The pandemic hasn’t silenced the auctions. While a few traditional auctioneers such as Birmingham’s Bond Wolfe shut up shop completely during the lockdown, many more switched to either virtual sales, with an auctioneer in an empty room, or eBay-style listings. Using video tours to counter the lack of viewings, some have reported a big increase in sales, with most predicting a bigger share of the market for online auctions in future.
Justin Beckwith, Auction Director at Pattinson Auction, said business had been “very good” and that “plenty of people are buying off video tours”. The firm sold an apartment in London for £580,000 without a physical viewing.
We’re seeing our online auctions growing month-on-month; we’ve seen that for the last two years and I think we’ll see that curve steepen again over the next few months. Justin Beckwith, Pattinson Auction.
“With everything that is going on I think it’s actually demonstrated how useful the auction is,” he said.
“We’re seeing our online auctions growing month on month – we’ve seen that for the last two years and I think we’ll see that curve steepen again over the next few months.”
Flipping to virtual
At SDL Auctions, Managing Director Andrew Parker said three in-room auctions scheduled for the first week of the lockdown had been successfully flipped to virtual sales. More than 1,000 people viewed the firm’s May online auction, with 800 registered bidders on the day. He said he thought it “highly unlikely” that ballroom auctions would resume in the next six months.
I’m an auctioneer, I love the auction room, the auction process and I love the buzz on the day and seeing everybody. However, we are in very changing times. Andrew Parker, SDL.
“To take responsibility for your audience and to expect people to maintain a safe distance and protect your staff is going to be very difficult,” he observed. “I’m an auctioneer – I love the auction room, the auction process and I love the buzz on the day and seeing everybody. However, we are in very changing times.”
MyBid4it, which operates an eBay-style residential listing platform, reported business had initially been brisk thanks to pent-up demand, before slowing due to lack of viewings – but was now picking up again rapidly. “Now is the time for agents to partner up with companies like ourselves offering online auctions because it’s bringing quick money back into their pipelines,” said managing director Charlie Lancaster.
Staggering level of interest
Bond Wolfe paused auctions because people weren’t able to carry out viewings. “We didn’t think it was fair to expect people to bid online not being able to view any of the properties we were offering,” said managing director Ian Tudor. However, the firm is now set to resume business using virtual auctions, with the first one scheduled for 24th June with 131 lots. “Given that we had two and a half weeks to pull it together, I don’t think we’ve done too badly – the level of interest has been absolutely staggering. The phones have been absolutely relentless for the last two weeks, as have the viewing figures.”
He added, ”Buyers and vendors have adapted well to new format – everyone’s taken to it like a duck to water.
“I don’t think it will be the new norm but it will mean that auction houses like us that typically hold in-room auctions may be able to mix it up with smaller virtual auctions if there is the appetite.”
Surge in interest in online auctions
Doug Haigh, director at online platform WhooBid, said the firm had just enjoyed one of its best quarters. He said the majority of buyers were buy-to-let investors while many sellers were landlords looking to offload portfolios.
“People are seeing it as an opportunity, a buyer’s market,” he said. “Would I say prices have dropped? I don’t know. There may be a mini-dip, but the reality is we all know property always bounces back pretty quickly.
“The one thing that is very apparent at the moment is people want security. Most of the enquiries over the past week or so have all been because of sales chains falling through and I think that is going to become the norm over the next month or two.”
Up-and-coming auction platform Bamboo had been seeing a huge surge in interest even before COVID-19, but that process has accelerated, with a five-fold increase in sales in May over February.
Bamboo’s technology underpins many agents’ own online auctions, but director Robin Rathore says it is far more than just a white-label offering, with complete back-office functionality built into the process. In just three years, Bamboo has brought on board agents with more than 400 branches, including Bradleys, Greenslade Taylor Hunt and Stags in the West Country, and the entire Hunter’s franchise.
“We were growing steadily anyway; what’s happened as a result of coronavirus has speeded up that growth,” said Rathore. He said there had inevitably been a lot of pent-up demand. “Now the market has opened there’s going to be a rush of people trying to make up for lost time. As soon as those backlogs disappear that’s when we will see what the real effect of coronavirus will be,” he added.
Traditional auctioneer Pugh & Co transitioned all ballroom auctions to online listings during the lockdown and while the number of properties was well below normal, the firm reported strong appetite from buyers.
“We have seen a very high level of engagement from the buying market,” said managing director Paul Thompson. “In certain cases it’s been more a case of caution from the seller. Investors have been keen… people were prepared to buy without viewings.” He doesn’t believe Covid will result in the death of the ballroom auction, however. “I think there is a continuing underlying appetite for the auction room – people like to go the venues, get the atmosphere, see the competition – but what COVID-19 has done is introduce a higher level of online auction activity.”
People like to go the venues, get the atmosphere, see the competition – but what COVID-19 has done is introduce a higher level of online auction activity. Paul Thomson, Pugh.
Auctioneers IAM Sold reported a slight slowing at the start of the lockdown but sales levels are now returning to normal. The firm normally offers a mix of in-room and online auctions and so was easily able to switch to a 100 per cent online offering.
“From a seller’s perspective online really works,” said senior marketing communications manager Laura Whiting. “Being able to put something up for auction any time they like rather than having to wait for the next in-room auction is quite attractive to vendors. “From a buyer’s perspective, being able to log on any time, anywhere, is also a bonus.”
The company sold an apartment in Poole’s exclusive Sandbanks area for more than £1 million despite the inability to carry out viewings. “This time has opened up auctions to a lot of people who assumed it wasn’t for them or didn’t know enough about it,” she added. “We would like to think we’ve had a few auction converts along the way. “It has shown the importance of technology – it’s pushed us forward 10 years.”
The COVID-19 has set so many areas of business back, but it seems it has also accelerated adoption of new techniques and methods of doing business. Online property auctions seem to be coming out of the crisis as winners.