The Myth of the Auctioneer

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If there’s three things Melbournites love of a Saturday, it’s coffee with the papers, watching their team win at the MCG, and the street-theatre of a cracking auction.

And it’s not just Melbournites that love the smell of an auction in the morning: the perennial popularity of ‘reality’ real estate TV such as The Block is testament to Australia’s fascination with property. Whilst The Block is a show more about winning cash than selling real estate, each season I watch The Block finale as I can’t help myself: I’m a Melbournite who loves an auction.

When I began in real estate as novice in my twenties, I aspired to one day have the knowledge and sheer chutzpah to be an auctioneer. Happily, I acquired that skill, and was one of very few female auctioneers in Melbourne at the time. It’s true that calling an auction is not for everyone: some agents don’t fancy being the focus of a crowd, others feel nervous about their capacity to count in varying increments under pressure. I remember my Principal explaining to me that whilst it appeared that anything could happen in an auction situation, the likelihood was that it wouldn’t. Being an auctioneer is tantamount to being the circus Ringleader – what occurs during the process of your call is mostly in your control.  Although I’ve been privy to hundreds of auction calls, I’ve only seen a couple where the crowd have heckled or behaved appallingly. When unpleasant outbursts do occur, the wider crowd will often turn on the heckler – either by making dagger eyes and huffing in their general direction, or by literally telling them to pull their head in. I must admit, I always enjoy it when the ne’er-do-well heckler gets their comeuppance.

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Being an auctioneer is a talent, a skill that not all possess. Auctioneers are the lead actor taking centre stage at the pointy end of our weekend property sport, admired, reviled and mythologised. Here’s the thing: auctioneers don’t have the supernatural money-making powers shows like The Block and many punters believe them to have. A fine auctioneer executes a wonderful piece of performance art paired with the gain of lucre in public: it’s compelling and exciting to witness a great auction that flies past reserve in the blink of an eye. But in real terms, the true influence an auctioneer has over a property’s sale result is low to moderate at best. Here’s why:

Auctioneers are only as good as the sales campaign behind them.

An auctioneer cannot make an over-priced property in an over-supplied market sell, no matter how great their patter or how capable their count. In order for an auction to succeed the listing agent (this is the person with their name on the ‘For Sale’ board) must have run a good campaign. This means they’ve collaborated with their motivated vendor to appropriately price the property, attracting interest from the market – and hopefully, hordes of potentially-willing purchasers on auction day. If the property is overpriced, no amount of mad auctioneering skillz will save the campaign. The groundwork critical to a superb auction result is undertaken by the listing agent – and finished off with razzle-dazzle and control by the auctioneer. Ultimately, selling real estate is all about pricing competitively; the adage of ‘price it low, watch it go’ will always be true (regardless of trends in quoting). If a property is overpriced and there’s no willing bidder in the crowd, the best an auctioneer can do is emergency triage and entertainment before passing that sucker in and privately negotiating ASAP.

A house made entirely of KFC buckets mortared with ‘mashies’ will successfully sell at auction if it’s priced competitively enough: the auctioneer will simply season the deal with their charming seven secret herbs and spices (none of which involve pricing the property or educating the vendor about market realities, all of which is done by the listing agent).

Auctioneers are enabled or stymied by vendor reserves.

On The Block, contestants are delivered reserves stipulated by the true vendor (that being Channel 9). The narrative of The Block positions the contestants as the vendors, though in reality they’re not: they have no control over the reserve set by the station.

In the real world – should an auction be struggling – the agent can take instructions from their vendor mid-call. Depending on market conditions, the vendor may choose to put the property ‘on the market’ and amend their reserve to the last bid – or they might maintain their reserve, opting to pass the property in and negotiate with the highest bidder. The vendor’s instructions directly inform the auctioneer’s ability to successfully sell their property under the hammer. Again, much of the groundwork assisting to make the vendor aware of market feedback on their property is completed by the listing agent – who can hopefully encourage the vendor to set a reserve that’s realistic.

Auctioneers can’t make people buy houses.

When Shelley Craft looks to camera on The Block, remarking that ‘the auctioneer really has to go out there and make us that money’, I feel slightly nauseated. The auctioneer is not the person a successful sale hinges upon: the listing agent and the vendor themselves are. It’s misinforming the public to simplify the matter and pretend that the auctioneer can pull money from clench-fisted buyers who don’t see value in a property. If a property passes in, it’s not because the auctioneer is crap. It’s because the vendor hasn’t met the market (whether they’ve chosen to reject their agent’s advice on reserve, or the agent hasn’t attempted to condition them is the unknown factor).

