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The Four Ds of Auctions – Death, Debt, Divorce, and Downsize

Why do people choose to sell at auction? It’s a question we get often. There can be a myriad of reasons – buying and selling for profit is the most obvious – but we find it more often falls into one of these four categories.

  • Death
  • Debt
  • Divorce
  • Downsize

Auctions are agents of change. Very few people sell off their life’s possessions for a happy reason. But, the light for us – as auctioneers – is that for better or worse, we know we can help people going through a major life transition. We can help make at least one aspect of their dark period, smoother.

auction estates after deathDeath

“You can’t take it with you.”
It’s an often repeated maxim for a reason. This is the reason most auctions are held. A family member has died and the survivors must decide what to do with the estate contents. Before a house can be sold or cash assets divided, the physical inventory must be liquidated.

After dividing amongst themselves the pieces with sentimental value, the family or their attorneys contact us. We liquidate the remaining property and the family can divide the proceeds or pay unpaid debts that must be satisfied.


auctioning an estate due to debtBenjamin Franklin’s quote still holds true, “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Foreclosures, repossessions, seizures, forfeitures, bankruptcies, and liens are the most common debt-induced reasons people choose to sell at auction. These are often court or duty-imposed auctions. In these cases a court or other official will select and seize the items to be auctioned and use the proceeds towards settlement of the debt.

Some debt-induced auctions are self-imposed. When the tax man is knocking, an auction can be a quick way to liquidate personal assets to avoid any future official forced actions. The bright side of following this path is that one gets to choose to sell at auction only the items one wishes to part with rather than having a third party make the decisions.


auction an estate due to divorceWhen people divorce, oftentimes neither party wants to retain certain jointly-acquired property. Or, more problematically, both parties wish to retain the same pieces. In either case, an auction can be a unbiased mediator of sorts and a good reason they might choose to sell at auction

By allowing the possessions to be sold at auction, sentimentality is removed and sticking points can be transformed into easily and equally divisible cash assets. In addition, by bringing in an uninterested party to handle the sale, either of the owners can individually (or through a proxy) bid and buy those possessions that they really want, without getting into emotional and draining negotiations.

The proceeds of the auction can also in whole or in part pay for the legal cost of the auction, removing another often uncomfortable sticking point.


downsizing an estate with auctionPersonally, maybe the saddest reason people choose to sell at auction. Whether it’s a business moving from a 20,000 square foot showroom to a 5,000 square foot gallery or a lifelong collector moving from a 10-room home to a two-room condo – downsizing is the diminishing of a dream.

When people have excess property for which they no longer have need or ability to hold onto, an auction can be the only recourse. After 2008 we saw a lot of these. Personal and business collections, built over years or decades, reduced to overstock.

The upside is that with an auction, you get to see the things you love go to someone else who may love them just the same. Cold comfort, but comfort nonetheless.

Would people still choose to sell at auction if not for the 4 Ds? Absolutely. Auctions are quick, fair, efficient, profitable, and fun. They are one of the oldest buying and selling styles in the world.

So, if you find yourself in one of the 4Ds or better yet are just looking to cash in on some of your possessions, consider an auction.