Perspectives from the field: Jill Doherty, 2002 Women's International Auctioneer Champion

Jill Doherty

Howard Schnapp

Jill Doherty has been an auctioneer for 20 years and has sold everything from used pet bowls to expensive cars. She also is the 2002 Women's International Auctioneer Champion, winning a competition sponsored by the National Auctioneers Association.

From her base on Long Island at Bay Shore, N.Y., Doherty works extensively with local governments to sell surplus equipment as well as vehicles confiscated by police departments. Auctions are a tool for finding out what people really are willing to pay. It's not an opinion, it's not an appraisal. And it is efficient. Doherty said she and her team can clear out a four-bedroom house in a day, leaving it "rattling" in its emptiness. At large vehicle auctions for commercial dealers, she sells a car a minute.

She spoke to Washington Technology Senior Editor Nick Wakeman about auctions, how they work and when it is best to use them.

WT: What have you learned about people during auctions?

Doherty: It is a psychological business. Different things affect the psyche of the buyers as well as the sellers.

Take the weather -- you might think the nastier the weather, the higher the chances no one will go to the auction. So buyers start thinking if they are the only ones to show up, they'll be able to buy everything for free or as cheap as possible. But the truth is if the weather is bad, we are going to have one hell of an auction.

On the opposite side, if the weather is beautiful, buyers have options: You can go to the beach, you can work in the yard, you can paint the house. The buyer starts to think everyone is probably going to the auction, and just the opposite happens. On a real beautiful day, the competition is not as strong.

WT: What other things can affect an auction?

Doherty: Whether the seller is involved in the bidding process. Is there a reserve [a minimum price the seller has set]? Are the sellers trying to control something? When they do try to control something, the buyers recognize that. They sniff it out, and they don't like it.

WT: When would you do a reserve, and when shouldn't you?

Doherty: If there is a reason you cannot sell below a certain number, [for instance] if you are selling real estate and you have a high mortgage on it. But there are times you have to sell below the mortgaged amount, even if you have to kick in. Sometimes you can sell it subject to the seller's approval.

But, again, you are playing around with the auction method of marketing. You are trying to keep your hand on something you shouldn't. You should just market it and go with it.

WT: Is educating your clients a big part of your job?

Doherty: Yes, just getting them prepared to take the best hit on whatever they can get. But as far as guessing the price, it is silly. It is a waste of time. I let the bidders bid.

You give sellers a reality check, especially if I know they are way out of line. I ask them: Where did you get that number? What if you don't achieve that number, what are your options?

I'm inviting everyone in the world to stand here and bid, so I ask the sellers: Where are you going to go to get better, stronger buyers? 

WT: Does it surprise you what people buy?

Doherty: Every time. I ask them, what are you going to do with that? "Oh, yadda, yadda, yadda, I don't know."

I laugh, but it's not for me to judge.

WT: Why do people like to come to auctions?

Doherty: The competitive bidding process and the opportunity to buy something you can't buy any other way -- something really special, unbelievable.

I bought a box of jewelry at an estate sale, just a tag sale, for about $1,500. It had an opal necklace in it, a couple of watches, rings. I took them to a gallery in New York City for a jewelry auction. All the other pieces sold for a couple hundred dollars a piece, but that one necklace sold for $90,000. Never in my wildest dreams could I have thought this piece was worth this money. [It had] no diamonds, just gold and some precious stones.

Afterward, we spoke to the two bidders. They were able to figure out the story of this jewelry: [The necklace] was an L.C. Tiffany signed piece, the original Mr. Tiffany.

The auction method of marketing is what produces that. It doesn't happen every time, but on things that are important or things that two people see the value in, they'll fight to the


About the Author

Nick Wakeman is the editor-in-chief of Washington Technology. Follow him on Twitter: @nick_wakeman.

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