Anne Evans recalls the moment 27 years ago that she realized her calling of helping families through estate sales and auctions of their beloved ones' belongings.
A Columbus couple had called the office of her husband, Wayne Evans, a renowned auctioneer and member of the Georgia Auctioneers Association Hall of Fame. The man and wife were moving to an assisted-living facility and were at a loss about what to do with their house and many possessions.
"They were such pretty people. He was 83 and she was 80, but she was getting Alzheimer's, and they had no children," remembers Anne Evans, who visited the couple's home. "It was just gorgeous, a small house but just full of beautiful things. He said, 'I don't know what to do with these.' And you could tell that he was emotional about her. That was his only care was her. And he said, 'What can you do to help me?' "
Evans told the husband and wife that she would think about it and let them know the next day. A return trip with her auctioneer husband led to advice on the home sale, with Anne telling the couple she would ponder one more night what to do with their possessions.
"My husband and I started walking down the driveway and I looked over my shoulder and those beautiful people with gray curly hair -- both of them -- were standing holding hands, watching us walk down their driveway," Evans said. "And I looked at Wayne and said, 'Well, I guess now I know what God wants me to do with the rest of my life.' I said that's going to be to help the elderly when they're in this situation."
That inspiration led her to launching Anne's Estate Auctions, the first location in the Bibb City area of Columbus, followed by several years on Kolb Avenue and today at 4618 Hamilton Road.
Evans proceeded to operate the auction company for the next quarter-century and with the help of her husband, who passed away in 2011 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Evans Auctioneers, her husband's business, continues to operate and specializes in selling large commercial and industrial equipment such as bulldozers and graders.
It's been a little more than four years since her husband's death, but Evans often recalls his talent and charisma and the time they spent together.
The Ledger-Enquirer visited recently with Evans, an Alabama native, to talk about her job and the business, and why she still has a passion for helping people in the twilight of their lives and those families needing to take care of their loved ones' possessions after they have left their home for a care facility or possibly entered eternity.
This interview is edited for length and clarity.
The bottom line, this is about selling worldly possessions?
I've had some people say, this is just so sad to see us selling all of her things. Well, the truth is they're really not her things. God gave these things to us to use while we're here, and it's proper for us to pass them on to somebody else. You cannot take them with you.
It's also about helping people downsize?
I'm doing one right now that is a huge, huge house, and they are definitely downsizing completely. She's attached to her big furniture. She had a designer come in (once) and she got to pick it all out, new stuff. So she's having a little trouble with that. But we're working with her. I'll go over a lot of times and measure rooms for people and say, this won't fit, or why don't we take this instead or, yeah, we can use two more tables here, and let them go back and pick out some more stuff.
Describe how you might help a family?
A lot of times a family lives in California or south Florida. Mama dies and they don't want anything. They fly in here and do the probate and hand me the key and we clean everything out.
The interesting thing is that, contrary to some people in other cities, we don't take all of the papers and all of the bank statements and shred them and throw them away. We box them and ship them to the executor because you never know what you're going to find in there. But it's no business of mine. We don't have time to read their mail.
So if we can go in there, and you're in California, and we clean everything out and polish everything and make it beautiful, you still get a box that has all of the family pictures in it and whatever else is in the house. At your leisure you can sit down and go through it and say, oh my gosh, I didn't know mama had blah blah blah. But here it is. I've even found diamond rings. I've found $48,000 in a house for a family.
There are two businesses you're involved in?
With our other business, Evans Auctioneers, we do heavy equipment and cars and trucks. We've just finished the sale for Forsyth County up in Cumming, Ga. We sold the police cars, a motor grader, a backhoe, a garbage truck, all of those kinds of things. That's what my husband did, and I am very well trained in all of it.
This (family estate auctions) is like a mission from my heart. But I love the heavy equipment sales, the excitement of the men out there with their cigars and they're just talking big talk (laughs), and them bidding against each other. Because they know they can get this piece of equipment bought for $50,000 less than what they can buy a new one for, and it still works. Or they can work on it a little bit and put it back out there on the road, and keep paving roads. It doesn't have to be bright and shiny to still work. There's a lot of people buying used heavy equipment, a lot of people.
When we were first married and opening (Wayne's) own business, he and I would go out and set up the heavy equipment sales ourselves. That meant moving the dump trucks into place, moving the motor graders. Rain or shine, we were the ones that would have to get out there and line everything up like we wanted to sell it. I have had mud up to my knees and my fingernails a mess. We did that for many years before we could afford to hire anybody to help us. So I grew with him, learning every aspect of that business.
You even sell cars from time to time?
We have an estate car probably every three sales. We get the people in who can use an older car or a newer car that's got low mileage. And usually the old people have had it serviced. It's clean. There's all kinds of good things to be said about it. A lot of people buy them for their children, and some people buy them for their mother-in-law.
Do you do the verbal auctioneer bidding work?
The chant. I can. I have an auction company license. Now I have my own auctioneers that come for the auctions and do the ones out of town for me. They do other things, too, for themselves.
Talk about the atmosphere at an auction?
