What is a Public Auction?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 13 March 2020
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Public auctions are auction events that are open to the general public. Generally, the auction is publicized through various means, making it possible to reach a larger number of people. Just about any type of property or other valuables can be sold at a live auction of this type. Both private entities and government agencies may sponsor a public auction.

In many instances, the public auction takes place at an auction house. When this is the case, the items up for auction are transported to the auction house, where they are kept in a secure location until they are presented to the bidders for their consideration. An auctioneer announces each item up for bid, describes the item and then opens the bidding to those in attendance. The auctioneer usually starts with a recommended opening bid and continues the bidding on each item as long as someone in the audience is willing to place a higher bid.


There are also auction companies that will coordinate a public auction at a location such as a warehouse or a private estate. This arrangement is especially useful when it is not practical to transport all the items for bid to another facility. Events of this type may include a government auction held at a location where property seized for back taxes or as part of a raid related to some sort of criminal activity is stored. Selling off property and possessions associated with an estate may also be handled by holding the public auction directly on the estate itself.

It is not unusual for a public auction to prepare and make available a catalog of items that will be presented at the event. This is especially common when auctioning real estate, automobiles, jewelry, or furnishings from an estate. By providing the catalog to the general public in advance, there is a good chance that people will attend simply to bid on a particular item, but may find themselves interested in other items once they are at the actual event.

With a public auction, bidders must be present at the event in order to participate. Bids by mail or electronic means are not considered acceptable. It is not unusual for people who are unable to attend the public auction to send agents or proxies who are empowered to bid on their behalf. Generally, the proxies are given specific instructions on which items to bid on and how much they are allowed to bid for each of the items. The proxy will often initiate the bidding well below that maximum amount and attempt to win the item well below the cap set by his or her employer.



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