Attending your first auction is almost always an experience filled with nervousness, excitement and confusion. Rings? Box lots? Chattel? Under the money? What does this all mean?
Before we get to some of the terminology associated with live auctions, perhaps it’s best if I answer the question a lot of you will probably have:
“What’s a live auction?”
A “live auction” is an auction held at a physical location where you, along with other interested bidders, view the items available, and eventually bid those items. Typically, live auctions are held at auction houses, but they are also held at the homes of the people liquidating their estates or the estate of a relative. Auctions held at people’s homes are typically called “estate auctions”.
Now if you’ve ever done an eBay auction, there are plenty of terms used on eBay that have parallels to live auctions. But there are many terms that you may be unfamiliar with. Knowing what these terms mean (and how to use them to your advantage) can not only make your auction experience more enjoyable, it can also make it more profitable!
Let’s begin with a few of the basic terms. I’ll discuss some of the rarer or more difficult terms in another article.
Auction block: This is simply the surface or platform the auctioneer is standing on during the auction. Because auctions have gotten a bit less formal over time, it now refers to what item is being auctioned off right now. You’ll rarely hear this term nowadays, and where the auctioneer is standing is where the “auction block” is by default; but auctioneers will use it when they have a particularly valuable piece going up “on the block”.
Bidder #: When you want to bid on an item, you need to register and get your bidder number first. This is what you use to identify yourself to the auctioneer when you are bidding. It’s usually a # printed on a card or paddle.
Hint: Never lose or misplace this # at the auction! It’s your “line of credit” with the auctioneer. If you leave it behind when you leave, someone else can use it to bid and win items, and you will be responsible for paying for those items!
Box lots: Not every auction item is a $1000 oil lamp. Households have plenty of, well, household items: blankets, dinnerware, tools, small cheap knick-knacks, seasonal decor, old books, etc. These items are too small and/or low-value to put individually on the auction block, so they are grouped together into box lots, usually in small boxes or flats…hence the name “box lot”. Not all box lots are in boxes, though. Big low-value items like ironing boards or window air conditioners are also typical “box lot” items, and they may just be sitting on the ground, all by themselves.
Hint: If you’re looking for a lot of decent household items cheap, box lots are a great way to get them. Carefully check the contents often before bidding, though; people rifle through these a lot and damage can occur easily.
Chattel: Rhymes with “cattle”. Estate auctions sell two types of goods: real estate and personal property. The personal property is what is legally referred to in auction circles as “chattel”. In a nutshell, it’s all the physical goods of the estate, other than real estate. Furniture? That’s chattel. Books? Tools? That’s chattel. Car? Snowmobile? Trailer? Lawnmower? Yep…that’s chattel as well.
Hint: This is a term only auctioneers use among other auctioneers and in auction listings. Don’t use it yourself around others to sound impressive…trust me, you’ll just get weird looks!
Lot #: Sometimes also called “lot color”, “lot letter” or “lot name”. The lot # is a simple way to keep track of where the item being auctioned off came from. Auction houses usually get their items from lots of different sources and the “lot #” is used to keep track of the original owner of the item. For example, all of John Smith’s 200 items he wants auctioned off will be referred to as “lot 1”, Mary Jones’ one item she wants auctioned off will be referred to as “lot 2”, and so on. Sometimes you’ll even see a small sticker with a “1” on it, or just a colored sticker like you’ll see at a garage sale; these are the tags used to identify the lot.
Hint: Lot #’s are primarily for the benefit of the auctioneer to keep track of what’s sold and for how much, but if you start seeing items of a particular lot you’re interested in, keep your ear open for when other items from the same lot go on the auction block. Oh, and don’t mess around with the stickers; I’ve seen auctioneers kick people out for this form of “auction tampering”…they are that important!
Rings: Sorry, but this term has nothing to do with jewelry. In short, the “ring” is where the auctioneer is calling the auction. Some auctions are so large, though, a single auctioneer can’t do it all himself. So the auction can have multiple rings; that is, there could be 2 (or even 3!) auctioneers auctioning off items at the same time. They won’t be located near each other, though; one might be in the front auctioning off “the good stuff” and the other might be at the back auctioning off box lots.
Hint: If the auction listing mentions “multiple rings”, that means it will be a BIG auction, so bring a friend! And the auctioneer will usually tell you at the start of the auction how many rings there will be, where they’ll be and when they’ll start!
Reserve amount: If you’ve been on eBay, you already know what a reserve is. A reserve amount is the lowest amount the original owner is willing to let his or her item be auctioned off for. For example, if the original owner of an antique oil lamp put a reserve amount on it of $500, and the highest bid the auctioneer can get is $400, the item goes back to the original owner.
Hint: Auctioneers will tell you before bidding begins of the item has a reserve amount, but they won’t tell you the reserve amount itself.
In my next article, I’ll discuss some of the more complicated terms used, such as “choice”, “times your money”, “under the money”, and “salting”.