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Bryan Knox's bid to be the best auctioneer

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Many of the people who showed up at the H.A. Alexander Rec Center in Moulton, a town in northern Alabama, on this Saturday were there out of curiosity. Knox was overseeing a land auction, and some of the 150 visitors wanted to know how much parcels would go for and who had the deepest pockets. Others hoped to capture a piece of paradise at a tag-sale price.

As bluegrass music played, Knox prepared for the auction by gulping water to soothe his vocal cords and doing some voice warm-ups. As befits a man of the cloth, he also said a little prayer, joined by a crowd of bowed heads.

Then he opened the bidding on a 245-acre parcel with an energetic, "All right, rock-n-roll. What's it worth?" Up came a hand for $250,000. The price rose quickly. Brad Sutton, a utility contractor, wanted to buy the plot for deer hunting. The bid hit $710,000. Knox looked at Mr. Sutton in the front row. Sutton lowered his head.

"Going twice," Knox announced. "Sir, you can jump back in right now." Sutton didn't bite. The parcel sold for $720,000.

"He's good at what he does, definitely," Sutton said afterward of Knox.

Part of the art of auctioneering is knowing how much to raise each bid. The auctioneer decides the increments spontaneously. "When he's calling a bid, his say is the last," says Jason Gantt, a colleague of Knox's at Amerisouth Auctions, a small Alabama firm. "That's what goes."

Knox is good at getting the most out of a sale – too much, in fact, for A.J. Coffee. He had hoped to walk away with a parcel, either as an investment or for hunting. "If somebody had been here besides him, I might have bought some property," says Mr. Coffee. "But he got the bid up so high, you know, I couldn't afford it." He settled for a barbecue plate after the auction.

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