Going once, going twice…sold! Auctions up in down times

REGION – Everyone is looking for a bargain these days. And judging by the size of the crowds, area auctions are one of the more popular spots to find one. People who are looking to make some fast cash by liquidating assets, or those hoping to get a great deal on a practical tool or a lost treasure, can find both at public auctions.

"Auctions are a wonderful marketing tool," said Dennis Kubesh, owner of Century Asset Management. "Where else can 3,000 people go in one day and all be able to say what they want to spend on something?"

A recent Century auction held at its M-72 site included items from over a dozen estates, 15 bank foreclosures and 10 I.R.S. seizures, and brought in sales of over $340,000. Auction houses work on consignment – taking a percentage of the profit.

"Some people have a perception that selling something at an auction is a bad thing, like it couldn't sell anywhere else so ended up on the auction block. But the highest-priced paintings and vintage cars, for example, have always been sold at auctions that draw crowds that are among the wealthiest."

Kubesh and his crew of 12 average 30 auctions a year in seven states. Based in Maple City, and part of the year in Arizona, he got his start in the fur and leather business. Kubesh has been in the auction business for over 25 years and has seen the business grow from gross sales his first year of $7,100 and, last year, just over $11 million.

At Wayne Bancroft's annual spring sale held in May, nearly 4,000 people came to check out the items.

"We're seeing more and more families, people looking for things they can use, and they know the value of the items," Bancroft offered. A dairy farmer from Buckley for over 50 years, Bancroft has been in the auction business for almost as long, having started in 1970 with his brother.

"We started with farm equipment, and asked the neighbors – other farmers – if they had any equipment they wanted to sell, and it started from there," he explained. "We never dreamed it would get this big. We now have a brokers license for automobiles and a federal firearms license to sell guns."

Although Bancroft has also seen an increase in business liquidations, not all are because of the recession.

"Some are people retiring or changing businesses and an auction is a quick way to liquidate those assets."

Items can include everything from whole personal estates to collectibles to business equipment. One of the more unusual items that Bancroft has auctioned off was a vasectomy.

"It was for a benefit and a local doctor donated it, and it went for a good price!" he chuckled.

A Vietnam vet and trained barber, Jerry Cole has been an auctioneer for 17 years and has had an auction house in Benzonia for the past 11. It has grown from a small pole barn with no power to over 6,500 square feet of selling space.

"I decided a long time ago to do something I enjoyed and I was always intrigued by auctions. There were, and still are, many people with a partial amount for an auction, but not quite enough for a whole sale. We bought the building in Benzonia 11 years ago so we could take the smaller sales, whether one shotgun or a whole collection, and then we put things together."

Cole has seen changes in the industry, but auctions are as popular as ever.

"The crowds seem to be high and we're seeing a lot more end-users – people who come for items they want to use – rather than dealers who re-sell. And they don't want big old pieces of furniture and clutter stuff anymore. They're looking for value."

All of the auctioneers agreed that there has been a decrease in antiques and collectibles, down as much as 50 percent from five years ago, and about a 30 percent increase in sporting goods, particularly hunting and fishing items. The recession has also meant an upswing in business and commercial sales, bankruptcies and repossessions. People are looking for things of good value and are willing to bid high to get them, which drives the prices up when it's a bidding situation.

Often a family affair, Cole's son, Grant, has learned the business and gotten his auctioneers certification, as have Bancroft's two sons. The men are confident they will carry on the family business and see it grow even more.

For information on Wayne Bancroft Auction Service, call 231-263-5327 or check out their web site at waynebancroftauctions.com. Contact info for Century Asset Management, Inc. and its auction, appraisal and realty service, phone: 231-228-6667 or web site: centuryassets.com. Cole & Co. Auction & Appraisal Service in Benzonia, 231-882-5465, toll free: 800-233-6999 or online at: www.coleauctionsinc.com. BN