Industry calls to protect buyers' rights – auction news

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► Auction houses keen to introduce an industry code of conduct for online sales
► Protection needed for buyers who have received poor service
► Difficulties to be overcome in setting a consistent set of rules
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The increased use of online-only sales during the COVID-19 pandemic has strengthened calls from auctioneers for an industry-wide code of conduct to help protect classic buyers.

While the classics market has performed well throughout 2020, with plenty of classic fans embracing virtual sales – those without buyers bidding on-site – during the UK lockdowns, those within the industry are keen for a more robust set of rules to be followed to help prevent buyers, who sometimes can’t see cars beforehand, from losing out should things go wrong.

Auctioneers keen to see a code brought in include South Western Vehicle Auctions, which has held all of its sales behind closed doors throughout the pandemic to help keep buyers safe.

Chief executive, Chris Holmes, said: ‘In the past I was chairman of the Society of Motor Auctions, and I passed a code of conduct for members. One for classic auctions shouldn’t be over-bureaucratic but give confidence to buyer and seller, showing that here is a proper auctioneer doing what it says it does.

‘For example, having a client account means that the capital of the car sold is not ours – it remains ring-fenced. Having a code of conduct adds confidence.’

Protection needed if auction houses go bust

The Market, which has made a name for itself by specialising in online-only sales, but allows cars to be viewed beforehand, argued that it would also help to protect buyers should an auctioneer run into financial difficulties. Director, Tristan Judge, said: ‘A code of conduct is a good idea that we would support wholeheartedly, having been told of poor levels of customer service and other stories during recent years. 

‘What’s more, when we see established big-name auction houses collapsing or going into administration, as we saw earlier this year, and the reported financial hardship that this brought upon many of their sellers and others, there is a place for formalising a process for improvement of the industry as a whole.’

Brightwells said that while it was open to the idea of a code, it said it could be difficult to make it work in practice. Matthew Parkin, head of the auctioneer’s classic and vintage department, said: ‘The market is fractionalised with different consumer rights for online sales and regular sales. For a code to take that on would be impossible.’

Support from Classic Car Weekly

David Simister, Classic Car Weekly’s editor said: ‘While most online sales have been a big success this year, some readers have been in touch saying that a car hasn’t been as described or they’ve been left out of pocket. While we’ve touched on calls for a code of conduct before, the increased use of virtual sales, particularly ones where it’s difficult or impossible to view a classic before bidding, strengthen the arguments for one.

‘Of course, such a thing would help to protect auctioneers, too, but the NAMA’s code would solve a lot of potential disputes – and CCW would support a version of its code being used to help to protect classic buyers and sellers alike.’

The National Association of Motor Auctions (NAMA) already has a code in place and says that it could be made to work for classic-specific sales. Head of business management, Louise Wallis, said: ‘I believe that this code would work for classic auctions and some of our members of course sell classic cars alongside their usual stock. Many would easily qualify and it is quite straightforward to join and we could set up a separate code for classic auctioneers.

‘NAMA would welcome classic auctions into membership if they wanted to use our code. It’s not complicated – it’s more about doing the right thing.’ 

Richard Barnett

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Classic Car Weekly is the UK’s biggest-selling weekly classic car publication. It’s at the heart of the classic car scene, packed with cars for sale, news, reviews, nostalgia and advice.

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