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  • Writer's pictureMike Brandly, Auctioneer

The allure of the estate auction

I’ve stated many times the most seductive word in auction advertising is “absolute,” — that is, if everything’s really selling absolute.

However, another word used in auction advertising is nearly as captivating: “estate,” as in an “estate” auction.

An “absolute” auction suggests:Everything is selling today (emphasizing the word “selling.”)

Similarly, an “estate” auction suggests:Everything is selling today (emphasizing the word “everything.”)

Estate auctions rely on the longstanding premise that, “you can’t take it with you,” with considerable physical evidence.

Other types of auctions, including a “public auction,” “moving auction,” or “downsizing auction” suggest that maybe everything isn’t selling, and many auction attendees assume if it isn’t all selling, the “good stuff” may not be available that day …

Unfortunately, just like with absolute auctions — where the public responds energetically — auctioneers are sometimes tempted to advertise an auction as an estate auction to attract a larger audience, when in fact the auction isn’t an estate auction at all.

However, while many consider the word “estate” to mean someone is dead, the legal community uses the word estate generally to mean, “The nature and extent of an owner’s rights with respect to land or other property,” and not necessarily that anyone’s dead.

A few states have addressed this issue in their auction license law. Those states say, for instance, if an auction is advertised as an estate auction, then that same advertisement must specify the probate court case number and county name.

In this way, the word “estate” is tied to a specific estate case in the probate court, and assures then that the auction is one where the prior owner is dead, rather than alive but selling “an extent of their property.”

It’s likely such statutes were written to help prevent misrepresentation, where auctioneers were saying an auction was an “estate auction” when the auction did not involve the property of someone deceased.

Another common misconception is who can legally bid at an estate auction. We wrote about this before here:

Particularly if an auction is “without reserve” (absolute) the owner cannot bid unless the property is being sold in a forced sale situation.

Yet, many bidders object to a wife bidding at an auction of her deceased husband’s property, or the children of a deceased person bidding … citing that the owner cannot bid at an absolute auction. Even if the auction is “with reserve,” the owner cannot bid unless that right is reserved — in other words, disclosed to the auction attendees.

But, this is indeed a misconception. A wife or children of a deceased man are not the owners. Rather, the “estate” is the owner. Upon death, without provisions such as a survivorship deed or remainderman interests, property transfers from the live person at death to an estate of that deceased person. The wife or children … as well as anyone else, is not the owner — the estate is.

Further, even if the wife or children are the beneficiaries of the estate — that doesn’t make them the owner and thus unable to bid. Just because they are benefiting from the auction proceeds is no different in terms of rights to participate than if someone was donating their auction proceeds to their sister — such post-auction distributions to her wouldn’t disqualify her from bidding at the auction.

Lastly, an estate auction doesn’t necessarily mean everything is selling. Upon death, particularly if the decedent died testate (with a will), the will takes precedence over the auction. The decedent’s car, jewelry or anything else could be bequeathed to someone else, and therefore not in the auction. So, in fact, an estate auction doesn’t always mean everything is selling, but there is an increased likelihood.

Nonetheless, estate auctions will always have a special allure, and remain an effective and prudent advertising technique to maximize interest.

Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, Keller Williams Auctions and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. His Facebook page is: He serves as Adjunct Faculty at Columbus State Community College and is Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School.

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