Header Menu

How to auction a dead man’s possessions

Two hundred people or so are milling about the decommissioned warehouse before the first lot — a five gallon bucket of mismatched horse shoes — goes on the block.

It’s not a Sotheby’s crowd. The work boots have all seen work. The hooded sweatshirts and canvas vests sport oilfield slogans and steelworker’s local numbers. There’s plenty of camo, Skoal rings and facial hair to go around. It’s a solid turn-out.

Veldon Kraft, reigning Wyoming Auctioneers Association bid calling champion, recognizes many of the faces. With nearly two decades of auctioneering around Wyoming under his belt, many more recognize his.

A stream of greetings and amiable small talk drive him to a quiet corner to warm-up. He uses a regimen of practice bid calls and tongue twisters.

“You’ve got to take care of your voice. It’ll feel like sandpaper’s been through it after this,” he said, indicating the thousands of items to be sold that Saturday with a practiced sweep of his arm.

The collection included some reliable draws — guns, coins, horse trailers, tools, machinery. But few, if any, of the attendees arrived in need of a particular item or with a specific purchase in mind.

“It’s a social event as much as anything,” said Kraft.

An estate-sale live auction in Green River is a chance to carouse and josh and slap backs, to sift through someone else’s stuff, maybe try it on for size, to see and be seen. It’s a socially accepted outlet for voyeurism.

Bidders come for the prospect of hidden treasure and for the spark of competition, but, above all, for the performance, which, if all goes well, they will co-star in a time or two.

Consignors, on the other hand, are looking to maximize revenue. With a 10 to 30 percent commission (the more valuable the item the lower the commission, as a general rule), so is the auctioneer.

A single method serves both sets of interests.

Give them a show.

Make your auction chant the star. The distinctive rapid-fire chatter isn’t just a way to communicate the bid and ask for the next. Like a movie score, it also sets and adjusts the tone of the room. Use it to grab attention, establish rapport, telegraph excitement, build tension and punctuate notable moments. The chant is the auctioneer’s everything tool.

Keep it rhythmic, cyclical, and easy to listen to. Incorporate body language — lean forward to encourage, flinch away to cajole. Add hand gestures — high broad sweeps invite the crowd, a held point puts a bidder in the spotlight. Be quick with a joke. Laughter is a great salesman.

Never miss a Know How — subscribe to WyoFile’s free weekly newsletter

You’ll need plenty of help: Ringmen to birddog active bidders and magnify each offer with loud “Hup!”s or “Ho!”s; Handlers to collect and display merchandise. Identifying, describing and valuing such a variety of items takes many heads.

Even still, your first swing may miss. Don’t be afraid to drop your offer, or change your increments. A bidder who won’t make a $25 jump at once may go up an extra $50 by fives. You can combine lots for sale with “one money”, sweeten the pot with “buyer’s choice”, or turn a quick duplicate sale for “same money.”

Chip away until momentum stalls.

And know when to pull the trigger, “…and 75… 75?… Who’ll give 675? And I… SOLD it for 650 to bidder 170”.

Did You Like This Story?

Please read WyoFile's commenting policy

One Response to How to auction a dead man’s possessions

  1. Leroy Stephenson May 2, 2017 at 8:34 am #

    A well written story.
    I and my wife love to go to ranch auctions. They truly are social events and people who knew him readily share stories about the “dead man”. The title is a bit depressing even though it may ring true. Perhaps it would have been better to describe it as “someone’s lifetime collection”. I have seen neighbors and relatives single out items that remind them of the “passed” owner and bid “to win” just to have that memory around a while longer.
    It is my hope that my collection will go under the gavel when the time is right and, as people gather for the event, that some will tell tales of their memories of me.

    Riverside, Wyoming

Leave a Reply