Country Auction

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1998. All rights reserved.

Driving down almost any rural lane it's not uncommon to come across a sudden gathering of pickup trucks parked this way and that along the shoulders. Unless there's smoke rising from some burning barn, chances are there's an auction in progress.

Step outside and, sure enough, there's a cry of "Eight-five, five, five. I have eighty-five. Ninety, give me ninety," wafting across a fallow field.

Move up closer and you'll find old plows and roller harrows and cultipackers lined up on display along with cardboard boxes filled with bolts, drill bits and other assorted items. A crowd of bidders follows the auctioneer up and down rows of tractors and corrugators and shop tools, hovering over each item just long enough to determine whose bid will buy it and then moving on.

Country Auction jigsaw puzzle

Auctions appear in many forms. There's the estate sale where the household belongings of a deceased person are put on the auction block. There are farm machinery sales held when a farmer retires or liquidates some of his assets and real estate sales that include title to all or part of a particular property. Antique auctions feature collectibles on consignment and livestock sales may include almost any kind of farm animal.

Auctioneers are usually paid a commission for the items they sell, 2 to 8 percent for farm machinery and sometimes more in other sales. Consignments are often charged a set fee per item.

Some auctions are held in sale barns with indoor seating. Most others are held outdoors in almost any kind of weather. The proceedings begin at a set time and continue until all items are disposed of, which can take several hours. Admission is almost always free of charge.

Newcomers to auctions are best advised to attend a couple sales and observe how they work. Items bought at auction are sold "as is" with no warranties, exchanges or money back.

Some auctions require a bidding card, which is available for no charge from a bidding clerk located near the cashier's table. The card usually explains the terms of the sale (no guarantees!) and has a number written on one side that you hold up when bidding on an item. Winning bids are recorded according to bidding card numbers. Smaller auctions often dispense with bidding cards and just write down the names of the winning bidders, who then pay for their purchases at the cashier's table.

Previewing the items up for sale is very important. This is the buyer's chance to make sure that what he or she purchases will serve its purpose. Don't hesitate to ask for owner's manuals, service manuals or maintenance records on machinery. And "test runs" of equipment are not an unreasonable request.

The auctioneer will start the bidding at a set point, say $100, and continue calling for that amount until someone responds. If no one takes that bid, he may reduce it to $50 or even $25 to get things started.
In some cases the auctioneer may announce that an item has a "reserve." This means the seller has set a minimum acceptable bid and the item will not be sold if the bidding doesn't reach it.

Once bidding begins, the auctioneer will up the ante in varying increments, depending on the value of the item and the enthusiasm of the bidders. When the auctioneer says "I have" he is referring to the last bid accepted. When he says "give" he announces the new price up for bid.

A raised hand or even a nod in the auctioneer's direction means you are accepting the auctioneer's call for a specific bid. You can retract a bid if you were confused and act quickly to correct your mistake, but it won't make you popular with the auctioneer or fellow bidders.

After a bid is accepted a clerk records the selling price and either a bidding number or the bidder's name. Payment and possession can be made soon thereafter, or the bidder can wait until the auction concludes so as not to miss any bargains.

Whether it's farm machinery or antique furniture up for sale, there are bound to be some dealers in the crowd. These are the professional auction-goers who know the resale value of the merchandise and are careful to always bid below that mark. They used to be the mainstays of most auctions, and still are in some places, but the competition from the farmer trying to replace an implement, the family furnishing a new home, or the collector looking for something special is increasing.

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