical about protecting oneself. I am not talking about bidding to raise the price to fair market or more, just so that one doesn’t suffer a big loss over a few dollars!!!!

    • Auction Law says:

      Whether or not you are allowed to bid, is first determined by your contract with the auctioneer.
      IF the auctioneer has allowed the consignor to bid (on their own items), it must be DISCLOSED to the bidders that such bidding will be allowed.

      As far as the claim that the ones that don’t allow such bidding will hold your items and sell them to friends and family at a great discount… I will dispute this misconceived perception, as this is NOT typical of MOST auctioneers.

      • Rudy says:

        Thank you for the quick reply,
        I did not mean to convey the impression that most auctioneers will take advantage of a “captive seller”, but I have seen it happen enough (too much) to myself and others.
        As older houses close and fewer spring up to replace them, it seems being able to bid to “protect one’s interests” up to a degree, is becoming less common.
        I see little disadvantage to the buyer side, as they should still be able to acquire at a good discount, though not at an absolute “steal” as may be afforded due to poor attendance, bad weather, and “less natural” events, etc.

      • Auction Law says:

        Auctions are used to ascertain the present value of many items in the marketplace.

        If a seller wishes to “protect ones interest” and bid their item up to a minimum value, they may only be attempting to inflate the actual value. This is especially true if the item does not sell to the bidder and the seller still owns the item. If the item actually held the value that the seller placed on the item, then there may have been numerous bidders competing to own the item and the price would have reached that value without the seller’s bidding.

        Of course, some items may have a very small niche, which means that finding the right buyer may take a lot more time and advertising dollars to find the person that will pay the price for that item. In this case, an auction may not be the best solution.

        Then again, sometimes it is the seller’s misconceived perception that their items have value, when they do not. A good example is the doll collector market, which used to command significant prices. Yet, today this market has declined and you can’t hardly give away dolls that used to sell for hundreds of dollars. Of course, there are those sellers that haven’t let go of their idea that their items are valuable. This was just exhibited by a seller last week, complaining about a dealer trying “to steal” his Eastlake bedroom set (that was bought 20 years ago during the antique boom) and said he’d “burn it, first.” Knowing that I would not come close to his expectations to sell the set at auction, I declined the consignment. One might only wonder how long he will hold on to it, hoping to find someone to pay his price… or until he uses it for firewood.

        An auction will never meet a seller’s unrealistic expectations. However, it will typically realize the current market value.

      • rudy says:

        All fine and true, however if there is an occasion of very poor attendance, sudden inclement weather, etc. Current market value in situations like those have little to do with the items. , if little interest, it is nice to be able to buy one’s item back for an opening bid, rather than lose all for a very few dollars. I have no desire in bidding items up to “fair market value” which of course fluctuates over time, but rather, what the items are worth having, to me in the present.,
        On the “burn it” remark, I knew of an auctioneer who could not get his price on some trays of ceramics and had them thrown in a 55 gallon drum and smashed with a sledge hammer, quite a show, I Hope they were his items!!!!

      • Auction Law says:

        All auctions are with reserve unless advertised as absolute. However, just because an item does not have a reserve, does not mean that it must be sold for a low ball bid. This comes down to asking the right questions and hiring the right auctioneer. The right auctioneer would be one that knows the value of the items being sold. If the item did not reach a reasonable low end auction value, it can still be withdrawn prior to the call of sold. In many cases, the right auctioneer wouldn’t even get below a reasonable starting bid and pass the item if no bids were made.

        I might suggest discussing your concerns with the auctioneer and if you aren’t satisfied with the way they conduct their auction, then seek out another auctioneer.

  9. Meme says:

    My fathers will specifically says that if his children want any of his property they can bid on it at absolute auction. Most of his children live out of the state of the auction (Kentucky). The executor of his will refuses to allow the auction to be placed online, simulcast or have phone bids excepted. What can we do?

    • Auction Law says:

      I’m not sure if there is much that you can do, except attend the auction. Typically, the executor has the responsibility to represent and act upon the decedent’s wishes, as stated in the will. As far as executing those wishes, the executor typically has the control to accomplish their tasks, as s/he sees fit to expedite the settlement of the estate.

      I can only speculate on the reasons that a live auction and its terms have been determined as the best solution. Online auctions (including simulcast) come with their own problems, such as collecting payment promptly, arranging pickup and/or shipping, etc. This can sometimes take days and then there are those that may not pay for and/or pickup their purchases. These types of problems are also problematic with phone or other absentee bids.

      At a live auction, payment is typically due by the end of the auction and individuals collect their items after payment is made. Hence, it’s done quickly and with less problems, in most cases.

      If you feel that you have reason to feel that the executor is not handling the matter appropriately, your option is to go to the court and ask to enforce their duties for the best outcome of the estate and/or ask to have the executor replaced by an administrator, which would then make the decisions the they deem fit.

  10. Chandler Gray says:

    In 2017, which states (if any) require any kind of license for running an Online Auction?

  11. Matt says:

    If one is a Delaware company, but registered in NYS to do business, and wanted to do online auctions only for mainly vehicles, would they need an auction license? Even if customers are purchasing nationwide?

    • Auction Law says:

      It doesn’t matter where the customer lives. It matters where you conduct business and the laws of the particular state.
      You might want to consult with a lawyer on this matter.
      This site is primarily to answer questions regarding auction matters. Your question is more of a business related question.

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