There Are No Friends at an Auction !

Updated: Aug 4

If you’re the type of person who likes to “people watch,” then you’ll be fascinated with the various personalities you’ll find at an auction and what I call, “Auction Psychology.” Here in Arizona, there’s no lack of automobile auctions (Barrett Jackson), business liquidation auctions (Cunningham’s, Auction Nation & Sierra), estate “on-site” auctions (Monarch Auction & Blue Leaf), real estate auctions (AuctionAZ) and general merchandise auction houses. (R&R Auction, Brunks & Mesa Auction) There seems to be a subculture here, okay there is definitely a subculture, and the people who attend auctions often don’t tell their friends. I am sure the psychology behind this stems from a fear that their friends have similar tastes and may bid against them, which conjures up the old auction adage, “There are no friends at an auction.”


My favorite example of the mindset of buyers happens when there is rain, sleet or snow. Everyone thinks no one will be going, so if they brave the weather and attend the auction sale, they will get amazing bargains since there won’t be any competition. I have seen record prices set in 12 inches of snow. I, myself, have fallen for this trick of Mother Nature several times in my life. Never seeming to learn…but that's the fun of it. One of the first auctions I conducted in Phoenix was in the pouring rain and it was packed. I told the family not to worry, assuring them it would work to their advantage. I knew nothing about the Phoenix market and was basing it off snow in Pennsylvania, but wow, it worked. Made me want to open up a tent auction during Monsoon Season. Probably a horrible idea.

Another common occurrence I have been seeing as of late happens when there are two of the same thing in the same auction. A recent example was two autographed Greg Maddox baseballs. The first sold for $90, and then the second sold for $130. No difference…both were certified and signed at the same time and were in the same condition. Why do I find this odd? The trend used to be the other way, with the first item selling higher. Might be a trend but the psychology fascinates me.


Then there's an auctioneer’s favorite. “I want it, and don't want anyone else to have it, at any price.” You'll see this most often in art, firearms and jewelry auctions. I've seen it at tool and furniture auctions as well. A man will buy a ladder for $50 more than they cost at Home Depot because he's mad at a bidder who outbid him on a shop vac. It's quite a thing to see. Two billionaires sparring with bidder paddles over a Picasso, or two ladies over a Tiffany bracelet. But just so you know, if this was the normal occurrence at an auction, no one would go or everyone would be an auctioneer.


The bidder tricks, the poker faces, and overall gamesmanship are all part of the Auction Psychology. It’s fun to watch and even more exciting to participate. Try it sometime…you’ll see why so many of us are hooked!

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