Reality auctions pique interest for treasure hunters

Auctioneer Jack Kiko said he really started noticing it this spring.

Bidders yelling, "Yuuup!"

Someone telling a winner to "Go pay the lady."

The term "picker" dropped more frequently into conversations.

The jargon is one way Kiko can tell his industry is feeling the effect of numerous reality TV shows that deal with dusty treasures hidden in America's attics, basements, garages and storage units.

Where viewers once had to settle for a weekly episode of "Antiques Roadshow," they can now get their fill daily with the likes of "American Pickers," "Pawn Stars," "Storage Wars," "Auction Kings" and "Auction Hunters," to name only a few.

For those not content to just watch, try going local. There are several auctions a week in the Akron-Canton, Ohio, area, for example.

"The TV shows have been good for business," said Kiko, who works with his father and other family members at Canton-based Kiko Auctions.

You can probably thank the sour economy for the whole phenomenon.

People in need of cash are more willing to part with cherished items. That brings out the investors and collectors who want to add to their tangible assets at bargain-basement prices.

Meanwhile, websites like eBay and Craigslist and the popularity of flea markets make it easy for an average person to become a dealer, reselling their auction finds for some extra cash.

"It takes all types of buyers to make an auction work," Kiko said. "You have got to have the dealers and you've got to have the (consumers)."

Examples of both were gathered at a Kiko auction in Lake Township, Ohio, last month, where more than 400 people arrived to pick through the belongings of Linda Hanks, whose husband, Tom, passed away six years ago.

Tom became ill in 1993, Linda explained, and his way of coping with his medical limitations was to attend auctions and tag sales. Over the years, he filled the house, garage and three storage sheds with his discoveries.

"It took this long for me to be able to let some of this go," Linda said as she sat on her porch while visitors strolled the grounds of her property, looking at tools, collectibles, housewares, outdoor furniture and oddities of every theme.

Picking through boxes of mismatched goods, Kevin Ulicky of Parma, Ohio, represented perhaps the largest demographic at any auction: those who are curious but not in the market for anything specific.

"I'm retired, so I like to go to auctions and look around and watch," he said. "I go a lot and don't buy anything."

He warned that auctions can be contagious, and the bidding can turn into a spirited competition.

"Sometimes you can get caught up in it and end up buying a box of junk for $20 and you wonder what you were thinking," he said.

It took more than four hours to sell the Hanks's belongings. The first couple of hours took place in front of the garage, where the more valuable items were offered, while the crowd - including experienced bidders who knew to bring their own lawn chairs - flashed their bidding cards.

The pickings were diverse: a traffic signal controller, leather military aviator's helmet, pay phone, papier-mache masks, coins, walking canes, battery-operated tools, beaded purses and firearms.

Then the auction turned into a "walk and talk," with the auctioneer leading a mobile crowd to the outbuildings and around rows of boxes and items laid out on the lawn.

Steve Kelleher patiently was waiting for some of the last items to be bid. The president of the Barberton Historical Society picked up a handful of Halloween-related decorations to use in the society's Barber Haunt haunted house. He determined a rubber cadaver he won for $50 was easily worth $200 or more.

Kelleher, also a personal collector, has been to "hundreds" of auctions in his lifetime, he said. The 128-year-old Victorian house he shares with his wife, Chris, is filled with collectibles and antique furniture.

Like Ulicky, Kelleher admits to having bought things he really didn't want.

"It's a macho thing. Some people might as well be bidding with their middle finger," Kelleher said.

He laughed recalling how he once bid $9,500 on an antique bookcase he and his wife agreed was worth $4,000.

He saw his wife's horrified expression as he participated in the frenzied bidding, but said he was always confident the other bidder would stay in till the end. Sure enough, the other guy took the bookcase home for $10,000.

Kelleher said he's much more disciplined now.

"When I leave an auction, I'm always happy," he said. "I either got something for a good price, or I leave with all of my money. I win either way."

AUCTION TIPS:

• Some auctions take place at a permanent auction house, but many occur on the site of the seller, such as a home or business. Also, some auctions have a specific theme, like musical instruments or classic cars.

• Once you've picked an auction to attend, go early and look over the items. Make note of how high you are willing to bid before the auction starts so you can respond quickly as the bidding proceeds. There won't be much time to discuss bids with a spouse or friend once the action is under way.

• Before the auction starts, register to receive a bidding number. You'll need to show identification and give your contact information.

• When you're ready to bid, hold up your number to get the auctioneer's attention. Once he's aware of your interest, a nod or shake of the head will let him know whether you are continuing to bid or dropping out. If you're entering your first bid late in the game, you may need to be more aggressive in getting the auctioneer's attention by shouting "Yo" or "Here."

• Don't get caught up in the competition of bidding. Stick to your plan and don't overpay for something just to deny it to another bidder.

• It's not uncommon for most people bidding to be dealers. Know that they are likely to stop bidding when the price reaches half of what they feel they can sell it for at retail.

• The auctioneer might be speaking very fast. Listen for two numbers. Usually, the first number is the price that has been offered and the second number is what the auctioneer is asking for.

• If there are duplicate items, listen for the auctioneer's explanation of whether they are being sold as a group or whether the bid is a case of "buyer's choice." In the latter, the winning bid is the price for one of the items, but the winner may take as many of the items he wants by multiplying the price. If the winner doesn't take all of the items, the bidding will begin again for the remaining items. If you are unclear about whether the items are being sold as one lot or separately, ask.

• If the auctioneer announces you are the winner, it's over. The sale is complete and you cannot return the item. After you are done bidding on all the items you are interested in, pay your total bill where you registered for your number.

• A buyer's premium of 4 percent or more will be added to your bill, but this fee is often waived if you pay in cash.

• If you purchased large items, the seller might allow you to pick them up the following day. Inquire. For smaller items, you will take possession upon winning.

Sources: Auctioneer Jack Kiko, veteran bidder Steve Kelleher.

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