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'Do I hear 6 figures? Sold!'
Auctioneering can be a lucrative job ... if you know what you're selling.
June 3, 2005: 9:37 AM EDT
By Jeanne Sahadi, CNN/Money senior writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) If you are media-savvy about marketing, like entertaining crowds and can speak at breakneck speed without sacrificing clarity, you have some of what it takes to be an auctioneer.

If you want to have any success, though, you have to be very knowledgeable about what you're selling and savvy in appraising its value.

You also need to know how to target the right buyers. And you ought to have a strong sense of integrity because without it you won't earn the trust necessary from both buyer and seller, said Paul C. Behr, president and owner of the World Wide College of Auctioneering at Mason City, Iowa.

When you think auctioneer, you may envision a man in a fine suit at Sotheby's selling a Picasso or a man in a cowboy hat selling livestock.

But there are many items that auctioneers sell every day in various garb: industrial equipment, autos and real estate, to name a few.

There are also charity auctions, government auctions and estate sales that put everything from aircraft to watches on the block.

Last year, auctions generated nearly $220 billion in sales. And auctioneers who work for a sales commission (as many do) can earn a pretty penny.

"It's a very lucrative industry," said Robert A. Shively, executive director of the National Auctioneers Association (NAA). Indeed, "The Millionaire Next Door" lists auctioneer as one of the professions of self-employed millionaires.

The majority of auctioneers are part-timers -- only 20 percent listed auctioneering as their sole source of income in an NAA study.

Those most likely to make six figures or more are full-time auctioneers and those who own their own auctioneering business, said Jim Pennington, owner of the Pacific Auction Exchange, Inc. Real Estate Auction Company, which has sold 25 franchise locations. He estimates that among full-time auctioneers, more than half make six figures.

There are some instances when an auctioneer gets a fee instead of a commission. For example, an auctioneer might contract to do daily wholesale car auctions (where dealers bid on other dealers' trade-ins).

That contractor might do auctions five days a week, for six to eight hours a day. But other auctioneers' have a lighter schedule. An art auctioneer, for instance, might do a two-hour auction as infrequently as once a month.

But it's not unusual to put in 60 to 70 hours a week, Pennington said, if you run a large and busy auction business with staff.

Contrary to popular belief, the fast-talking bid soliciting at live auctions accounts for less than 5 percent of an auctioneer's job, Shively said.

The bulk of the work is in the preparation. Marketing the property to the right group of people, advertising the auction and helping the seller to prepare the auction items for sale are just three key responsibilities.

Getting started

There's no one path to becoming an auctioneer. But having a keen ability to value what you're selling is crucial. That knowledge tends to come more from experience than graduate degrees. According to an NAA study, 35 percent of auctioneers have a college degree, while another 36 percent have some college experience.

There are auctioneering schools, attendance at which your state may or may not require. Most have fairly short programs of a few weeks to a few months. The programs either cover auctioneer basics or just focus on teaching the chant, as does the World Champion College of Auctioneering where Pennington teaches.

Thirty-seven states require auctioneers to be licensed. But before being allowed to take the state exam, you may be required to serve as an apprentice for up to two years with a seasoned auctioneer.

Requirements or no, you've got to be able to talk the talk. The chant is less about speed than rhythm, Pennington said. "Rhythm creates the speed."

And the speed at which you speak is determined in part by the bidders. "The more professional and regular the buyers, the quicker the pace," Pennington said.

But, he noted, it's clarity -- not speed -- that separates the good auctioneers from the best.

(To hear a sample of a livestock auctioneer's chant, click here and select "View Demo.")  Top of page

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