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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Price is Right

I discovered recently that I could never be a contestant on the Price is Right.

It seems like a lovely show. The concept is fun, even with Bob Barker retired. In fact, way back when I was a weird little child I used to watch game shows. I had my cartoon Jones. But I loved game shows. What can I tell you?

Anyway, think back to when Bob Barker used to yell "Come on down!" And one at a time, four contestants would scream and wave their hands and run down front and begin bidding on the value of various household items to determine who could get closest to the actual price and move to the next step in the game.

Even as a kid I used to wonder how people really felt inside when they bid $699.97 for a nice fridge, and the person next to them subsequently bid $699.98, and the latter bidder won.

The other contestants always maintained smiles on their faces and applauded enthusiastically, win or lose. I always guessed though that if there hadn't been cameras on them some of those contestants would have sworn like sailors and tried to strangle the person next to them who undercut them by a penny or a dollar.

So skip ahead a couple of decades to last week. I had to fill in for the Herald's arts writer on Wednesday. And my job that day was to cover a scheduled bankruptcy auction for a piece of property belonging to a local historic theater. I learned later that day that the theater had come up with the funds the night before and successfully avoided the auction. But that morning I had to sit there and wait till the theater's case number was called...or not.

While I waited I got in some good people watching. First, I noticed the people in the gallery were all a hyper bunch - mostly guys, by a 30-to-1 margin. They'd all either had a lot of coffee or smoked a little crack before coming to the courthouse, 'cause they were all over the place. Second, the whole auction process was fascinating. It was almost like what you'd imagine from campy old cattle auction scenes in the movies. There was an administrative judge announcing each property for sale, and she called out each property in that stereotypical auctioneer's voice - you know, 100 words a second, going once, going twice, three times, sold! That sort of thing.

Some of the auctions were to take over mortgages. Others were to buy properties outright. All of the bids started at $100. And most were still at that price when sold. But in some cases the bidding rose into the thousands, tens of thousands, and even hundreds of thousands.

Here's what really fascinated me: Most of the time the first person to bid got the property. Rarely did anyone try to outdo the first bidder. However, on the few occasions when the bidding went higher, I noticed that people were outbidding each other by as little as $1. Seriously, someone would call out "$1,000," and before they closed their mouth the next person was calling out "$1,001."

And the funny thing is, unlike the Price is Right, people were getting really ticked off. No applause, for sure. But not even the gracious smile. I saw so many red faces and grimaces in that room I thought there was a group heart attack taking place.

Part of me wanted to laugh. But an equal part of me felt the anger of those folks who were being outbid by mere dollars. The combo of emotions drove me to sympathy.

I watched one guy bid, $500,000 for a high condo that had gone into foreclosure. The next guy bid $500,700, I believe. They went back and forth until the second guy finally won at something like $504,002. The first guy was livid and had to stalk out of the room to regain his composure.

These guys would not have made good Price is Right contestants. Sore losers. To be fair to them though? Under the circumstances I'd be a sore loser too. I'd be really, really, pissed off.

Had I been outbid by a dollar, or even $100 on a property I badly wanted I think I might have drop-kicked the person who beat me out of that 9th story window.

If ever I decide to pursue a game show, I think it might have to be Jeopardy, or some other show where only my wits will propel me to the top or sink my ship.

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  • I've just consigned myself to the fact that I'm always going to get beat on the exchange. I'm a jack of all trades and I know that in any narrow niche there's going to someone who's got the edge... which is why I don't play poker.

    By Blogger M@, at 12:34 AM  

  • I always marvel at the people who grin and clap after losing on those shows.

    If I were in charge of handing out the goodies, I would skip them since they obviously don't care one way or the other.

    By Blogger heartinsanfrancisco, at 12:45 AM  

  • Auctions are a big deal around here. There are always two or three big auctions going on on the weekends. I love to go and people watch too. Most of the men show up looking like somebody from the World Series of Poker.

