Live Auctions Get Boost From Internet


Saturday, November 24th 2007, 4:30 pm
By: News On 6


WAYNESBURG, Pa. (AP) - The chanting is rhythmic and rapid, a staccato string of numbers that quickly grows hypnotic. But auctioneer Kevin Teets is alert, eyes darting between buyers on opposite sides of the room. Perched in the front row is Dave Kauffman, who has traveled 220 miles from Marysville, Ohio, in search of vintage, remote-control model airplanes and accessories, most still in the box.

Barely perceptible nods signal how high his bid will go. Usually, it's high enough: Within hours, Kauffman has so many planes and parts that it takes five trips to load his hatchback at the Greene County Fairgrounds.

``I can tell from the first sale if it's going to be a good night,'' he says. ``Tonight was a very good night.'' For five years, the 49-year-old Kauffman has trolled the Internet for live auctions east of the Mississippi, selling his finds at flea markets and online.

``I love the unknown, and that's what it is,'' says Kauffman. ``You never know what you're going to find in the bottom of a box.''

The growth of the Internet and searchable sites like auctionzip.com has contributed to a boom in the live-auction industry, with one-time rivals forming partnerships that produce bigger audiences for sellers, often by simulcasting live auctions on the Web. Buyers emboldened by success on eBay and other sites, meanwhile, are seeking live sales in search of lower prices - and the thrill of competing in person.

The volume of goods and services sold at live auctions totaled $257 billion in 2006, a surge of 7 percent over 2005. A study for the Kansas-based National Auctioneers Association found real estate, automobiles and charity auctions fueled much of the growth.

Residential real estate auctions have grown 39 percent since 2003, according to the NAA study. Agricultural real estate grew 33 percent, while sales of commercial and industrial property surged 27 percent. Automobile auctions increased by 10.5 percent and charity by 16.5 percent.

``I don't know where the auction industry would be without the Internet,'' says Teets, of Fairmont, W.Va. He turned professional three years ago and made the top 12 at the 2007 bid-calling world championships in San Diego.

``The Internet has educated the buyers. It's educated the sellers. It's opened a lot of these small sales up,'' says Teets, 31, who works for Joe R. Pyle Auctions of Mount Morris, Pa.

Earlier this year, the 6,000-member National Auctioneers Association teamed up with Gemstar-TV Guide International to launch auctionnetwork.biz, whose 24-hour TV counterpart aims to tap into the estimated 70 million people who participate in auctions every year.

``Internet and live auctions depend on each other,'' says Tommy Williams, an Oklahoma real estate auctioneer and president of the NAA.

``The Internet has been the greatest thing that ever happened to the auction industry,'' Williams says. ``It made us reinvent ourselves.''

Auctioneers were slow to embrace the Internet for much of the past decade because it was considered a threat, says Ina Steiner of Natick, Mass., editor of auctionbytes.com.

Bandwidth and other technological issues also created glitches. But now, even rural residents often have sufficient Web service to compete, and sellers realize that customers have choices far beyond eBay. There are specialty sites like bid4assets.com for real estate and ironplanet.com for construction equipment.

``General consumers, they go to sites like eBay,'' Steiner says. ``But they might go to Google. Google's the great equalizer. If an auction site is savvy and has a listing optimized for Google, people can find them.''

The intersection of live and virtual auctions promises nearly limitless opportunity, and a few companies have already found niches by pairing traditional auction houses with the online world.

Julian Ellison moved from London to New York in 1999 to launch liveauctioneers.com, a Webcasting project that initially drew more than a few laughs.

``But people laughed at the telephone and the fax machine, too,'' he says.