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What is a Live Auction?

By Christy Bieber
Updated May 23, 2024
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A live auction is a method of selling goods wherein bidders come to an auction house or other set location. The goods are described and listed and an auctioneer solicits bids, or offers, for each item. The highest bidder wins the auction.

Live auctions can be used to sell a wide variety of goods. Farm and livestock auctions are common, in which animals of varying types and qualities are auctioned off to the highest bidder. Estate auctions and art auctions are also common auctions, since these items are specialized items and sometimes difficult to value and a live auction can be an excellent way of attracting interested buyers.

Numerous other goods and items are also sold be sold at a live auction. When a home goes into foreclosure, for example, it can be sold at an auction. Bankruptcy auctions, estate auctions, and police auctions are other common examples of auctions.

At a live auction, goods are often organized into lot numbers. Each lot may contain one item — such as one house, one car, one cow, or one piece of art. Lots can also contain multiple items, such as an auction for 20 office chairs or for 20 pigs. People who attend a live auction are often given a catalog containing a list and explanation of the lots being sold at the auction. This catalog may contain descriptions of the items being sold, such as a list of the items' contents, its condition, or even an appraised value for the item.

Bidding then begins on items. The auctioneer will call each lot number one by one. Bidders are often given a paddle to hold up to signify their interest in bidding. The auctioneer will usually start the item at the lowest bid, and then customers will raise their paddles to bid an item up.

For example, if an artist is selling a piece of art and wants to get a minimum of $100 US Dollars (USD) for the item, the auctioneer will begin the bidding at $100 USD. If no one bids $100 USD or more, the item will not sell. If a person bids $100 USD, then bidding begins on the item.

The auctioneer will announce the current highest bid and give other bidders a change to raise the price as high as they are willing to pay. This bidding can continue on until no one wants to bid higher than the current highest bid. The item is then sold to the bidder with the current highest bid.

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Discussion Comments
By sunshined — On Oct 01, 2011

We have a friend who makes his living as a full time auctioneer. This also means he spends a lot of time traveling to different auction sites around the country.

Once we went to a car auction he was working at, and I was impressed with how fast he could talk! I don't know what kind of training is involved for someone to be an auctioneer, but he was very good at what he does.

The very first time I ever bid on something at an auction I was a little nervous. All I had to do was hold up my number, but it was something that took a little getting used to. Now the hard part is knowing when to quit bidding.

By SarahSon — On Oct 01, 2011

My husband loves to go to auctions and regularly scans the paper to see when they are and what they are going to be auctioning off.

There were a couple pieces of small farm equipment that he wanted to bid on at a farm auction, but would not be able to get there until after the auction started.

Since I happened to have the afternoon off, I got to be the one who went first. I registered and received my auction number and began searching for the items he wanted to bid on.

At the time I got there, I happened to be the only female there and really didn't have a clue what was a decent buy or not.

I was so glad when my husband showed up before they began auctioning on the items he was interested in. After all that he didn't even end up taking anything home.

It is interesting to watch the whole process and listen to the auctioneer as people begin to bid on the items for sale.

By runner101 — On Sep 30, 2011

@alFredo - I have seen live auto auctions being advertised as online live auto auctions, but just like the ads in the paper you are talking about I have not heard yet of anyone who has tried this way of buying a car, but I must say I am interested in going to see the police auctions.

My mother-in-law and her husband love estate live auctions. She is always showing me the new things she has bid on and bought, I think just as others have described, half of the fun is not what you are buying but being a part of the auction process.

By aLFredo — On Sep 29, 2011

I have always seen the notices in the paper for the live auto auctions, but I have never heard of anyone going to them other than small car dealership owners.

Are they open to the public and are they different from a police auction that @manykitties2 described?

I think part of my skepticism is that i just have never been to an auction before but hearing @manykitties2 post, I am much less skeptical and more interested in going to one. The auctions they have in movies always made auctions seem like they were only for the higher socio-economic rungs of society.

By MrSmirnov — On Sep 29, 2011

There have been some live auction sites that I visit on a regular basis because it allows me to find collectibles that I normally would have trouble finding. Estate auctions are some of the best places to find rare goods that have been undervalued.

I think my best find was a really old action figure. It would probably go to another collector for well over $1000 dollars, and I managed to get it at an estate auction for just under $20. It really shocks me sometimes the things I see up for sale. It is even better when no one knows what they're actually worth but me.

By manykitties2 — On Sep 28, 2011

There is nothing more fun than going to your first live auction. It is really exciting to actually see products come up for bid and be able to compete with real people for them.

I recently went to a police auction and there was a live car auction which was pretty amazing. My family and I managed to pick up a really nice SUV for about 25% of its actual retail value. We had heard that deals like that existed, but I just never expected us to be lucky enough to get one.

I suggest if you are looking at auction cars that you try a police auction, as the seized vehicles they have can be really nice.

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