People will come that aren't necessarily looking for anything. They may have bought things for the last year for their house. And they may not buy anything. We cook fresh hamburgers and hotdogs and homemade chili. So they might just have a lunch and sit here and watch and grin and laugh and clap hands and enjoy us.
It's a lot of fun. We have people up front that are holding things up and helping the auctioneer receive bids. And you'll hear yep, yep, yep, and that means I have hit (recognized) this person and this person and this person for a bid. Because if you raise and you raise and you raise one right behind the other it could be $100 and $125 and $150 and $175, and we have to keep up with it. It's really fun.
How many people can be at an auction here on Hamilton Road?
Probably 150 to 200. Sometimes we may have 75. During the ballgame season, don't you have an auction in here on Saturday. Now the heavy equipment sales, forget the ballgame. They've got that on their little radio or they're walking around with their phone watching the ballgame. But they're going to be out here.
Is there anything that sells better than other items at an auction?
It's surprising how the market changes week to week. We'll go through a period, like if silver climbs at all in value, everybody comes to buy silver. They may be buying it to finish out their sterling chantilly set or a dealer may be here and trying to buy it so he can resell it.
There's one thing ... I don't like to know if somebody's buying it to melt down. But that's a big thing that's going on now. Some of the men out of Atlanta buy it to melt and get silver bars to store it for their future. And when gold was very high on the market, people were buying all of the gold jewelry and we would just die when we thought somebody was going to melt down a gorgeous bracelet that had stones in it.
There's a bit of attachment to things for you?
They're not mine, but I want to get the most for the families that I can. I also want to be fair to everybody that comes here (to buy) and make sure they've gotten a good deal. If they're not getting a good deal, a good value, they won't come back. But I do get attached to some things like they jewelry, particularly if I have a feeling it's going to be melted down.
Do you ever buy stuff yourself?
My husband told me (early on) when I was unpacking several times for a sale. I said, oh, I just love this. He said, I'm just going to give you one piece of advice and I mean you better follow it. He said this stuff is made to sell. It's not made (for you) to buy. (laughs). He said that's how you make a living. Consequently, we lived by that, and we always kept the same furniture we had years ago.
The estate sales at homes have a different feel?
The main thing that I try to instillin anybody that works with me is that everything has to be done with dignity. You set it up, make it as pretty as possible displaying it, and then you sell it with the same care.
When I get into a home and am looking at all of these people oohing and aahing over things, I love for you to come in and let me tell you all about it and how I feel about it. Then you buy it.
Is there any bartering taking place at the sales in homes, which occur over multiple days?
We can negotiate a little bit. On the second and third day, we're real good negotiators because we don't want to have to move it here. But our job is to sell everything in that house. At the end of the last day, we move everything out of the house. Now it's up to the heirs to tell me prior to the sale if they would like me to use my discretion on what to bring here to auction to finish out their sale and what I need to donate. I might not bring a set of dishes that's not a whole set here. I might give them to one of the charities.
What type of people do you see at the auctions?
We have some of the same people that come to every auction, and some of the same people that come to every estate sale. It goes from people with lots of money to people with hardly anything, and they all are looking for different things. There are some ladies that can't help but buy something. They don't need it. They may have four of them. but they want it and they're going to buy it.
I have one sweet lady that comes to the estate sales and she'll say, well, I knew when you told me what size the clothes were on the phone that I could get me something to wear to church. And she's not poor. She's not rich. But she buys name-brand clothes at the estate sales out of the closets and she wears them.
Do you get paid percentage of sales?
Percentages, usually. We've had a contract with Fort Benning and it's a flat salary. But (clients) pay the company and we provide an auctioneer and ring men and me and a truck driver. We have an auction truck that's amplified.
What are ring men?
Some people call them spotters. That is the people, either young men or women, that work outside the auction truck, just like we do up here in the auction house, helping the auctioneer make sure they're catching all of the bids. If he's over here with two or three people bidding against each other, I may get somebody over here and I go yep ... The auctioneer can hear every bit of this as he's going up the chain of money. I love it. My most fun time is when I'm in front of the truck catching bids from the men.
Finally, how do people go about participating in an auction?
They can get our information on the website or get on the emails. We email everything that we do.
When you show up here, you fill out a registration card and are given a number. If you're going to come repeatedly or occasionally, that will be your permanent number and you just walk up and say I'm buyer 112. They hand you your card and you sit down.
If you're at a heavy equipment auction, you register every time you go. But here we can keep all of the cards and people in the computer.
Name: Anne Evans
Hometown: Born in Andalusia, Ala., but moved around early on due to her father's job in the nuclear power industry, settling eventually in Red Level, Ala., near Andalusia
Current residence: Columbus
Education: Graduate of Red Level High School; attended Auburn University for two years; and has various auction certifications and licenses
Family: Wayne Evans, her late husband, two grown children, Patti and Lee, grandchildren, Ryan and Kathryn, and her mother, Marilyn Blair
Leisure time: She enjoys reading and planting flowers around her pool. But she primarily works, calling her auction occupation "my entertainment"