It’s absolutely true that a talented auctioneer has some influence over an outcome at auction. They serve to entertain and inform the crowd, warming them up and encouraging those interested in bidding to raise their hands. Auctioneers are a walking advertisement for the prestige of the agency they represent, and should be sharply-presented with a dynamic calling style. They are responsible for making the crowd feel safe, and as though all is under control – if you’ve been to an auction where the auctioneer is fearful, the tension and dread is palpable and can serve to scare the crowd to stillness. Auctioneers are a very important part of the real estate sales process in Australia: they’re the Baz Luhrmann sparkle on the everyday gruntwork of a month of open for inspections. Their job is awe-inspiring to many, and the best of them are raconteurs who make our Saturdays sparkle with filthy lucre and witticisms – particularly when bidding is fast and furious. All I’m suggesting is: the auctioneer doesn’t have market power in the palm of their hand. Ultimately, it’s the vendor – and the talent of their listing agent – that decides whether an auction campaign flies or fizzes.

Iolanthe Gabrie a senior property writer, and the Director of Melbourne’s social media agency, Ruby Slipper.

Photographs by Kyle Larson.

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Gratitude and the Estate Agent

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I love coffee cards. I only drink decaf, but that doesn’t stop me from punching my way through a coffee card in the space of a fortnight, before being rewarded for my good custom by my local provedore of (de)caffeinated beverages with a freebie.

I feel treatedacknowledged and delighted by this gesture. In all, I’ve probably spent about $35.00 with a coffee shop over the space of a couple of weeks, who then reward me with a coffee worth 10% of the value of my investment in their business. That’s just good business – and increasingly, we expect our loyalty to be rewarded – even with the most basic of purchases.

Can you imagine if an estate agency spent 10% of the value of a vendor’s investment on treating their vendor and buyer? It’s likely you can’t.

And that’s because the real estate industry has a problem with saying thankyou.

The bad old days of cleanskin wines and Donna Hay cookbooks are gone. The real estate industry is being forced to give more than ever before, whilst ostensibly working for the same (or a reduced) commission. Frankly, I don’t know how they’ve gotten away with displaying insubstantial gratitude to the people who pay their bills for so long. Are you a real estate stalwart grumbling with disagreement? You’re likely part of the problem.

Free-market economics are improving standards across the real estate community, with savvy agents looking to innovate across the entirety of their businesses. Creating an edge is where it’s at, and that point of difference simply can’t be achieved with the lacklustre delivery of shiny, branded Christmas cards with a printed ‘signature’, templated dross-filled newsletters focused on your business rather than your community, or a cheese knife and woodblock set handed across the front desk by a harried Sales Secretary at settlement time.

So what’s the edge? And how can you get it?

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The edge is called delight. Delight is the emotional state that creates goodwill between parties. Goodwill brings with it referrals, repeat business and cold business – all drawn magnetically to you as a sales agent or a company because of your reputation. Delight costs, of course. It costs in personalised, thoughtful gifting. In genuinely giving back to your community in terms of quality messaging on bespoke social media. It costs in time, as well – in lounge-room sitting or calling that landlord client to check-in on how his experience with your property manager is faring. Delight is the only currency that matters in an age when fewer agents are doing more business thanks to ‘marketing units’, more powerful databases and the collapse of smaller agencies into monied mega-brands.

So let’s get grateful. To both our vendors and our buyers – who have both paid a healthy portion of your monthly bill courtesy of their invoice. It’s easy to become numb to 5-figure commission checks when you’re within industry, splitting them up into their 40 – 60% splits before they’ve even hit the trust account. But each commission is big bucks to your vendor, and it needs to be appropriately acknowledged.

Word to the wise (and not the wise-assed): this isn’t an opportunity for Principals to pass the buck on gifting. This gesture of gratitude must be a percentage that comes off the whole fee. Not just the amount of commission apportioned to the sales agent – that’s lazy, and greedy. Imagine the sense of delight you could offer your vendors and buyers by setting aside just $3000 of a $30,000 fee and investing in gratitude. BBQs and dinner-tables around your community will soon be buzzing with talk of your decidedly un-realestate-y generosity. This delight could be a big spend all at once, a fair splitting of the resources between the vendor and the buyer. It could be a portioned upfront spend on the two parties, with an additional amount put into a collective ‘delight’ kitty, used for the benevolent scattering of goodwill to deserving clients in the form of coffee cards for newbies to the neighbourhood, magazine subscriptions, tickets to the theatre or weekends away.

The edge is delight, surprise and gratitude. It’s time to give back and to say thankyou. And it feels good.

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Photography: Breeana Dunbar

Location: Aquabelle Apartments, Mornington Peninsula

Iolanthe Gabrie is the Director of Ruby Slipper, Melbourne’s best social media agency. Learn more here.

 

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.