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Tips for a First Time Auction Goer

This week we had one of our favorite events, the Amish auction. There are so many reasons why we love this event, and we have gotten to be savvier buyers over the last few years. Here are my tips for a first time auction goer.

What is the “Amish Auction?”

Technically I don’t think it is called the “Amish Auction”, but that is what we call it. This auction is held twice a year, at the beginning and end of the summer. A local Amish community hosts it at one of their larger farms. People can consign items there, and a portion of all the proceeds go towards the Amish school.

amish buggy rough and tumble farmhouse

What can you find at the auction?

LOADS of stuff. One section is all canned goods and other food that the Amish ladies have contributed. In the spring there are hundreds of flower baskets. There are Amish made quilts, wood crafts, etc. One section is all for different types of fire arms. Animals go up for auction too! Rabbits, chickens, ducks, geese, horses, goats, cows, and even a donkey. (We didn’t buy the donkey even though he was the softest thing I have ever felt in my life).

There are always Amish buggies, horse harness equipment, saddles, and things of that nature.

Lawn mowers, shop equipment, yard art, etc.

My favorite section though is the field area. Rows and rows of, well, mostly crap. BUT if you take the time to dig through it, you can find some real treasures and often get them for a steal.

They also have a big pole shed with food available. Baked goods as far as the eye can see and donuts. Fresh donuts you watch them make right there.

amish donuts rough and tumble farmhouse

What’s the best thing we’ve gotten at the auction?

I will tell the tale forever of my Earthway Seeders. Earthway Seeders are small seeders that are often used by the ambitious home gardener or small farmer. It’s a little hopper on a wheel, and you can put different seed plates in it. Typically they go for $125-$150 new. Well I got two of them. For FIFTEEN DOLLARS EACH.

Seriously, I get a rush just thinking about it.

I also got a whole bucket of electric fencing handles and insulators for $1. To everyone else it looked like a wet bucket of junk. Once I got it home there was easily $30 of perfectly good fencing supplies.

Why do I love auctions so much?

I know some people can’t stand auctions, but I love them. You suss out what items you want, then you wait with anticipation for the auctioneer to get to your item. Finally, maybe after hours of waiting, the bidding starts. Hopefully it doesn’t go over your top price right away. You decide when to place your bid. Maybe you are in a bidding war over T-Posts with some old Amish guy, or going back and forth with an old cowboy with a handlebar mustache over a box of fencing insulators (true stories). It’s all part of the thrill and the fun.

There always seems to be a cheery attitude at the auction, with auctioneers being personable folks who like to joke and keep the crowd engaged. You always end up chatting with a total stranger and meeting new people.

Often they are held outside, which when the weather is nice makes for a great way to spend the day. Plus there is almost always a county fair-style food truck with bad coffee, donuts, and other fried fares.

You also can get some amazing deals, and find some very cool items.

Crates and boxes of rabbits, chickens, and ducks.

Tips a First Time Auction Goer

After three years of taking part in this auction I have gotten better at being the winning bidder.

Here are my top tips so you can bring home the items you want and have a fun day.

