What Is an Absolute Auction?

An absolute auction is a type of auction in which the sale is awarded to the highest bidder. Absolute auctions do not have a reserve price, which sets a minimum required bid for the item to be sold.

Key Takeaways

  • Absolute auctions are a popular type of auction, especially for those looking to make a cash sale quickly and without complications.
  • A well-advertised absolute auction will usually bring in a large number of bidders.
  • Farm equipment and machinery are the kind of items that are often sold at an absolute auction. 

How an Absolute Auction Works

There are many different types of auctions. A sealed bid auction, for example, is an auction in which people submit secret bids, while in a Dutch auction, the auctioneer starts at a high price and decreases it until somebody agrees to buy the item for that price.

An absolute auction is the "classic" type of auction where the item—whether real estate or any other type of produce—is sold to the highest bidder, regardless of the price. Since there is no reserve price or minimum floor above which bidding must start, the bidding in an absolute auction starts at $0.

Absolute auctions can occur in various venues, including the foreclosure marketplace, the online marketplace (such as eBay.com), or live auction events. School foundations and charities, for example, often hold absolute auctions to raise money.

Absolute auctions are often implemented where there is an immediate demand to sell an item.

Absolute Auction vs. Lender Confirmation Auction

One type of absolute auction relates to foreclosed properties, where the winning bid acquires the foreclosed property. Although it is highly unlikely, if only one person were to show up at an absolute auction, their bid would be accepted, no matter how low the amount of money being bid.

An absolute auction is different from a lender confirmation auction, in which the lender must approve the bid in order to complete the transaction. In real estate, if a foreclosure is sold at a lender confirmation auction, the highest bidder does not necessarily win. The individual with the winning bid must not only have the money to spend but must also be vetted and accepted by whoever is holding the mortgage, be it a bank or the government.

Foreclosed properties are often sold via an absolute auction; potential buyers can find out from the mortgage holder (often a bank) if the property will be sold at an absolute auction or by a lender confirmation auction.

Example of an Absolute Auction

Bert and Ernie have decided to close their farm equipment business. They want to immediately liquidate all of the items in the business and do not have a minimum price they are trying to get for any of the items. They hold a live auction in which the bidding starts at $0 for the items and the highest bidder for each piece of equipment wins it. This is an example of an absolute auction.