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.

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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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Never Pay for a Vendor’s Marketing

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It’s the start of a new year in Australian real estate land, and agents all across the nation are slitting each other’s throats for the chance to hold an authority in their hot little hands. 

At the start of each new year, there is terrific pressure on estate agents to kick off on the right foot with plenty of real estate on their stocklist. Subsequently, commission fees and pants are dropping at a rate of knots, as agents scramble to list property at any cost. Much of this pressure to list comes from panicked Principals whose weekly sales meetings are enough to send their teams into paroxysms of panic as they wonder ‘will I list this week’?

When you’re working in a real estate business where the predominant motivator to list business is fear and punishment rather than a narrative of professional development and team support for your individual strengths, making good decisions about your financial future becomes a hard task. As your retainer stacks up, your confidence begins to dwindle. The thought of not making your KPI for the month makes you nauseous and dry-mouthed.

So when a vendor you’ve assisted over a period of ten years with regular appraisals and negotiation tips to purchase finally decides to list their home with you, you get excited! There is only a couple of provisos: you’ll need to drop your fee to match the cut-price agent they’ve had visit their home for the first time and you’ll need to pay for their marketing.

Well. After you’ve finished shaking your fist at the Gods and ruing the day you ever met these cheapskate vendors, and after you’ve finished monologue-ing to your partner that people these days are worse than they were in the 90s, you realise you’ve a decision to make. Will you meet their terms? 

I understand how achingly you want this listing. How much pressure you’re potentially under to list at whatever the cost. But agent, the cost of listing badly is high.

Here are some of many reasons you should never pay for a vendor’s marketing:

  • The Numbers Don’t Add Up

If you agree to pay your vendor’s marketing – even if it’s only internet, photography, copywriting and basics – you’ll personally be up for several thousand dollars in costs. Say your total fee for the vendor’s home is $20,000. You’re on a 30/70 split with your Principal, so you’ll garner $6000 for this sale. MINUS your superannuation and any fees your Principal additionally takes. And MINUS your $3000 vendor advertising. That leaves you with around a $2000 profit. And the taxman hasn’t even been paid yet.

It doesn’t take a super-genius to recognise that this is a shit deal for you, the agent. The vendor is on a good wicket. Indeed, your Principal still makes money. But you? If you agree to pay vendor marketing you are working for sweet nothin’. You are nobody’s slave. If this is the culture you are being coerced to list within, you’ll need to find a new estate agency that respects their team and wants to lift standards within the industry.

  • Danger Clients

When you’re at the point of listing and you think the cat’s in the bag, it is galling when a client you’ve nurtured for years attempts to undercut you. I’m not talking about a small commission negotiation here – I’m talking about asking you to match a complete tool’s fee and pay their marketing to boot. Such clients have broken a social contract. They are dangerous. They are likely litigious. They do not see you as a human of value, they see you as a tool to be used. Be very cautious here: such undermining behaviour from a client does not bode well for a happy sale. You’ve been warned.

  • Spend Your Money on Yourself

Remember the last time you turned down a girl’s spa weekend because it would cost $600? Or when you didn’t go to a conference because you considered it to ‘spensy at a cost of $1500? Or when you didn’t buy that Paul Smith suit that was on sale? When you didn’t invest in social media marketing because the monthly cost seemed too much? When you wouldn’t get your kid that glittery Barbie because it didn’t fit in the monthly budget?

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Don’t deny your professional development and personal desires through budgeting, only to blow it all on some bastard vendor who doesn’t respect your time or skill. Energetically paying for vendor marketing is a bad choice, psychologically it’s detrimental to your confidence as a negotiator by trade. Blow those bucks and treat yo’self and your family – not them. You’ll benefit personally and professionally by turning this narrative of saving around.

  • Lift Your Standards, Don’t Drop Your Daks

Once in a while, we all lose listings that should have been ours. They should have been ours because of the years of service we’d given the client, or the great result we’d just garnered. Such lost listings sting. When I was an agent I remember losing a listing to a total fool of an agent who cut his fee to almost nothing. The vendor was a bastard for using my time over many years, and I felt silly for investing so much time in a wanton user. I cried and cried, I remember the flood of tears hitting my callback sheets. It was all very dramatic.

