Move over eBay; live auctions still have huge following

by Jerry Nunn , November 6, 2006
Special to the Times

Lest you believe eBay and other on-line auctions are cutting into the live-auction business, think again.

While folks are indeed selling individual items across the Internet, interest in the live-bid system of selling used items still has an enormous – and growing – following, according to Tricia Wiltjer, executive director of the Michigan State Auctioneer Association.

Besides, said Wiltjer, there is an excitement about selling an entire home’s contents and perhaps even the home itself in a single afternoon that no Online auction service will ever duplicate.

”There’s two ways of looking at it really,” Wiltjer said. ”Everybody can put an item up for sale on the Internet, so it is affecting availability of some items.”

”But it is also bringing auctions into the light and making people aware of the whole bidding process.”

Greg Tuttle, co-owner of Let’s Talk Auction at Auction Acres in Fairview, concurs.

”Take an estate sale,” Tuttle suggests. ”It’s a one-day event. And we’re full-service. An auctioneer comes in, sets everything up, does the promotion and at the end of the day your stuff is gone.”

High-end items often go for top dollar and even the items that hold priceless sentimental values fetch a decent price.

”It’s that old saying, ‘One man’s junk is another man’s treasure,” Tuttle said. ”At least with us we have 200 or 300 ‘experts’ waiting to buy. At least they think they are in their mind’s eye.”

So what can be sold at auction? You name it, Tuttle says.

Specialty auctions offering such things as toys, coins, old tools, glassware or even vehicles may draw a nationwide audience. One recent Oscoda County auction brought the owner of a fully restored 1931 Ford Model-A pickup truck $15,200. A Model-A sedan in less than perfect shape brought $6,800.

Fish decoys, firefighting paraphernalia and petroliana (items having to do with the petroleum industry) have all drawn crowds to Oscoda County, Tuttle said.

A few weeks ago, a pair of Tiffany-style lamps drew a purchaser from western Pennsylvania, Tuttle said.

That can make it easy for auctioneers like Donna Tuttle, Greg’s wife.

”He drove all that way, he was leaving with those lamps,” Greg Tuttle said.

But a good auctioneer can make it easy on buyers as well, Donna Tuttle said.

When Tuttle puts an item up for bids, she starts right out at what she feels is a fair price. Then, in her own ‘speed-sells style’ of auctioneering she doesn’t dawdle along – if the item attracts no immediate bidder she drops the price, sometimes substantially.

”Once I get a couple of bidders, I know the price is going right back up there anyhow,” Tuttle says.

Another suggestion the Tuttles’ offer – watch the dealers.

”People know a dealer is going to sell any item they buy for twice what they paid for it. If people beat the dealer, they figure they made a good deal,” Greg Tuttle said.

Of course it doesn’t always work. If the dealer desired the item for their own collection they’d probably bid higher than something they intended for resale. They also may have a buyer in mind who they know will pay top dollar.

Want to experience the fun of an auction and try your hand at bidding?

Attend a charity auction, Donna Tuttle suggests.
”If you start a $100 item at $1 everybody gets to bid on it,” Donna Tuttle said. ”It gets them involved and everybody has fun.”

And the building enthusiasm pays off for the charity as well. In the heat of the excitement, inexperienced bidders often spend a little more than they planned, Tuttle said.

She should know.
Aside from the live auctions she holds as her line of business, Tuttle volunteers her services for local schools and other organizations. She also calls bids at the annual Northern Michigan Relief Sale, a Mennonite fundraiser held each August at the Oscoda County Fairgrounds.

”But really, you can’t go wrong at a charity auction,” Tuttle says. ”As long as you stay in business you can’t spend too much because the money is all going to charity.

”It’s a way to make money for the charity and for every one who attends to have a whole lot of fun.