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THE ART OF THE AUCTION Bidders find anything and everything...\from goats to gold.

Byline: Lori Moody Daily News Staff Writer

Rudy Cicaelli's passion is anything art nouveau.

His hunting grounds: art auctions.

When he successfully outbids someone, the Encino resident feels he's getting away with something.

''It's like talking your way out of a 125 mile-per-hour speeding ticket,'' he said with a laugh.

With more than two decades of experience, Cicaelli may be an exception in that he is unintimidated by the competitive, fast-paced - sometimes high- priced - world of auctions.

In the market for a Beverly Hills estate? How about a ruby and diamond cluster ring that Frank Sinatra gave Lana Turner? A Cessna airplane? A Nubian goat?

Name it and you can probably find it on the block.

''That's a nice thing about auctions - you never know what's going to show up,'' said Kristina Messner, a spokeswoman for E.G.&G. Dynatrend of Artlington, Va., which works for the U.S. Treasury Department managing and disposing of items seized by U.S. Customs; the Secret Service; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; and the Internal Revenue Service's criminal division.

''You can come and get glassware, china. It's better than a huge garage sale. It's kind of like that. You get a little bit of everything.''

The Nubian goat went for $9.50 a pound in the junior livestock auction at last year's Los Angeles County Fair. If you'd rather buy a home, condo or townhome, the Housing and Urban Development Department auctions off foreclosed homes that it has been unable to sell on the open market.

Auctions are coming up in each of the next two months for homes in the charge of HUD's Los Angeles and Santa Ana offices. Each auction is preceded by an informational seminar.

''This really creates an opportunity for first-time home buyers to buy homes at good prices,'' said Sam Luft, national auction marketing coordinator for Larry Latham Auctioneers in Scottsdale, Ariz., which auctions homes for HUD.

Potential buyers work through a real-estate broker who arranges for viewing prospective homes before the auction. A buyer is required to have a prequalification letter from a HUD-approved mortgage company or show evidence they have a certain amount of funds to purchase the property for cash. The Los Angeles HUD office requires bidders to have a cashier's check or cash for $1,000 ''earnest money.''

Buyer beware - the homes are sold as-is. Some of the homes are eligible for FHA insurance and some aren't. ''Do your homework, take a look at the property,'' Luft said.

Looking for a set of wheels? Autos, motorcycles, vans and pickup trucks abandoned at Los Angeles International Airport are sold at auction.

Depending on the condition, vehicles have sold for as little as $100 for parts or, at the other end of the scale, a 1994 BMW 7-series went for $27,000 at one recent auction, said Diane Bendis, president of Riverside-based Bendis Companies Inc., which auctions the cars for the Los Angeles Department of Airports.

''I would bring (a mechanic) or a friend who knows anything at all about cars,'' she said. ''Some of the cars have been pretty well taken care of. It's hard to understand why they were left.''

Bendis' company handles other government auctions, including selling vehicles and surplus equipment for Caltrans, and surplus or unused items such as chairs, desks and musical instruments from the Los Angeles Unified School District.

''When it comes to furniture, I don't know why anybody would buy new,'' Bendis said. ''It's a marvelous way to buy. Plus, it's really an entertaining day. It's a good place to people-watch.''

Among items sold at a recent L.A. Unified auction were a convection oven for $500; a popcorn machine, $200; student desks for $1 to $5; typewriters for $5; and lathes ranging from $100 to $600. The district's auctions are held every six months.

About 400 Customs auctions are held annually throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. There are five main sales centers, including one in Los Angeles, which hold auctions every nine weeks. The next is scheduled for Feb. 8 in Rancho Dominguez.

''Those are big auctions that have everything under the sun - cars, aircraft, housewares, rugs, electronics, tools, clothing,'' Messner said.

In the Los Angeles area, the auctions generally are held in the Rancho Dominguez warehouse. Fliers are sent out three weeks ahead to subscribers who pay $50 a year for advance notice of auctions nationwide, or $25 a year for auctions held west or east of the Mississippi River.

As in other auctions, potential buyers can preview the items.

Merchandise is organized by lots. A lot could be one car or 50,000 flashlights.

''You have people who buy one item,'' Messner said. ''You have entrepreneurs there looking to buy in bulk. They turn around and sell it. Then we have big buyers.''

Bidders must have photo ID to register. Buyers may be asked to bring a cashier's check to bid on high-value property such as aircraft or real estate. For example, for the Beverly Hills estate, bidders had to produce a $50,000 cashier's check.

The auctioneer provides an orientation, which includes an explanation of terms of sale and a practice run.

''You have to make sure new people feel welcome and know what they're doing,'' Messner said.

''I think they're intimidated for several reasons,'' said Catherine Elkies, director and vice president of Christie's in Los Angeles. ''Particularly in New York, many of the auction houses look intimidating. People walk in, there's serious artwork. They feel if they're not known to us or a big buyer, they're not going to get the attention they deserve.

''Auctions are very theatrical and move very quickly. If you haven't been to it, it can be scary. It's exciting. I know when I'm bidding I get a little nervous and get carried away. ... I think people fear they will overbid.''

To help the novice auctiongoer, houses in New York have started ''mock auction'' programs to demystify the process and head off expensive mistakes. Sotheby's has been conducting ''Auction Adventures'' since February and is considering the program for its branch in Beverly Hills. Christie's in New York also conducts mock auctions to teach people how to bid and keep it under control.

