The past is some whack shit. It has asbestos, Taco Bell’s Waffle Tacos, and analog eBay. That last one is what we used to call auction houses in the beforetimes (which was weird cause everyone was like “what the hell is eBay?”) In any case, those places are still around and primarily servicing rich people, like the auction house out of Pennsylvania where Dave works, with phone bidding being part of his duties. This is what his job has taught him:
Research by Evan Symon.
A Lot Of People Have No Idea How Auctions Work
Movies and TV tend to get a lot of things wrong about the real world, though auctions are a rare exception (as is, naturally, sex; fellas, if she doesn’t orgasm from you rubbing her elbow, there’s something wrong with her.) If you ever saw an auction on TV, you now know everything you need about the process. Which means that a lot of people phoning into auctions apparently don’t even own a TV because they often have no idea what they’re doing. Dave explains:
“I often hear discussions between the client and their financial adviser or wife or husband between bids on what they want to do. This is a reason why many auctions have delays. This is a lot of money on the line. I’ve been told to ‘Tell the auctioneer we need 5 minutes to think this over.’ And I’ve had to tell them ‘You have one minute’ … Once, after every bid, this man from Australia would ask me to ‘Hold them for 5 minutes’ and was getting flustered at the quick decision making.”
Auctions are essentially like time, tides, and a woman with a modicum of self-respect: they wait for no man. You also can’t buy them outright. You have to fight for them.
“I’ve had others who think this works like eBay, in that there is a ‘Buy it now’ option.”
”One of the directors usually comes in on the line when they ask about ‘buying it now’, because it’s an auction, not a store. Another [bidder] kept telling me to buy it now for the ‘price we listed it for in the catalog’, but the price he was quoting was for what the lot was appraised for. He told me to ‘purchase it’ three times before the director came on and told him that he would need to keep bidding.”
This naturally begs the question: how many phone bidders just yelled out the highest number they could think of at Dave and were then shocked that that was the amount of money they had to pay?
You Need To Keep People Excited Over The Phone
“An auction in person is pretty exciting,” Dave says, although it’s not a great place for a first date. Apparently. “It’s legitimately filled with drama as rich people try to outbid each other. But when you’re on the phone you don’t hear the auctioneer speak quickly or see the people who did attend exchange glances. There’s lots of tension and lots of anxiety. When you hear it over the phone it’s only me saying ‘$10,000’ while I wait to hear ‘yes’ or ‘go’ or ‘no’ or ‘Fuck. I can’t afford it now.’”
“When you’re in the heat of an auction, you’re going to spend more because you want to win. Over the phone it’s just numbers.”
In a way, a phone bid operator has to act like a Dungeon and Dragons DM. He needs to translate all the numbers into pure awesomeness in the players’ heads. He needs to bring in the excitement. Only except lusty elven princesses, he uses subtle psychological manipulation.
“For auctions where we’re expecting a higher price, I’ll say something like ‘60k. It looks like they really want this’, and that will make them bid even more.”
”Sometimes we’ll know who is placing some of the bids if they come in person. Businessmen and lawyers aren’t well known, but politicians and athletes and actors are, and we get them in here sometimes. This is just an example, but if I said ‘Kanye West just bid on the lot again. 75K’, wouldn’t you feel compelled to bid on it again just to beat him? I’ve recognized some and told the person on the other end, and they always put in another bid, and I don’t know for certain, but that might have had an effect on if they bid again. Who knows, they could have had a long running feud with them.”
Nothing is a better motivation than spite and wanting to flex on someone.
Plenty Of People Will Try To Undo Their Purchase
Because auctions can get very heated and bring out our spite-filled irrationality, they’re often followed by shame and regret. It’s just one of the many ways that auctions are just like orgasms.
“[There] are people bidding alone, and if I get them excited, they’ll get a little ‘high’ from bidding. This is actually called ‘Auction fever’ and has been compared to getting a high. While it does happen at auctions where the bidder themselves goes, over the phone is a different story. After an auction battle in which my client won, I will sometimes get a call back between lots when I’m not with a client and hear ‘You have to stop that!’. It happens more often than you think. They take an hour or half-hour to come to their senses and call us as quickly as possible, thinking they can take away their winning bid.”
You’d think that getting out of an auction purchase would be a breeze but many auctions actually require deposits before they let you join. Deposits that aren’t refundable if you “win.”
“[One time] I could clearly hear [a bidder’s] husband yelling at her for bidding ‘that much’ on the lot. She was begging me to change the bid, but I couldn’t do anything. I transferred the call to the accountants and hoped everything would work out. Some were accepted because they didn’t have the money, while others were rejected because there was no grounds for them not being able to pay.” Sadly, “I was money-horny” doesn’t cut it with most auction houses.
Lost Calls Happen All The Time
“We ask for a phone number, 2 backups, and a few numbers for secretarys [sic] or others who can connect us to them. When it’s lost, we’ll dial all the numbers and hope we connect.”
“After 4 minutes, if we can’t get back in touch, they’re out, because we need to keep the auction moving.”
But how often does it really happen? Come on, we all secretly suspect that rich people have access to secret, real telecom services that don’t drop your calls or throttle your internet when they’re bored. However, “Clients have lost out on some auctions because of this too. Flying is the one that people lose out on the most. I’d have to say at least 5 times a bidder is in the air, we lose their signal because they go over a place with no cell towers, and every backup number is to either someone on the plane or to someone on the ground who can’t bid for them. It happens enough that the auctioneer will ask ‘Airplane?’ as his first reasoning if the bidder is lost and the time to get in contact with him is lost.”
The second thing they usually ask is: “Money wraiths?” It’s a rich people thing. You wouldn’t understand.
But lost calls can also help a lot of things to go for cheap. If only a few bidders are after a certain object, and one of them is dropped, there might only be one person bidding. “It’s happened before, and if there is no reserve price, then they can get something that was expected to go for, say, $50,000 for only $10,000.” The safest way to bid is apparently from your home or office, not from a boat or plane, but that way you miss out on all your boat/plane guests overhearing how much money you have to burn and that’s just a price that some people aren’t willing to pay.