In North Dakota, Internet sellers may need auctioneer license

Monday, October 10th 2005, 1:21 pm
By: News On 6

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) _ To sell things over eBay, Mark Nichols may be required to take instruction in rapid-fire speaking, breathing control and reading hand gestures, even though the transactions are done by computer keyboard and mouse.

North Dakota's Public Service Commission is exploring whether people like Nichols, who runs a small consignment store in Crosby, must obtain auctioneer licenses before they can legally use eBay to sell merchandise for others.

To get a North Dakota auctioneer's license, applicants must pay a $35 fee, obtain a $5,000 surety bond and undergo training at one of eight approved auction schools, where the curriculum includes talking really fast.

``I don't think it offers any additional protection for the consumer,'' Nichols said. ``It just creates a lot of red tape for the business, as well as having to put out a lot of money.''

In North Dakota and other states, the growing popularity of online auctions is prompting closer scrutiny from regulators.

The PSC already licenses auctioneers and is asking North Dakota's attorney general for a legal opinion about whether the definition of an auctioneer covers eBay sellers.

Commissioner Kevin Cramer said he does not believe the law applies to people who sell their own goods over eBay, but it could cover those who sell property consigned by others for a fee.

``Our laws probably didn't contemplate this type of commerce,'' Cramer said. ``It's probably time to take a look at them.''

The closest auctioneer schools, in Mankato, Minn., and Billings, Mont., cost $795 to $1,625 for a week to 10 days of training.

``We teach you to talk to the public, think on your feet, evaluate people, breathe properly and control your voice so you can sustain it for hours,'' says the Web site of the Western College of Auctioneering in Billings, which holds its classes at a motel.

Gordon Krance, president of the North Dakota Auctioneers Association, said the group has no position on whether people who are paid to sell others' goods on eBay should have an auctioneer's license. But he said sellers could benefit from attending auctioneering school.

``To me, it would be a plus to gain some knowledge of marketing, of the business end of an auction company, and ways to better represent your clients,'' he said.

Hani Durzy, an eBay spokesman, said the company believes state laws regulating auctioneers should not apply to eBay sellers.

Although eBay is often called an online auction service and uses many traditional auction terms, its sales are technically not auctions, Durzy said. For one thing, he said, eBay sales give buyers a fixed amount of time to bid for merchandise, while a traditional auction is held open as long as there are bidders.

In Tennessee, trading assistants and stores that sell consignment goods on eBay must obtain an auction ``gallery license,'' which costs $100 a year and requires the holder to undergo 30 hours of education and establish a bank escrow account.

California, Florida, Maine, Missouri and Texas have also considered extending auction rules to eBay sellers, the company said.

Nichols runs a consignment store called Variety Marketplace and said he has occasionally sold goods on eBay for customers. He sold a 1938 Ford for one customer, Nichols said. Bidding started at $8,000 and closed at $14,500.

``Online auctions help create a marketplace,'' he said. ``You can bring in money from outside the community, and that's important to small towns like Crosby.''