I enjoy treasure hunting. As a kid I went through a phase where my favorite toy was a Radio Shack metal detector. When I learned how to scuba dive in college my mind was always on the lost ship full of gold or silver at the bottom of the lake or ocean. Today, as an adult, I am still fascinated with treasure hunting. It represents the opportunity to get something available to anyone just by putting in a little extra work. My passion for this hobby has progressed to online auctions. I search for under photographed or poorly described lots. That is where modern day treasure is often hidden.

Before an auction goes live most companies have a “preview;” this is usually one or two days where potential buyers can come to the auction house (or wherever the merchandise is being held) and look at the items. As I provide an explanation of an “auction preview” now, it should come as no surprise that very few people go to live previews when bidding at online auctions. Instead, we rely on the auctioneer to provide us with quality photos and accurate descriptions of the lots and items for sale. This means that when good photos or descriptions are missing, we adjust the amount we are willing to pay for that item accordingly. A single photo of a lot with the description “Red Chevy” will always get a lower bid than a truck with 7 photos and a description providing details like: make, model, VIN and condition.

Recently I purchased four Lista cabinets from a large manufacturing company. The description for each lot was “cabinet and contents” and there was a single photo of the outside of each cabinet. I drove 7 hours (one way) to personally preview these cabinets on my gut feeling there might be treasure. They were full of tooling. I mean full of tooling. The tooling alone is worth many times more than what I ultimately paid for the cabinets. The cabinets I purchased sold for a very small premium over similar empty cabinets. This leads me to believe that most of the potential buyers of the Lista cabinets I bought did not know what was inside of them.

If the auctioneer had taken a few more photos, written a slightly more comprehensive description of the cabinets and their contents, my treasure hunt would have never started. As a buyer I am very happy, but as an auctioneer I’m disappointed. As auctioneers, we need to do a better job of presenting accurate descriptions and photos online. A little more effort, along with better tools, would lead to higher returns for our customers.

The hunt continues for me. I am always looking for the next opportunity. Most people look for the real diamond mixed in with the costume jewelry or the rare painting behind Dogs Playing Poker. I just open drawers and look inside. Bid high, bid often—just don’t bid against me.

By Russ Hilk Co-Founder Wavebid