In the words of Justin Dean, an auctioneer lives for the live chant.

The calling and the repetition of bids is an art, letting the public in the audience know what the bid status and what the auctioneer is asking for to buy that used tractor or that stately old house, and what the going rate will be for an armoire or box of used tools.

But for a period this spring, the live chant had to be set aside in favor of online auctions, which have increased in popularity with the COVID-19 pandemic sidelining events that might draw a large number of people in close proximity.

Dean, who does farm and real estate auctions for Dean/Edwards and Associates based in Artesian and has been licensed for 30 years, is involved in both styles of auctions. Dean/Edwards has offered online auctions for two years, preparing them for what occurred this spring when live auctions weren't taking place.

“It’s been good lately,” he said. “We’ve got people that have adjusted very well. I think it’s the new thing.”

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A bidder keeps their bid number in their overalls while taking part in an auction on Tuesday, July 28 near Alexandria. (Matt Gade / Republic)
A bidder keeps their bid number in their overalls while taking part in an auction on Tuesday, July 28 near Alexandria. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Dean said the online auction format allows people a different avenue for bidding, and could be more conducive to how busy people are right now.

“There’s a convenience to the buyer and really for the seller, as well,” Dean said. “You don’t have to sell a lot of stuff to be able to consign items and get them involved online.”

The times have required some flexibility from buyers, sellers and auctioneers, who are figuring out how to navigate online auctions, while also figuring out the safest way to have live auctions return.

“I don’t think we have seen a total dry up,” said Ted Petrak, a Chamberlain auctioneer who serves as the president of the South Dakota Auctioneers Association. “A majority of the sales have been the online stuff and everyone is capable of doing that in the industry, for the most part. … That said, it’s been a big change for some of our auctioneers to get used to and pushed a few people that way that weren’t going that way.”

Regarding the rural market for auctions, Petrak said the appetite for auctions themselves has been more affected by how things are unfolding on the farm, rather than the threat of a pandemic.

“I think if anything, it’s because of the status of the farm economy and not so much with the pandemic,” said Petrak, who said his early summer months passed without doing an auction. “In this area, there probably hasn’t been as many sales as there usually is.”

Petrak said the divide between auctioneers doing live auctions and those who aren’t generally follows the age differences among auctioneers, with younger individuals in the trade seeing an easier transition to online platforms and less so among the state’s older and more experienced bid callers.

Clayton Keck is among the up-and-coming auctioneers in South Dakota. At age 22, the online auction business is something he’s already familiar with through his Dacotah Diamond Auctions business, based near St. Lawrence in Hand County. Already a state and nationally recognized bid-caller, he’s been doing online auctions since 2016 when he got started.

“It’s something that you wouldn’t have been able to do 10 years ago,” Keck said. “It’s commonplace enough now where if we couldn’t do it online, there would be someone else doing it and people would be selling their stuff. It’s an important step forward.”

Bidders check out the items up for bid as Justin Dean, of Dean/Edwards & Associates, L.L.C. Farm/Ranch and Real Estate Auctioneers, leads an auction on Tuesday, July 28 near Alexandria. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Bidders check out the items up for bid as Justin Dean, of Dean/Edwards & Associates, L.L.C. Farm/Ranch and Real Estate Auctioneers, leads an auction on Tuesday, July 28 near Alexandria. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Keck said his online work has picked up. Prior to the pandemic, he was doing 2 or 3 internet sales to every one live auction. Now that ratio is about 5 to 1 in favor of online auctions.

“The tough part to the internet is there’s certainly people who won’t use the computer or that’s not their thing. You lose a lot of those folks that might otherwise be at live auctions.”

Keck said he’s held live auctions recently and seen better turnouts in person, so he’s hopeful those can continue.

Don Curtis owns and operates Curtis Auctioneering based in Mitchell and is in his 14th year of the business. He doesn’t do online auctions and said COVID-19 threw a wrench into his April and May sales, postponing five of them.

“Most of those folks were gracious enough to stay on and get those rescheduled for later in the year,” Curtis said. “I just think it’s a good way to do the sales. For me, there’s just more interaction with the crowd and I think the sale benefits from that.”

In bolded font in recent sale bills, Curtis has reminded potential auctiongoers that they attend at their own risk, but asks for them to be respectful of social distancing and to “be courteous to folks around you.”

“For the most part, people have been really good about helping us out,” he said. “I do believe that people are getting ready to get back.”

At the end of the day, it’s hard to beat experiencing an auction live, especially for those auctioneers making the call like Dean.

“That’s what you got into the business for and that’s what you get excited about doing,” Dean said. “It’s still hard to beat a live auction. And it’s a social event for a lot of people and it’s outside, so we can socially distance, as well.”