Estate auctions: Trust and patience

An auction professional must have both when managing an estate auction.
And, you need to build trust with more people than the client themselves.

By NAA Staff

As auction professionals, you work with many different types of people. Coming into contact with so many different kinds of people additionally opens the door to a wide range of diverse experiences and emotional settings.

And let’s face it, above many other auction environments; estate auctions can be especially delicate when managing seller emotions.

Normally, an estate auction professional is contacted after an individual passes on, so, a client’s emotional levels at this time understandably can range from overwhelmed and upset to anxious, or even simply eager to “just get it done.”
Tim Keller, a 28-year auction veteran, focuses on what it takes to be successful in the world of estate auctioning and has a few reminders on the importance of patience when handling delicate client situations.

“Grieving people need someone to listen to them and help provide the care, encouragement, and support they require to help re-establish their lives,” said Keller, CAI, AMM, CES, of Keller Auctioneers, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Estate auction professionals are expected to wear many different hats and perform varying roles during the lengthy process it takes to put on the actual auction. This may include everything from counselor, mediator, and even mover. So, it is not surprising that trust is a vital key in the client-Auctioneer relationship.

Establishing trust with multiple types of personalities can be rather difficult, however, and Keller believes in the importance of reading the client’s personality, their comfort and emotional levels, and their social ques to better understand how to effectively assist them, or when to back away.

“You need to be able to read your client,” Keller said. “You will have a better direction on how to set up the auction, complete it successfully, and have [the client] go through the experience with a more relaxed and trusting approach.”

Reading your client isn’t just about reading the individual. In fact, reading into the relationships he or she has and identifying those key individuals who surround your client can carry just as much impact (or more) on whether you ultimately conduct a successful auction event.

How so? While it important for an Auctioneer to try to relate to their clients personally and build trust there, those other individuals need to trust you as well. Their trusting you will allow for the client and their group to make sound business decisions (including, perhaps, following your advice) during emotional times.

Let’s look at some of those outside areas where trust in you will be important.

Decision Maker vs. Influencer

Ultimately, the person who has the ability to make the legal decisions is key, but it can be just as beneficial to assist the person who influences them. Educating, instructing, and guiding the influencers can, in some instances, help make an auction run smoother.

Real property vs. personal property

If a person inquires about one of these, why not determine if the other is included or also available? Many times an executer isn’t knowledgeable enough about auctions to know that most of it can be included. Also find out if a formal appraisal is required or if the client only needs to find a general value for the property.

Special types of property, collections, fine art, or guns

Are there any special types of property that require a specialist? Don’t be afraid to use the people you know, and make sure you’re focusing on the right market for specific items. Know your strengths and weaknesses when auctioning property.

Other non-auction competitors will start to appear

There are people who quickly move in on an estate in hopes to purchase the real estate or other highly valuable items. Auctioneers have the best interest of the estate in mind and will guide the executors through what should be kept, what should be thrown out, and will protect the sale from competitors.

Emotional items

Make sure the clients and the executors are comfortable with what is included in the estate auction, as it is possible for them to place emotional value on items. Make sure you keep your emotions unbiased on personal items and even suggest the more emotionally valuable items be kept back and out of the sale. This will also build trust between the Auctioneer and client/executor. Also, perhaps suggest donating items that can be used and won’t necessarily bring in much profit or have little emotional value.


Attorneys are busy, and most are unknowledgeable about the protocols involved with auctions. Make sure you give requests and lists to the attorneys in writing to help them complete their files correctly. Keep everybody informed. Give them reasons to want to work with you. Build a relationship with them.

“The people that you do business with is because of your relationships,” Keller said.

This article was an excerpt from a presentation given at the 2017 NAA International Auctioneers Conference and Show. Want even more tips on  this topic? Full audio of the presentation is available in the NAA Knowledge Center.