Auction Companies

This post is an entry for our $25,000 scholarship contest. The post was created by Sarah Bell and may not always reflect the views of JW Surety Bonds.


Sarah Bell and her next free car*

How I got my car for free and other stories of a repurposed life (not only for the rich and famous – how auctions save the environment and help me through college).

“Auctions need to get the word out to 20-somethings about the opportunity to get something great” says Lee Kalfon, historian and auction consultant1. Auctions are one of the best kept secrets around. Everyone loves a bargain and buyers and sellers alike, flock to auctions in search of one. They conjure up excitement, mystique, visions of treasures and romance.  I was pretty excited and nervous at my first auction. Although new to me, auctions have been around as early as 500 B.C. (think Babylon and Rome)and are so successful, that they continue to draw crowds to this day.

More than a sale, an auction is an event – entertainment, a chance to marvel at the skill of the auctioneer as he/she works the crowd to get the most for an item, a chance to capture a piece of history – to give an old object new life instead of tossing it and the most efficient way for the seller to get the highest possible fair market value. In the case of a bargain hunter like me, they are the chance to find a diamond in the rough, that with a bit of tender loving care, can be transformed into a thing of beauty, and perhaps add change to my pocket. (Which is how I got my car for free, but more on that later.)

My first auction was an event. It wasn’t just showing up for a sale, like any auction, it required research and homework. I needed wheels and the most affordable way to get them was at a public car auction. A few days before, a mechanic friend and I perused the lot of old cars, hoping to find a few “right ones”. Once I looked past the dirt and clean up, it was my job to research repairs and values so I could be prepared with a top limit price on the day of the big event.


Photo from – Do your homework. Inspect before you bid.

For the seller, auctions are the quickest, most efficient way to get the highest possible fair market value. Auctioneers are trained specialists in their craft, which involves appraising, marketing and drawing a crowd.

“The calling is just a small part of the job”, says Mr. G.R. Dick Heatwole, a 40 plus year veteran in the auction industry from Heatwole Auctions of Harrisonburg, Virginia, “It is the marketing and personal contact that are important. There are a lot of auctioneers in this town, but only a few are known and it is because of the marketing2” For the seller’s benefit, there is often a minimum price set, but no ceiling – the seller gets the top dollar for the day. There is a larger pool of buyers, and buyers come to buy so the seller is able to get more for their goods. The competition and urgency create excitement so the prices are better than estate sales and all of the seller’s goods are sold at auction so there is nothing to landfill.

At auctions you are receiving the service of a licensed, bonded, professional, an assurance that your goods are safe and that you are receiving the most for your valuables.This is not something estate or garage sales deliver. Kenny Lindsay notes that in estate sales, 50% of items are sold at a discount and only 30% of items marked with a low price will be sold, while 20% will be tossed. At estate sales, prices can only go down and goods are thrown away. At auctions, prices can only go up and everything gets sold.

The cars at auction the day I bought mine were put back on the road. Auction expert, Lee Kalfon thinks auction dealers should capitalize on the green movement and the appeal of vintage among millennials, “There is a huge move against waste and buying at auctions is green… We need to market antiques as the solution to box store fatigue and as an answer to overflowing landfills. Working to engage the next generation will ensure a healthy industry for generations to come,” she said.

Besides the 250 million tons of annually generated household waste, 12-15 million cars are taken off the road and 3 million tons of office furniture is discarded every year in landfills. In 2012 there were more than a total of 11.5 million tons of furniture in U.S. landfills alone. By putting your items in an auction, not only will you get the best price, but the items will be repurposed, refurbished, restored, recycled and treasured – given new life instead of a burial at the city dump. You will be saving a piece of history, saving the environment and as a buyer, have the opportunity to own something unique and perhaps, with your special touches, create something unusual and beautiful – and that is where I get my biggest thrill – giving something a new life.


Photo – A lot of people showed up for 8 cars –  raising the competition & price. You have to know your top price & stick to it.

The day of the auction came. I was excited and nervous. I arrived early to talk with the auctioneer about how to bid and told him it was my first auction. He explained the process and was very patient when the bidding started, pausing and looking my way to see if I understood the last bid. I had done my homework, checked the engines and construction, researched values and fix-up costs. I was ready. My limit was $800. The trick would be to stick to it and not get caught up in the excitement or competition of bidding. Not so easy with cars, but really simple with furniture if you want to wait. Bid on the “leftovers” (items no one is bidding on) and you can walk away with bargains. But I had competition. A lot of people showed up, raising the price. $800 came and went; $900…. “Do I hear $1000″… I drove off the lot with the 2001 VW Passat for $1200 (Mom came along).

