Auctions are increasingly seen as the best way to sell real estate, due to the benefits they provide for buyers and sellers, but the history of auctions is long and storied, dating back at least to Ancient Greece.
Auctions have likely been conducted from time immemorial, but Greek scribes in 500 B.C. were the first to leave a written record, telling of auctions being the only legal way to sell brides to prospective husbands. Particularly beautiful women were subject to vigorous bidding, and fetched the highest prices, while families of those judged less attractive had to add dowries or other extras to make the sale.
The word “auction” comes from the Latin word, augere, meaning “to increase” or “augment,” and Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius was said to use auctions to sell family furniture, and others sold war plunder. Rather than the gavel used today, a spear was thrown down to signal the start of proceedings.
The history of auctions in America dates back to the Pilgrims’ arrival in the 1600s and became a popular way to sell land, crops, furs, livestock, and most notoriously, slaves. Just as today, they were seen as the fastest and most efficient means to convert assets into cash. During the Civil War, colonels regularly auctioned off the spoils of war and surplus, and auctioneers are still often called “colonel.”
Many auction schools started in the early 1900s in the United States, with the Jones’ National School of Auctioneering and Oratory win Davenport, Iowa thought to be the first. After World War II, the number of auctions held increased considerably, due to the ability to move real estate and personal property faster than the private market would allow. There are numerous types of auctions, but the ones commonly used for real estate are absolute auctions, reserve auctions and minimum bid auctions.
During the 1990s, technology was finding its way into the auction business. The online auction house of eBay was launched in 1995 and went on to become an “online leader” in the bidding business. With the increasing use of technology and the Internet, the future promises to be as interesting as the history of auctions. Many auctioneers today offer both live and online auctions to meet the needs of customers who could be anywhere in the world. Technology lets buyers participate in the sale without even being there, but as anyone who has attended an well-run auction will attest, being there is half the fun!