  1. Get there a little early. When you first arrive you’ll need to get your bidder number. Sometimes there can be a long line for this and you might miss out on your item. This also allows you to take a look at items before the auction starts.
  2. Don’t forget your ID. You can’t get a bidder number unless you have your ID.
  3. Recruit a friend. Husband, mom, sister, whoever. If it is a larger auction there will be multiple auctioneers going at a time. My husband is always with, and this last time my folks came too. My parents hung out by the food and flowers, my husband kept an eye on the furniture, and I was out in the windrows of random farm equipment.
  4. Have a phone handy. Have your phone with so you can keep in touch with your bring-along friend. It’s also good so you can do a quick google search to see what an item goes for so you don’t overspend.
  5. Bring cash. This for that bad coffee and fair food.
  6. Keep your number handy. Don’t stuff your bidder number in your purse or the diaper bag. Keep it where you can reach it quickly and it won’t fall out of a pocket.
  7. Set your limit. Set your spending limit for the day, or for each item. It can be easy in the thrill of the bidding to lose your head and keep on going. Heck at the last auction I heard the auctioneer go, “You can’t bid against yourself sir you are already in it!” Once it goes over your number, just be done. I know it’s hard, but you need to stick to it.
  8. Don’t bid right away. The auctioneer’s job is to get as much money as they can for the items. They will start the bidding high, then drop it down until they get someone to bite. I am RARELY the first person to bid, unless it is a pile of “junk” and the auctioneer drops down to “Who’ll give me two bucks?” As soon as I hear that, if I even think I want the item, I’ll flip my number. I’ve learned with these auctioneers that once they hit that bottom, often they’ll give it to the first person who says “Yup!”
  9. Wait it out on stuff you only kinda want. This last auction there was a huge pile of boxes. The auctioneer did “choice” on the boxes (See below for a guide on auction terms). There was one box FULL of paint brushes. I wanted the brushes, but it wouldn’t have been the end of the world if I didn’t get them. Choice went up to almost $25. As people pulled out the boxes they wanted, eventually it was down to just the box of paintbrushes and a random box of what looked like junk. The auctioneer said, “Who’ll give me two bucks for the pile?”. That person was me. I brought home easily over $50 in paint brushes, and a box that looked like crap. Once I dug into the junk box, I found a perfectly good Mag Light that sells for around $45.
  10. If it’s something you really want, wait only a bit, then jump in as the bidding slows. Once the bids start coming in slower, you are usually down to one or two people bidding, who are likely close to their limit. If you really want that item, now is a good time to jump in quick.
  11. Be LOUD if you need to. Don’t be intimidated by all the other people or that burly looking dude who you are bidding against. If the auctioneer is looking your way, just raising your number with purpose is typically enough. But if they are turned the other way you need to speak up! My go-to is a loud clear, “Here!”
  12. Know what the terms mean. See below for a quick guide to auction terms.
  13. Be friendly and curteous with the auctioneer. If these guys like you, they’ll look out for you. The main auctioneer with the random farm equipment had a HUGE spider crawling on his back. Between items I walked up quietly and told him so and quickly brushed it off. I didn’t do that to curry favor, I did it because I’m a decent human being. But still, being polite and nice to auctioneers can help you. The same auctioneer would often get to small farm equipment and seek me out to ask if I wanted in on the bidding, or would quickly close up something that I was bidding on for cheap.
  14. Bring a big vehicle. We typically lke to have our pickup with, just because you never know what you might find. It’s not unusual to see people out there with trailers, too.
  15. Go to the same auction more than once. After three years of this auction, we know the lay out, we know the schedule, and we are familiar with the auctioneers. Different auctioneers have different styles, and knowing how they tend to run the bidding can help you.
  16. Think seriously about buying animals. They may be perfectly healthy good animals, but think seriously about buying one. You can’t ask about their healthy history, do a vet check, or look for any contagious parasites or illness. You might get a good deal on some animal, or you might be bringing a sick, infectious animal back to your farm.
  17. Get a copy of the schedule if they have one. Larger auctions will sell things off at different times, so grab a schedule or snap a picture of it so you can know when items are going.
  18. Ask. People at auctions tend to be friendly, there to have a good time. If you are wondering if certain items have gone up yet, ask a person standing nearby. Looking for the porta potty? Just ask.
milk jug rough and tumble farmhouse

Auction Terms to Know

The first time we went to the auction there were a few terms that I was confused by. Here are the most likely ones you’ll hear.

  • Choice. This is something they do if they have multiple of the same item, or a lot of items from the same seller. Let’s say they have five piles of T-Posts. The auctioneer will say “Choice on the T-Posts”. That means whoever the highest bidder is, can take first choice of the items and pay that winning bid. Let’s say they winning bid is $10, they can take the best pile of T-Posts for ten bucks. (Or sometimes they will decide they want it all for the winning bid, so they’ll take all five piles of T-Posts and spend $50.) After they have taken their choice, often the auctioneer will then turn to the next highest bidder, and let them take choice at their highest bid. After that, the bidding will start over again.
  • The Pile. If items just aren’t selling, the auctioneer might put a whole bunch of them together and say “Who’ll give me $x for the pile?” They might start at five bucks. They might drop down to $2.50. If no one wants it still, they might sell it all for a dollar to the first person who says ‘”Yep!”
  • Times the money. This is used if they have multiple of an item. Let’s say they have three big bags of green beans. They auctioneer will say “Bag of green beans, three times the money.” So that means it’s three identical bags of green beans all being auctioned at once. BUT, the bid you are placing is only paying for one bag, so they times it by three. So if I bid $5 on the three bags of green beans, I’m actually bidding $15.

The One that Got Away

You’ll likely experience that regret of an item that got away from you. Maybe you should have gone up another $2.50, or the bidding just went too high. Maybe you were waiting in line for a hot dog when that one thing you wanted went up for bid.

Just remember, if you have survived with out that item up until now, you probably can keep surviving with out it.

My regret is from this year. A GORGEOUS antique dresser with a mirror that was in amazing shape. I was out bidding on t-posts when it went for only $27. I’ll probably always think about that dresser. That dresser and that incredibly soft donkey. Oh well.

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    1. They also had a little dapple gray pony this time around. Came with the saddle and everything.

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