So how is that free? Well, I bought it at an auction, with lots of scrubbing, cleaning, reconditioning, and the tender touch of the mechanic and paint shop, I had a new, beautiful car. I drove it for 6 months until I found what I really wanted (at another auction) and sold it for more than it cost. Free car! How do I get money for school? Sell another one? Repurpose furniture? Improve the value of my rescued finds, tell their story and sell for a profit (economy, environmental stewardship and entrepreneurship all in one) – all courtesy of the local auction house.  Lee Kalfon feels that is something to tweet about and so do I.

*Next Free Car: Auction price $3200, Repairs $1480. Local Market Value $8200 to $11,000

First Free Car:



My Other Recycled, Restored & Repurposed Treasures:




After (auction $10,  paint $20,  knobs $20. Sale Price $150)


Current Project: 50 Cent Chairs


1.  Lee Kalfon: from podcast

2. Mr. G.R. Dick Heatwole is a 2nd generation auctioneer and owner of Heatwole Auctions Harrisonburg, Virginia; from an email interview and auction attendee report 

Sandy is an in-house author and surety bond expert at JW Surety bonds, the largest bond agency in the U.S.


Karen Kean

Loved the article – so inspiring – awesome information – with a green slant! well done

Madonna Hoecker

Keep on bargain hunting and trading up and who knows how far you'll go. Great article!

Mark Faraci

Fantastic article! Such an interesting way to find supplemental income and useful goods as a young professional.

Lee Kalfon Brouwer

I always love seeing young people who catch the auction bug! Its contagious! Great article and fantastic work, I look forward to hearing more about your auction adventures!

Katie B.

I wonder if there are any auctions close to Tuscaloosa county? It'd be fun to go as a group and see who could get the best deals!

Deanna Baker

Interesting to learn that auctions are appealing to the millenials. The article reminds me of one of my favorite shows American Pickers. Congratulations to you on authoring a very interesting article but also finding a great way to repurpose and fund your college education.

Susan Craig RN HNC

Great Job Sarah…you are going GREEN and Gold at the same time…what a smart young lady, must run in the family !!!!


I learnt ao much about auctions – did not know so many facets to an auction.

Very nicely written article ! All the best


Susan Clevenger Swimley

I love when a young person uses her head. Unfortunately, many expect things to be given to them need or not. Your article so well written reflects both need and reward as well as opportunity to supplement other needs. For those of us that use auctions, we might say you are giving away a well kept secret. Great job ! It's a secret that needs to be shared !


Great job Sarah, but I will not let my wife read this because she doesn't know where that top end limit is.

Jeremy nance

Good read. But give away all the secrets or everyone will be showing up to get the good deals lol

Lowell J. Henderson

Sarah, glad your Mom sent me this. Excellent article and you are ahead of the game. When we were in college back in the 70's and early 80's we didn't run down to Target or Pier 1 and buy new stuff, we had family, neighbors, friends give us "recyclables" and we fixed them up. Auctions are a great place to pick up bargains but don't forget about Habitat's Restores, Goodwill and the local hospice stores. One persons trash is another persons treasure. Best of luck in college. Lowell J. Henderson

Caya Janet Tanski-French

Fascinating article Sarah! I really learned a lot, and with three teenage daughters wanting cars, this car auction thing could really be a fun adventure for all of us. It could teach them about market principles (e.g. supply and demand), how to do market research, how to actually buy and sell, have fun, and help save our environment too! Thanks so much for sharing. Good luck in school and in your new business 🙂


This reminds me of how a French friend's children (20-somethings) financed their travel adventure through the U.S. They bought a car at auction, used it to travel around the U.S. for three months, then sold it for a nice profit before their departure (with the help of an American friend). I don't know how they worked out the registrations and insurance with the DMV. This was about 15-years ago. They were lucky the car was in good shape and didn't need any work. (Although handling breakdowns and auto repair shops would have introduced them to even more American culture.)

Personally, I'm in the market for a new dining room table. I've been checking out Harvey Klars auction house in Oakland. It buys furniture from estates and people who are downsizing. I feel a little guilty after I learned that auction house paid a friend of mine only $1700 for a table she purchased for Berkeley Mills handmade table that cost her $12,000 4 years earlier, but that's an example of the quality you can sometimes find at these places if you have a little patience to wait for the perfect piece. (Still haven't totally reconciled that I'm taking advantage of possibly desperate original owners (those whomight be in

Lastly, I agree with Lowell, who mentioned donating and buying from Habitat ReStores. I've done both, and have scored some amazing pieces of almost-new furniture for 20% of their new retail cost. Like your experience with auctions, it's become somewhat of a game to see what I can score and feel good about the purchase!


Nice Job! I'd love for my kids to feel like that about auctions and repurposing. I hate throwing away things someone may be able to use. Loved the article.


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