Auction Kings, Storage Wars, Property Wars, Auction Hunters, and all other variants of to “auctions are awesome theme” – the reality behind these shows is simple: auctions are boring. Ask me how I know. I’ve been to a lot of them and can tell you that what you’re likely to find is not so glamorous for a few good reasons.
The Auction Environment
Auctions take place in fire houses, VFW halls, banquet halls, and flee markets. Places that don’t have any television polish about them. Usually the people that you see at auctions are not the sort of people networks would put on television. There are many wonderful characters to be sure. I’ve met people that walk around the auction house with their pet frogs or walk around with dirt in their front pockets that love to talk to you about Disney memorabilia!
When To Go
At the beginning of an auction you get the chance to preview the auction items by lot number. This is an oversimplification. You have to get there early. Specifically you have to get there earlier than everyone else. For example if you want the chance to preview items at one of the big auctions in Adamsville, PA you have to be there, and I mean standing on the auction floor, at 5:30 am on Sunday morning, and even then there’s a crowd of people. Television auctions are staged and go off on cue when and how the producers want, usually after lunch and interviews and timed to match the commercial breaks.
It Costs More
What they don’t show you on television is that when you buy something at auction the mark up can be as high as 20% or more depending on the item and the rules. You have to pay a sales tax at some locations, plus the auctioneer sometimes charges a buyer’s premium on all items. That’s right, the auctioneer can declare a buyer’s premium of, let’s say, 10% on all items sold at the start of the auction (you were there at the start of the auction, right?) so if you win a bid of $1,000 you actually have to pay $1,100. That great storage locker that was bought for $1,500 on Storage Wars will actually cost upwards of $2,000!
Speed, Speed, More Speed
On television the format usually goes: someone enters a bid by making an obvious physical gesture to the auctioneer or yelling out a catch phrase, then there’s a cutaway to an interview with the bidder commenting on his or her strategy or talking bad about the other bidders, then some auctioneer babble, then another bid, then repeat.
Well, in a real auction five to ten items would be sold in the time it takes one item to get sold on television. Usually the auctioneer starts at a high price to try to get a great fee to start, then the auctioneer drops the price until some bids come in. It’s often tough to see who else is bidding against you in a crowd. In fact, an unscrupulous auctioneer might pretend that someone else put in a bid if he or she thinks that you’re willing to chase a price. The gestures involve raising your auction card or bobbing your head, something slight. If the price gets too low the auctioneer might remove it from the block then go to the next item.
Each item usually takes about a minute and without pause the next item is pointed out or put on block and the process repeats, there’s literally no pause for breath on the part of the auctioneer. There’s no time for strategy and reflection, you just have a price that you’re not willing to go beyond, and you either stick to it or do what the system wants you to do and go overboard.
Overall the auctions you see on television are produced and inaccurate. But, to put it bluntly, real auctions are boring – at least until the item you like comes up. You sit there listening to fast paced babble for a long time until it’s your turn, and sometimes you win and often you don’t – where’s the fun in that?