''One of the reasons it's been as successful as it is, it's fun,'' said C. Hugh Hildesley, executive vice president of Sotheby's. ''We're very serious about what we do. We want to break down what I describe as the snobbery about auctions.''

During the mock auction, people register as they normally would, then receive a plastic paddle with a number on it. The paddle is used to make a bid. They also receive a catalog with lot numbers of items that will be sold and ''funny money.''

''Through that process, you can address myths or what people fear,'' added Elkies of Christie's.

Among the more common myths: ''If you scratch your nose, you've bought a chest of drawers'' or ''If they sneeze, they will buy something.''

''I think people think they are going to be bamboozled into buying something they don't want,'' Elkies said.

Auctiongoers, whether novices or experienced bidders, need to go in with a budget in mind. And stick to it.

''You have to spend what you think is right for whatever reason you're buying it,'' she said.

Auction experts also say it is important that would-be buyers do their homework. Don't buy sight unseen. Go to the previews that have the items on display and talk to the specialists who are on hand to answer questions.

At Christie's auctions, the auctioneer generally opens bidding at half of the low estimate. Every auctioneer operates differently. He or she controls the room and sets the pace.

If the auctioneer is not clear about a bid, he will ask. The auctioneer will make eye contact with the bidders, and often will identify the bidder by number or clothing. Novices generally will hold up a paddle to indicate a bid, while experienced bidders may hold up a hand or finger or nod to the auctioneer.

There are times when the auctioneer, realizing someone has overbid - usually through a panicked expression - will stop the proceedings and ask the person if he or she meant to bid the last amount, Elkies said.

''The auctioneer is so keyed to the room, once somebody crumbles, they know,'' she said.

If you're a beginner, attend a few auctions just to watch.

Occasionally, someone will bid on the wrong lot.

''We tell them to immediately say so, not be embarrassed,'' Elkies said. ''If you wait until after a sale, we've lost other bidders.''

When the hammer hits the podium, it's a legal sale.

Here's where to buy houses, cars and more

Here's a list of just a few of the auctions or auction houses in the area:

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: HUD auctions are scheduled Feb. 23, 24 and 25 in Santa Ana and March 2, 3 and 4 in the Los Angeles area. For information, call (800) 856-1160 before Jan. 25.

Department of Airports: An abandoned-vehicle auction is scheduled for 10 a.m. Feb. 3 at 9489 Alverstone Ave., Los Angeles. For recorded information about this and other government auctions, call (909) 780-4436.

Christie's: The Los Angeles-area branch, at 342 N. Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, will be auctioning fine jewelry and property from the estate of Eva Gabor at 6 p.m. March 21 at the Peninsula Hotel. Call (310) 275-5534.

Sotheby's: The auction house, 9665 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, will exhibit highlights from an upcoming sale of animation artwork from Disney's ''Pocahontas'' Feb. 2-10. The auction will be held Feb. 24 in New York. Call (310) 274-3040.

U.S. Customs: The next auction is at 9 a.m. Feb. 8 at 2332 E. Pacifica Place, Rancho Dominguez. Preview and registration is from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 5 and 6. Call the public auction line at (703) 351-7887.

Just learn a few words and you'll know a 'lot'

One of the tricks to auctions is knowing the lingo. Here are a few terms to impress your friends - it won't cost you anything:

Bought-in: When a lot does not sell at an auction, the item is bought in by the auctioneer. It remains the property of the owner. Similar terms include ''passed'' or ''return to owner.''

Buyer's premium: A 15 percent fee added to the final bid price, paid by the buyer.

Fair warning: Sometimes used by the auctioneer to offer bidders a last chance to top the current high bid. If no bids are made, the auctioneer's hammer falls and the sale is completed.

Hammer price: The final bid before the hammer falls. Does not include the buyer's premium.

Knocked down: The fall of the auctioneer's hammer after the final bid. ''Lot nine was knocked down at $1,000.''

Lot: An object or group of objects offered for sale as one unit.

Paddle registration: The process by which an individual is assigned a paddle number for use in bidding.

Presale estimate: A price guide for buyers, appearing as an estimate range for each lot in the sale catalog.

Provenance: The history of ownership of property being sold.

Reserve: The confidential minimum price agreed upon by the auction house and the seller, below which an item will not be sold. The item will be bought in if the bidding process does not reach the reserve price.

Source: Sotheby's


PHOTO[ordinal indicator, masculine]CHART

Photo (1--Cover--Color) GOING ONCE... GOING TWICE... SOLD! (2) A large video monitor displays items offered at the Christie's auction. Myung J. Chun/Daily News (3) Ethel March holds up a numbered paddle to bid on Jessica Pierce's goat at the Los Angeles County Fair animal auction. (4) At the other end of the bidding, Jessica Pierce proudly displays her goat to auctiongoers. (5) Overhead screens help give everyone a view of a pig paraded across the stage at the Los Angeles County Fair animal auction. (6) An auction ticket helps a bidder keep track of sales at the animal auction. Terri Thuente/Daily News (7) Dr. Bertram Maltz and his wife, Ellen, right, examine Lana Turner's gold cigarette holder, held by Raymond Sancroft-Baker of Christie's. (8) This box with inlays was part of a jewel auction held by Christie's last fall. (9) These diamond earrings were auctioned by Christie's. David Sprague/Daily News Box (1) Here's where to buy houses, cars and more (See Text) (2) Just learn a few words and you'll know a 'lot' (See Text)
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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 13, 1996

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