Exploring this Job

You can explore this field by attending an auction to see firsthand the responsibilities that are involved. Classes in speech, drama, and communications may be helpful because auctioneers rely heavily on their voices, not only for speaking and presentation but also to get the buyer's attention through style and performance.

More direct involvement is possible as well. Charities and other social organizations occasionally use nonprofessionals for fund-raising auctions, and established auctioneers often hire part-time assistants. It may also be useful to read periodicals, such as Auctioneer (published by the National Auctioneers Association), that publish articles about the field.

The Job

An auctioneer's work has two main facets: the preliminary preparation and evaluation and the selling itself. The former takes more time and skill and is less familiar to most people. Prior to the auction itself, the auctioneer meets with the sellers to review the property to be sold. The auctioneer makes note of the lowest bid, called the "reserved bid," that the sellers will accept for each item. The auctioneer also advises clients when an item should be sold "absolute," or without a minimum bid. If there are legal issues to be discussed, an auctioneer confers with the sellers.

The most time-consuming activity often is the appraisal of the goods. The auctioneer determines the value of each item and compares it to the reserve bid established by the sellers. The auctioneer makes notes on the type of item being sold, its history, and any unique qualities the item may have. This background information can encourage higher bids and increase buyer interest.

Once the appraisal has taken place, an auctioneer must organize the items in the area where the auction is to be held. Sometimes the auctioneer issues a catalog or booklet describing the items for sale for that particular day. The catalog also may list the sequence in which the items will be sold so buyers know when the items they want will be up for sale. The catalog may also be posted online at the auction organization's Web site.

In addition to the catalog, auctioneers organize any advertising needed to promote the sale. Newspaper and magazine ads, flyers, signs, e-mail, and broadcast announcements can reach people from many different areas and bring in a large crowd. Some rural areas hold auctions as special attractions for tourists around summer holidays or to commemorate town events and local celebrations.

Usually the auctioneer organizes and sets up the auction far enough in advance for people to come early, peruse the area, and see what is of interest to them. Antique furniture and clothing, farm equipment, and artwork are some of the things sold at auctions. Other auctions concentrate on large industrial machinery or cars, as well as livestock, stamps, coins, and books.

The auctioneer works to help both the buyer and the seller. An auctioneer is familiar enough with the potential value of the items and begins bids at a certain price. The encouragement and stimulation an auctioneer provides, however, often is matched by the excitement and competition among the buyers. Auctioneers must be quick-thinking and comfortable addressing crowds, not only offering them information about the items for sale but at times acting as entertainers to keep the crowd interested.

Auctioneers coordinate the pace of the auction and judge which items should be sold first. Sometimes to boost people's interest, an auctioneer saves the most popular items for last. At other times the best articles are sold first so that those who weren't able to purchase their first choice will feel free to bid on other items. Auctioneers must be proficient in speaking quickly and clearly in order to advance the auction process in an efficient and successful manner.

Auctioneers commonly enlist the help of assistants, who carry items to the auctioneer, ensuring a steady flow of goods. In addition, another assistant may be in charge of collecting money, issuing receipts, and keeping track of the purchaser of each item.

Some auctioneers work online and sell items through auction websites while others work for regional auction houses or their own businesses. 

Most auctions follow a typical pattern. The items for sale are made available for inspection in a catalog or a display. In the case of real estate auctions, however, photographs may be circulated. In some instances, land that is miles away can be sold, though the auctioneer will describe some history and features of the area. Often these types of auctions take less time, but the preparation is more detailed. Auctioneers must know the dimensions of the buildings they are selling, boundary lines for lots and farms, and whether any money is owed or any environmental hazard exists on the property, as well as information about the terms of payment and zoning laws.