But after all the nose-blowing and at-volume listening to Usher in my car, I moved on. I prospected with more intelligence and communicated with rigour to my farm area. I didn’t need that zonzo’s listing. I didn’t want to diminish myself by working for nothing, and I didn’t want to become an agent who’d list at any cost. Instead, I would work with clients who weren’t dangerous, who respected my expertise and who understood reciprocity.

Never pay for a vendor’s marketingNo matter how much pressure a Principal puts you under to do so. Working in real estate is a tricky  business where confidence is all: don’t short-change yourself to satisfy someone else’s sense of entitlement. There’s other listings to be had – go chase ’em.

Christmas Parties: The Estate Agent Guide

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You can tell Christmas is coming in three key ways when you’re an estate agent.

One is when your clients decide to wait ’til next year to sell their home,  feeling they’ve missed the boat in terms of an auction campaign or harnessing the ‘spring buzz’. The second way you can sense Christmas is nigh is the sight of Mr Kipling mince pies at Woolies. And the last is the arrival of the annual Christmas party invitation – which is something either met with great excitement, or gnawing dread. In today’s Hometruths Melbourne blog, we offer a Christmas Party guide for principals and estate agents – a thorough what-to-do and what-not-to-do guide that will make for happier celebrations of the year that was. More Nutbush, less Krampus.

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Are you a Principal? Congratulations on making it through another year. It’s tough out there for a boss, #amirite? You’ve probably contended with an array of events in 2016 including but not limited to: legal skirmishes, staff turnover that made you panic, tax bills that result in emergency accountant visits and enforced attendance at your local real estate institute for CPD points. It’s hard to tell which of these is the worst, innit? In any case – you’re on the home stretch and it’s time to reward your team for the many wins you’ve enjoyed. Here’s how to do it:

  • Forget about mini-buses. Anywhere.

It’s true that a winery day out sounds initially appealing, especially if you rather enjoy the odd tipple. But being stuck on a bus hours outside of your capital city with Jerry the BDM vomiting pulled pork burgers and pilsner out the mini-bus window is a much less happy reality. Don’t make the Christmas party into something which must be borne through gritted teeth rather than enjoyed. Appreciate that not everyone in your team enjoys drinking, and take that into account when planning a stress-free and enjoyable day out together.

  • Don’t conflate team-building with celebration and reward.

You have 11 months of the year to do team-building. Christmas parties are not about that: they’re a reward that shows your appreciation as a business owner without making anyone feel put upon or pressured into an activity they don’t enjoy. Less abseiling and trust exercises, more ‘here’s a personal gift from me to you, what would you like for your entrée?’

  • Partners matter. Include them.

Estate agents often work six days a week. In order for an agent to succeed and make you money, they need the complicit support of their partner. The real estate widow is carrying the domestic workload and executing the emotional labour of a couple by themselves. They are as much a part of your success as your employee. Make sure they know they’re appreciated and included in Christmas celebrations and rewards. Let’s face it: a Christmas lunch or dinner with your team alone makes for pretty dull conversation. Throw partners into the mix, and you’ll have a diversity of relaxed conversation that’s (hopefully!) about anything other than the office. Don’t be cheap about this – scale your celebrations to a level that partners can be acknowledged and rewarded within.

  • Don’t be offended by difference.

Maybe you’re going ahead with a Christmas party at a winery. Or you’re taking the team out for a day of paintballing. Be open to the reality that not everyone in your business will want to participate. Not everyone drinks, travels in mini-buses well, or enjoys toting paintball guns in the bush. If you have a team member that would prefer to sit this event out, don’t make a big deal of it. Their fun isn’t your fun. That’s OK. Reward them privately in a way that they will appreciate, and your tolerance and thoughtfulness won’t go unnoticed.

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Are you an estate agent? Well done to you too, on making it (nearly) all the way to 2017! It’s time to enjoy and pat yourselves on the back for having being faced with alarming circumstances during 2016 including but not limited to: changes to quoting laws, dogs constantly jumping on you during listing presentations, forgetting open A-Frames on street corners, dealing with irate, threatening buyers during boardroom auctions and trying to meet your monthly KPIs. Holiday season is here, and our recommendations on best enjoying your team Christmas celebrations include:

  • Keep it nice. 

