Home » InsideLB » Auctioneer’s Performance Raises Funds for City Services
Auctioneer 1


Published: 11/20/2018

On a sunny mid-morning at the Long Beach Tow Yard on Willow Street, Vic Moraila surveys row upon row of vehicles. Some have been wrecked, some have liens on them, and others have been stolen and recovered. Some can be driven, but many cannot. All are unclaimed, and every attempt has been made to return them to their owners.

Now, all are for sale, and the City’s bi-monthly Lien Sales Auction is about to begin.

A crowd has gathered, hoping to place the winning bid on the vehicles they have eyed.

Moraila steps up to the microphone, and it’s show time.

He is the City’s auctioneer, and he has nearly 200 vehicles to sell.

The auction starts with Moraila explaining the rules, much like a flight attendant before a flight. The Tow Yard is near Long Beach Airport, and the commercial jets taking off form a fitting background.

Moraila’s conversational voice escalates into the rapid-fire speech known as the auction chant. He quickly finds his cadence and uses it to create a sense of urgency, even competition, to encourage as many bids as possible.

Two hours later, Moraila has auctioned off all the vehicles in rapid succession, along with motorcycles and miscellaneous recovered items displayed on the "property pallets," such as bicycles, tools, and sound equipment. The most unusual item Moraila has auctioned off was an antique diving bell, which was purchased and donated to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  

For Moraila, the auction is a performance, with him as the conductor, and the bidders as musicians.

"When I go out there, I have all this nervous energy pent up inside of me,” he said. “It's like a show."

As Moraila puts it, the most important skill an auctioneer can have is, "the ability to read what the public is trying to buy. … I base my rhythm on how the public is responding. You have to create a vibe, a heat, a passion for the customer to buy."  

The Lien Sales Auctions are held every other Tuesday, and they generate more than $1 million dollars annually for the City’s General Fund.

“Most traditional City services are funded through the General Fund," said Robert Givens, Superintendent of the Towing and Lien Sales Division. “This includes policing, fire response, parks, streets and sidewalks repair, and library services…from capital improvements to public safety, the General Fund helps ensure that the City functions at a high level," he explained.

Needless to say, all vehicles are sold, “As is, where is, and with all faults.” Successful bidders make their payments in credit cards or cash and are responsible for transporting their new vehicles.

Moraila was a college student in 1984 when he started working for the City of Long Beach as a part-time sound engineer for the Long Beach Municipal Band. He became a full-time employee in 1990, working as a dispatcher and driver. These duties set him up for his current position as Lien Sales Supervisor. 

"The opportunity to work as auctioneer came about by necessity as past auctioneers were on vacation or sick," said Moraila. "I watched a former City employee auctioneer for several years and tried to mimic his style until finding my own." 

Most of the vehicles sold at auction have either been towed and never claimed or wrecked in an accident.

"There's no other yard west of the Mississippi that I'm aware of that does this,” said Moraila. "There's no other operation with the size and scope of what we do. We tow for the Police Department, we process our vehicles for lien sale, and we auction them off.”

The most popular vehicles are Hondas, Nissans, Toyotas, and some European models. "We've had Lamborghinis and Ferraris in here, but they don't make it to auction,” said Moraila. “Someone always comes in and pays for them."  

Many of the bidders are "flippers" — people who buy a vehicle, fix it up and sell it.  

Some bidders are there to turn around and sell totaled vehicles for scrap. 

"Believe it or not, that really doesn't affect buyers," said Moraila. "We have recycling companies here, we have people who buy a car just to recover parts for a car they already have, and they will buy it, strip it, and send it to a recycling yard and get scrap metal value out of it." 

After each auction, Moraila conducts a debriefing with his staff before heading home and unwinding with a bike ride.  

In two weeks, he'll be back on stage, ready to play the role of conductor again. 

"It's like jazz and blues," said Moraila. "They can teach you the notes, but you gotta feel it, baby!"  

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