How to Win at Auction Without Being a Tool

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Last weekend I attended an auction in my neighbourhood. I was just sticky-beaking and enjoying the Saturday morning theatre. I arrived early and had a peek around the property after being greeted by a cavalcade of junior agents with iPads (don’t be mean to them … we were all young once and wore shiny polyester suits and sunnies on our head inappropriately until we knew better).

At auctions, you can almost always tell the serious, interested buyers from those who – like myself – are attending for sport. They tend to fall into two categories:

Serious bidders at auction be like:

The ‘Been there, done that’ bidder: older purchasers who are standing at some distance from the auctioneer. They arrive five minutes before the auction, and don’t attend the open. They’re cool ‘coz they’ve purchased property before (and they’re probably superannuants with loads of equity). Bless their cotton socks (and their Uniqlo vests over cashmere paired with chill AF oversized sunglasses).

The ‘I should have done a nervous poop at home before oh God why didn’t I do a nervous poop why does this always happen to me’ bidder: they’re newbie first home buyers (although they might not be spring chickens, given the state of the Australian economy). These guys arrive ten minutes before the open for inspection begins, spend quite a while inside the property and then stand around right in front of the home waiting for the auctioneer to emerge. They’ll often be on obviously chatty terms with the agents, and have brought a horde of supporters with them.

At Saturday’s auction, both of these bidder types were present. Both bidders probably had the wherewithal to purchase the property, but it was the ‘been there, done that’ buyer who nabbed it in the end. And their strategy? It was to participate and not be a tool.

The ‘been there, done that’ couple waited until the auctioneer made a vendor bid, and then made a fair offer that was within quote range (although at the lower end). There wasn’t a huge amount of interest in the property, and they patiently waited for another bid to be made. The ‘I should have done a nervous poop’ buyer was obviously chomping at the bit to make a bid. He was a fella in his late 30s, rocking to-and-fro on his toes and trying to stare the auctioneer down. The auctioneer (who clearly knew this purchaser had an interest in the home) continually referred to this purchaser, giving him an opportunity to bid.

At this point the property wasn’t even on the marketEven if he did bid, he still wouldn’t have purchased the property as it had not made reserve. The ‘I shoulda done a nervous poop’ buyer was occasionally conferring with his partner and parents while the crowd waited to see if he would bid. He went on to ask questions of the auctioneer, before eventually saying he would make a bid of $1000. As I said, the property wasn’t yet even on the market, and the newbie buyer’s strategy was seriously impaired: if you want to have first right of refusal to access to reserve and negotiate with the vendor, you need to be the last bidder. You need to have the property passed in to you.

Of course, his $1000 bid was rejected (they were calling in $10,000 brackets), and the happy-to-participate ‘been there done that’ buyer went inside and purchased the home. The difference between the more experienced bidder and the newbie bidder comes down to this: a willingness to participate and an understanding that tricky strategy at auction is a load of hogswash. You got the money or you don’t. You participate or you don’t.

I bet the newbie buyer was spewing that they didn’t purchase the home they had so clearly invested in emotionally. From stalking nervously outside the front of the home to in-depth conversations with the agents and bringing a horde of supports along for the ride: they wanted to buy the property. But they got too caught up in micro-strategy and trying to be smart, excluding them from negotiating with the vendor.

Bidding

Here are my top tips for winning at auction (without being a tool).

1. Have finance pre-approval in place. Don’t even begin looking for property until you’ve got a hard budget to work with. It will only lead to heartache! Bidding at auction without pre-approval is something you should never do, as when you purchase at auction there is no cooling off. (Pro-tip: use a broker, not a bank.)

2. Take action (within your budget). If you’ve found a property you’d like to buy, participate in the auctionDon’t be like our poor mates who psyched themselves out with gameplaying and froze. Raise that hand and bid.

3. Don’t get too smart about bids. Putting forward a $1000 bid early on in the auction – before it has even reached reserve – is a tool move. By all means once the property is on the market, break down those bids as you see fit, but do so with purpose.

4. If a property is going to pass in, make sure it passes in to you. You’re not obligated to purchase at the vendor’s reserve – but you’ve won the opportunity to negotiate and know the reserve. If you don’t have the property pass in to you, you may have it stolen out from under your enthusiastic tootsies, which would suck.

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