During your Christmas office party, you may very well enjoy a snifter or two of your favorite tipple. Sante! Relax and mellow out. But don’t let that sweet devil’s liquor loosen your tongue or allow you to behave in a randy, inappropriate fashion. You’re still in a professional setting, so calling people racist nicknames, bottom-pinching, or indulging in a disco-bikkie or two in the bathrooms really isn’t on. It’s easy to ruin a reputation. And it’s easy to bully other people when you’re in a position of power. Neither action is very spirit of the season, really.

  • Give your boss a gift.

Appreciation, innit. Goes a long way.

  • Make an effort.

Some of us like Christmas parties more than others. If there’s an activity that makes you really uncomfortable and you don’t want to participate, speak frankly to your boss about this. If they’re not a d*ck, they’ll respect your considered response. But if you’re just generally a Christmas party hater, take off your Grinch hat. Make it a more enjoyable a day by offering to organise games or a focus for the party. Maybe not Cards Against Humanity, but something that will elicit a giggle from everyone. Or indulge in a new outfit for the day, and think of ways to engage with your colleagues outside of your daily roles. Chat to Jacinta’s husband about his favorite books. Find out if Gregg is still collecting 1970’s football cards. There’s more to your colleagues than meets the eye, I’ll bet.

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Photography: Breeana Dunbar.

Cooked Their Own Goose: Vendor Greed

Buyers are saying no. And with good reason, too. Vendor greed has killed the goose that laid the golden egg.

The property cycle is the same every time. Interest rates go down (or go up, as a warning shot over the parapets) and hopeful property buyers spring into action. They begin buying property under competitive conditions, and prices crawl upwards. Some neighbourhoods surge ahead in value – shocking their communities with a steady increase in property prices. Cue media outlets and newspapers opining on Melbourne’s property market balloon, resulting in Saturday night news featurettes on extraordinary auction results and the impossibility of first home buyers securing property. Some vendors make well above their reserves, elated and excited at their windfall.

Buyers keep buying property despite all this ‘balloon market’ talk, choosing to invest their dollars in property, confident that property prices aren’t going down anytime soon in desirable, urban areas as our population keeps growing. Clearance rates are high, and vendor’s appetites to sell are whetted. That’s where it all starts to go wrong.

It doesn’t go bad because of a balloon or buyers ceasing to see the value of property investment. It goes bad because of vendor greed. Vendors Gone Wild, if you will. The vendors just a few weeks earlier in the same property cycle were setting reasonable market reserves which left room for buyers to compete. It’s only when a vendor is listening to their agent’s feedback about quote range (or advice on why they shouldn’t display price) and setting a reserve buyers see as reasonable that competition occurs, properties sell, clearance rates remain high and prices increase naturally and incrementally. The vendors who weren’t greedy – weren’t trying to abuse the market’s confidence in property investment – were those prepared to sell at a fair price.

It’s the vendors who have more recently come onto the market – those who believe the media news that prices are outta sight and going north – that have cooked the market’s goose. They always appear in the property market cycle at its greediest  pinnacle. (Although they’re by no means the only kind of vendors attempting to sell their properties before Christmas.) These vendors don’t amend their expectations of price despite agent education and market feedback because they were never sellers in the first place. They’d sell for an extraordinary result, but their motivation to meet the market is low. The result of an out of control vendor are high pass-in rates, lower attendance at open for inspections and a general unwillingness to participate from buyers.

Buyers be like #HellNo and #OhNoYouDiint

This is as it should be: it’s a sign that the market is discerning and aware. Buyers are willing to bid to buy, but they won’t tolerate greed and an inability to compete openly.

If you’re a vendor who has not sold and you’re part of the current property cycle, ask yourself the hard question: are you really selling or are you just trying to fool the market into paying more than your property’s worth? Listen to your agent’s feedback and take action by meeting the market. If you are selling to buy, be logical about pricing and don’t get hung up on achieving a figure based on nothing but hope. Waiting for your ‘perfect price’ could mean watching the market cycle for several years. In that time, the property you’re hoping to buy will also go up in value  – and will be just as unaffordable as it is today. It’s critical (in most cases) to buy and sell in the same market, when values are balanced. Waiting won’t change the inherent value of properties if you’re selling to buy. Word to the wise? Don’t cook your own goose!

After all, if Tay-Tay and Yeezy can hug it out, so can buyers and vendors.