The specifics of what is required to get an auction license vary from place to place based on local law, but in most cases, a processing fee, a background check, and some form of character reference are essential. There are typically separate licenses for when you want to host an auction — that is, when you wish to provide the physical space for the event — as opposed to when you actually want to serve as an auctioneer. In most places, a separate license is required for each, though the requirements are usually somewhat similar. One thing that is usually not required is specialized schooling. Training and experience in the trade is often essential for success, but it doesn’t usually play into the basic licensing decision.
Getting the Process Started
Most cities and towns regulate auctions by requiring those hosting and facilitating the events to register with government officials. In part, this is to control the process and provide some sense of consumer protection should something go wrong. Forcing auctioneers and hosts to register their events and put their names out in public is often seen as a way to encourage authenticity and fair dealing, as scams and cons are less likely when there is some sense of government accountability.
Especially large auctions or Internet-based operations covering multiple jurisdictions may need regional or even national licensure, but this is rare — and depends on the country at issue, too. One of the hardest parts about getting an auction license is figuring out what sort of license is required and where it can be obtained. Some cities have entire auction departments, but most of the time, these tasks are handled by consumer affairs offices or public relations teams. It is usually a good idea to track down the right officials early, as the licensing process can take some time.
Application and Paperwork Requirements
Whether you are applying to host an auction or serve as an auctioneer, there is likely to be a lot of basic paperwork that you will need to file. Many agencies and offices require fingerprints and passport-style photos, as well as basic details like your full name and home mailing address. This information is often used to run a criminal background check.
In nearly all cases, you will have to pay a fee, and possibly also file for a surety bond. This works as a sort of guarantee that you will be operating your event or conducting your behavior in compliance with the local laws. You should also be prepared to provide the contact information for a number of character references — basically people who know you and are willing to speak to your trustworthiness and honesty.
Special Considerations for Holding Auctions
One of the first things licensing officials will likely want to know when you are applying to host an auction is where you plan to hold your event and when it will be occurring. You will probably have to provide a lot of very specific information about the space, including details like room capacity, fire and other safety escapes, and accommodations for disabled people; you may also need the room’s dimensions and a sense of how you plan to arrange things. Some information about your business proposal — including things like who is underwriting the event, how payments will be processed, and how you will manage bid guarantees — will usually also be required. In most cases, you will need a separate license for each event that you host, even if they are all related.
Slightly different requirements attach to people hoping to become licensed auctioneers. The paperwork is usually the same with respect to personal information, but in most cases, you won’t be required to provide details of the specific auctions you want to work with. Auctioneer licenses are generally universal, which means that you can use them as many times and at as many events as you want until they expire. Expiration dates can vary tremendously but are usually at least a year from the date of application — sometimes much longer. Many jurisdictions also have “fast-track” options for people who have been granted licenses in the past or who are just looking to renew existing credentials.
Variations Based on Subject Matter
Licensing officials may limit your authority to either host or preside over an auction based on what is being sold. You will probably not have to submit anything special to work both a livestock auction and an art sale, for example, but you will probably have to fill out separate applications and pay separate filing fees. Restrictions sometimes also apply to auctions being hosted for charity or that are designed to fund non-profit or quasi-governmental organizations. Most of the time, this is just a matter of paperwork, though it can make the process more complicated. Planning ahead and researching your jurisdiction’s specific requirements is the best way to make the process as streamlined and simple as possible.
Skills Needed Beyond Licensure
In most places, a license is all that is technically needed to get started — though it’s far from the only thing needed for success. Running an auction usually takes a lot of business savvy, as well as marketing, advertising, and accounting skill. Some of this can be learned on the job, but it’s usually best to take some time to think about how you’ll run your event before you even begin the licensing process. Having all of your plans made in advance will not only help the application process go more smoothly, it will also make your event more successful and less likely to be the source of complaints.
It’s also a lot harder to be an auctioneer than it might look like at first. Few licensing offices require prospective auctioneers to have specific training in the field, but taking even a few classes about how to host an event can be very beneficial. A number of specialized schools around the world teach students the art of auctioneering, with programs ranging from day-long seminars and weekend courses to certifications that can take a year or more to complete.
If you only want a license to host a single event, this sort of training may be more than you need. For those hoping to make a career out of auctioneering, however, formal education is usually considered essential. A license will authorize you to work, but documented training will make you marketable.