Sunday, May 27, 2007

Going, going, gone...

Today, for a want of nothing else to do, and after the plan was suggested and hatched over several pints of some delightful real ale and a game of dominoes in a country pub last night (I got delightfully drunk and suffered naught this morning apart from only managing five hours sleep), we went to an auction.

I've never been to one before but one of the two lads who went with me is well used to "proper" auctioneers, being that part of his job is working with them - but this wasn't at a recognised auction house, it wasn't an auction that had been authorised by anyone in particular, this was an auction which by anyone's definition would be instantly defined as "shady" the minute you walked into the very expensive hotel who were innocently hosting it.

I say that anyone would define it as "shady" whereas the truth is that most of the hundred or so people in the room seemed quite happy to part with a few hundred of their hard earned pounds for so-called "bankrupt stock", assorted bits and pieces of electrical goods, garden implements, cases of wine and jewellery.

We stood at the back and watched in amazement for an hour while people fell over themselves to be scammed by the very clever "auctioneer" who actually didn't auction anything at all but merely set his own prices for items and waited for the fools to get their credit cards out, abley assisted by several meathead "assistants" smartly attired in suits and waistcoats that showed their body-builder physiques to the best advantage, you wouldn't want to renege on a bid in this room.

So what was so wrong with the "auction" ?

The lack of opportunity to place a bid for something for one, a typical item would be sold like this ...

Auctioneer, who was very clever with his patois, joking with the audience and criticising his staff in a jocular way whenever anyone was kept waiting for more than a few seconds for their credit card details to be taken, describes an item in a lighthearted way, typically stating that he "doesn't know much about radios/wine/diamonds/whatever" and then going on to state just how valuable the item in his hand is.

Having built up the item to hand and half convinced everyone that its really worth several hundred pounds - a typical example being the watches in boxes that look expensive but could in fact have been the sort you can buy wholesale on eBay at £50 for ten - he suggests a starting price of £100.

Of course there are no takers, he knows there will be no takers, he wants the audience to think that they are smarter than him and so the audience sit there and think , "I'm not bidding that, he'll have to come down if no-one bids" and indeed he does, he suggests a second starting price of £10 stating that he "has to sell these today".

Instantly several hands go up and he counts quickly upwards in bids of £10, "£10, £20, £30,£40, £50" and he points randomly around the room so that no-one can follow his gaze and/or identify who is actually bidding these amounts, if indeed they are and if indeed there are five people bidding in the room.

The truth is of course that no-one has actually offered a bid, they've put their hand up because they wanted to buy it at £10 because it seemed like a bargain even if it was a cheap watch in an expensive looking box, now all of a sudden they are sitting their holding their numbered bid card up for something that has jumped up to £50 within three or four seconds and the man at the front who looks like you wouldn't want to mess with him has written their number down and they've bought a watch - within seconds another man is stood above them with a portable credit card terminal asking how they'd like to pay for the item which is now priced at £64 because, as the huge assistants explain with a smile as they process your credit card, they have to add 10% commission and VAT.

We saw this happen time and again in the hour, and several thousand pounds were spent by the gullible crowd, we were amazed, my friend who is the auction expert had whispered the word "dodgy" to me within a few minutes of the auction starting but we stayed to watch the show - none of the purchasers were offered a receipt (illegal if you are charging VAT), none of them even knew who they were buying the goods from, all of them accepted the premise that they would receive a manufacturers warranty on the goods despite no such guarantees or receipts being issued, it was so blatant that you could only shake your head at the gathering of stupidity in the room.

One woman paid £50 (plus commission plus VAT) for six bottles of wine that were randomly chosen from a huge pile of boxes and another paid £60 (plus commission plus VAT) for six bottles of "Chateau de Pape 2002" wine which sounds like it should be from the expensive Chateuaneuf de Pape producers but could in fact be from any wine producer anywhere in the world who wanted to call his wine "house of the pope".

A 40" flat screen TV with surround sound went for £750 (plus commission plus VAT) without being demonstrated, someone authorised them to debit £970 from their credit card for a TV set that he'd seen from across the room, and he meekly accepted their word that Sharp would give him a 12 month warranty when he filled in the Sharp registration card and wrote "don't know" in the box that asks which dealer he bought it from.

On the way home my friend explained how "proper" auctions work, how the sale of goods is usually on behalf of a private individual, a bankruptcy or Government seizures, the sum raised goes to the seller, hence the auctioneer having to add a percentage on top of all sales - but the auction house MUST state up front what the percentage is and they MUST state whether or not VAT will be added, its also a legal requirement to issue a VAT invoice with all VAT transaction.

None of this was done today and there was no indication that a disposal was being done for any thrid party - this was a group of chancers who had purchased all of the goods as "end of line" or "discontinued" items and were selling them for their own profit, then adding ten percent on top of their own illegitimate style of auctioneering.

But as the saying goes "let the buyer beware" or as I prefer "there were a lot of fuckwits gathered in that room today"

It provided us with some lunchtime entertainment though.

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