    The stand there stone faced the whole time, just raising a hand to bid. They usually look at the other bidder for a second trying to read him/her and then look away too. Oh and most of them are wearing John Deere hats and sunglasses. It's hilarious.

    By Blogger Jay, at 12:50 AM  

  • If they were mad about being outbid by a dollar why didn't they just up the bid another dollar themselves?

    Or was there a time limit?

    By Blogger Hammer, at 12:54 AM  

  • My mum was on the Price is right when i was a kid. SHe won a freezer full of frozen was a day to rejoice for us all at home :)

    By Blogger Cazzie!!!, at 1:05 AM  

  • Sounds like auctions can learn a lesson from eBay - minimum bidding increments.

    By Blogger The Sarcasticynic, at 7:24 AM  

  • Couple of years before I went to one auction store in the mid time of bidding take place, where I witnessed the same thing which you given here. Most of the guys really want to own the product, I have seen that sometimes they are bid more than the products value...

    By Anonymous Mark, at 7:38 AM  

  • Carlos Mencia did a riff on this the other night. One of his actors bid $500 (I think), the next guy bid $501 and Carlos called the second guy a dick (or close to it) for 'cheating' then completely ripped the last guy for bidding only $1, like anything costs just $1.

    It was funnier than I'm making it sound. I've often though the same thing. It's legal, but it's not quite playing fair. Then again, business is business.

    By Blogger SWF42, at 11:08 AM  

  • I have to hit the auctions and see for myself. (broadening horizons and all that). Very interesting!

    By Blogger jali, at 1:00 PM  

  • Matt, you and me both. I am no good as a gambler...of any kind.

    HeartsinSanFran, I'll bet their clapping and cheering 'cause of that applause sign up above 'em out of view of the camera. I can't imagine it's 'cause they're happy aobut losing.

    Jay, those guys sound like professionals.

    Hammer, there was no limit. But I got the impression that some of these guys were also very well disciplined and just not willing to budge even 1 penny over the limits they had set for themselves. So, maybe on prinicple, they let some properties go. 'Cause to me it makes sense that if you can afford to pay $500K for a property, another one or two or three thousand can't make that big a difference. Maybe they know that if they start breaking their limits for a buck here or $100 there, they'll lose discipline and then start bidding wildly to get properties at any cost. Not a good thing.

    Cazzie, I like that. A fridge full of food is a pretty practicle reward, especially w/a house full of kids.

    Sarc, I think that would be a good idea. Maybe I'm just nuts. But I swear if I kept getting undercut by nickle and dimers, I'd wanna kill someone.

    Mark, I could see some guy lacking restraint overbidding, just so he can get the product, even if it means bidding more than its worth.

    SWF42, (happy b-day, I presume?), that does sound like a funny skit and definitely related to this.

    Jali, you should check it out. I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 2:36 PM  

  • Lots of auctions 'round these here parts (sigh - I sound SO hick!) - and they are different. Much calmer - and the same players over and over. But not many ruffled feathers...

    The cattle auctions are pretty laid-back, too.

    Don't get me started on the yard-salers, tho - they are some MEANIES!

    By Blogger Tiggerlane, at 2:59 PM  

  • Every auction I've been to (charity auctions), you can only bid in increments relative to the price. Like a $100 item can be bid on in $5 increments. If it goes over 1000, then its like $20-50 increments. None of this one dollar crap.

    By Blogger Evil Spock, at 2:59 PM  

  • Thanks for writing about this, I was looking to find out what goes on at these auctions because I'm going to my first one, tomorrow, armed with the research I've done on a number of properties. Because I don't yet know the nitty gritty on the details, i.e. how much you need to put down right away, closing terms etc I probably won't be bidding on anything but who knows, if some of the condo units I researched can be bought for low enough and I'm confident I can bring together the equity needed within 30 days, maybe I'll snatch one up :x:

    By Blogger J, at 2:18 PM  

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