Auction company thrives through ups and downs of economy

 

Auction Co. of America

• Headquartered: Miami

• Founded: 1979

• Founder and president: Jim Gall

• Specializes in: commercial and residential real estate, as well as estate auctions, bankruptcies, divorces and government auctions.

• Real estate sold to date: 16,000 properties

Auctions held in: 46 states

• Next auction: July 13-14, estate of the late Mark Burke, Rio Vista mansion contents, 1124 SE 8 St., Fort Lauderdale.


icordle@MiamiHerald.com

Jim Gall stands at the center of a white-clothed table, hand-crafted wooden gavel in hand, calling out to the audience.

“I’m at $125, $137 ½? Last call, $125. Sold. $125,” he cries, slamming his gavel, motioning to the winning bidder, who has just bought four art deco bronze pieces.

For Gall, founder and president of Miami-based Auction Company of America, the sale is one example of the millions of dollars of real estate, art, antiquities, jewelry and other items he sells each year in auctions he has held in 46 states.

“It’s not easy, but when it works, it’s the best business in the world to be in,” said Gall, 67, who started his company 34 years ago.

Gall now stands to become the star of a new reality show. Peacock Productions, a production company that is a part of NBC Universal, filmed at his June auction at a waterfront home for sale in Hallandale. Cameras rolled as Gall announced that the home’s owner had accepted an offer from a Chicago buyer.

“The house is sold, $6 million!” he said, his voice booming as he slammed his gavel.

The footage will be part of a “sizzle reel” that Peacock Productions will shop around to networks, in hopes of airing the as yet-unnamed show as early as next year.

“The auction world is interesting to us, and we develop shows based on great characters,” said Benjamin Ringe, senior vice president of development/executive producer for Peacock Productions in New York. “And we think Jim is a great character for TV.”

An entrepreneur by nature, Gall founded his company after studying speech at the University of Miami, and pursuing stints selling business forms, office furniture and equipment, and marketing a formula for “scratch and sniff” t-shirts. Not yet content, he completed auction school in Missouri.

“I found my niche, and I have never looked back,” Gall said.

He gave his company a grand name, because he “always wanted to think big.”

But Auction Company of America has had it ups and downs. During the 1980s, the company was the largest supplier of auction services to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., and at its peak, had a staff of 31, he said. Today, it has a core staff of four, including Gall, plus 15 part-time associates and independent contractors.

“It’s a difficult business,” Gall said. “First of all, you have to find sellers who believe in you. Our goal is to sell the most valuable things people own and that is usually real estate…. You have to find sellers willing to spend some money to help with ads and you have to find buyers who are in a position at that time, looking and ready to buy.”

Gall figures he now conducts an average of 50 auctions a year, specializing in both residential and commercial real estate, as well as handling estate auctions, bankruptcies, divorces and government auctions.

“Have gavel, will travel,” he jokes, brandishing the wooden gavel his son had made in Dakar.

Over the years, he has sold 16,000 properties. He auctioned Nelson Bunker Hunt’s personal property at his Texas ranch, including what Gall said was the largest collection of Dorothy Doughty and Boehm porcelain birds. He sold every “head and body” at the Miami Wax Museum, and the cobras, alligators and Galapagos turtles at the Serpentarium. He auctioned the gold bars at the International Gold Bullion Exchange in Fort Lauderdale.

And a few years ago, he sold John McAfee’s oceanfront home in Molokai, Hawaii, as well as his primary home in New Mexico, and the contents of his health food store, as well as a private movie theatre he owned, and his antique cars. Gall bought the Hummer, which he still drives.

Before the Orange Bowl was demolished, he auctioned its contents. And during the last year he has auctioned such real estate as a $3 million, nine-acre property across from Tamiami Airport and a $3.3 million penthouse condo on Brickell Key.

“We’ve done as much business in Southern California in the last three years as in Florida,” he said, including a $4.4 million property for the City of Del Mar.

Gall earns his money through commissions, but declined to provide annual revenue.

“I’m thankful that the phone rings,” he said. “It might be a little old lady with a set of china or it might be someone with a multimillion-dollar property.”

Gall’s company is among thousands of auction houses operating in the United States, though the exact number is unknown, said Hannes Combest, chief executive of the National Auctioneers Association, which has 3,900 individual members.

“He has been around the industry for a very long time, and you don’t stay in this industry if you are not successful,” said Combest.

Gall has chosen a profession with a rich history that dates back centuries.

“Auctions have been around since the beginning of time,” Combest said. “We know there have been auctions all the way back to Caesar’s day,” at which time they sold slaves, women, gold and silver, she said.

At the Hallandale home, Gall auctioned a variety of paintings, antique bronzes, furniture and other items — many of which he obtained through his contracted purveyors — totaling about $200,000. As many as 125 potential bidders attended the auction, although some may have stayed only a short while, he said.

“There’s not as much disposable income as there was in years gone by,” he said.

Donna Green and her fiancé Dan Hurtak of Plantation scored two Chagall paintings, a Russian icon, six bronze objects d’art, a pair of earrings and a jade bracelet, totaling about $6,000.

“I got a good deal on the jewelry,” said Green, a race horse trainer, who bought the jade for good luck. “I love things you can wear everyday.”

If the reality show comes to fruition, the excitement of the auctions will be captured on camera for viewers, as the second South Florida show for Peacock Productions. Gladesmen, a reality show based in the Everglades, is also in development, said Ringe, whose company opened a Miami office about a year ago to focus on opportunities here.

Gall said he was skeptical about the show at first, but was sold after the first meeting.

“I am flabbergasted and thrilled,” he said. “And I hope and pray that it works.”

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