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A Day in the Life of a Auctioneer

Auctioneers manage public sales where property or merchandise are sold to the highest bidder. These items can be anything from real estate or farm equipment to jewelry or exotic animals. Because knowledge of the value of such goods is important to the successful auctioneer, many choose to specialize in three or four types of auctions. Auctioneers represent sellers but should also be able to work with buyers One should have a strong voice, a good sense of humor, and an agile mind. Auctioneering is a fast-paced, unpredictable career that can bring financial rewards to those who show ability in all these areas. Auctions can take place in large convention centers, barns, yards, and parking lots. Travel is often required. An auctioneer faces the crowd (usually between fifty and ten thousand people), introduces items, and calls out bids with the help of assistants or "ringmen." While many use public address systems, bid calling for four to six hours per day still puts considerable strain on the voice. Over 75 percent of auctioneers are independent contractors who work for a daily fee or a percentage of sales. As independent contractors, marketing and drumming up business are the auctioneer's responsibilities, so business skills are important. Auctioneers also render appraisal values in two realms; on the value of the asset itself and the price the asset is likely to command. Successful auctioneers have some understanding of the psychology of the auction as well as a blanket appraised value. The range of value of sales at auctions can run from $2,000 all the way to $300 million, so financial acumen is critical. The community of auctioneers is fairly supportive, and the majority of auctioneers belong to one of the major professional associations. Many entrants to the field work for (or with) more established members of the community. The old vision of the auctioneer as slick bid-chanter has changed with the scale of auctions in America; one auctioneer mentioned "There...has been an improvement in the area of ethics in the auction industry," and was very positive about the future of auctioneering. Many auctions take place under the auspices of the federal government, so an understanding of federal regulations and the ability to work with federal agencies is important.

Paying Your Dues

An auctioneer must have at least a high-school education, and more and more auctioneers are going to four-year colleges, agricultural colleges, or two-year specialty colleges. Coursework should include finance, accounting, management, psychology, and public speaking. Many auctioneers have experience in marketing and a few cited acting as a helpful course of study. Many spend a year or two learning about valuation in their intended area of specialization; others work as assistants or ringmen in the industry first, then choose an area of specialization. An auctioneer should have a quick mind, an ability to speak clearly and honestly with prospective buyers and sellers, and strong organizational skills. Many states require licensing (particularly for those auctioneers who intend to preside over real-estate auctions), and others require passage of an examination and some apprenticeship, so check with local authorities to find out the restrictions in your area.

Present and Future

The profession of auctioneer was first established so that rural families could sell their goods when no established store or market existed in their region. These families would hire an auctioneer who presided over the sale of all the items to eliminate any semblance of unfair play and dispensed of them quickly. Auctions spread rapidly to urban centers. Now auctioneers work at auction houses, charitable events and large-scale liquidation of assets, providing a means of sale that can be both fun and profitable. In terms of demand, the future of auctioneering looks very much like the present. Continuous turnover of estates, farm equipment changing hands, and charities' increased reliance on donations of goods and services to raise money as opposed to receiving straight capital--all provide a steady market for auctioneers. A new breed of auctioneer is developing on the Internet: a cyber-auctioneer, who sends out announcements of times and places for bidders to meet, then manages a forum based on people bidding for goods.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

Many auctioneers begin as ringmen, assistants who take bids and tend to the details at auction. New auctioneers learn the protocol and procedures for different auctions; the larger the scale of the auction, the more specific skills are required. Many learn about the computer software associated with auctions, as well as the intangible and people-oriented skills. Professional reviews are brutally honest in these first years, which may account for the 30 percent attrition rate.

FIVE YEARS OUT

Auctioneering skills improve; but many auctioneers move from ringmen positions to others, particularly in the marketing department, and learn how to publicize, run auctioneering ventures, and make them profitable. Pay doesn't necessarily increase, but the attrition rate shrinks to 10 percent--below average for professions during this period. People split into two groups; those who work for national auctioneering services for a salary, and those who start their own businesses. The majority start their own businesses between years four and six. People begin to develop specialties and regional reputations. Satisfaction is high, as many enjoy the freedom their profession brings.

TEN YEARS OUT

Ten-year auctioneers are, for the most part, independent practitioners with established reputations. Many have regular clients, often including local law enforcement agencies and large banking establishments who hold foreclosure auctions regularly. Nearly all auctioneers have established specialty areas, such as livestock, restaurant equipment, aircraft, art, or firearms. Industry associations are significant in networking and finding new business. Salaries rise, but because private practitioners can only preside over as many auctions as days they are available, increases beyond this point are not considerable.