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Neg Interview: the agent who helped spark the online auctions revolution

Richard O'Neill is a UK agent who took auctions to Ireland only to stay and develop the country's growing online sector and export it back.

Nigel Lewis

oneill auctions

Online property auctions have become almost standard these days, a trend that is being given a huge push by Covid’s obliteration of ballroom events.

And during the lockdown many agents turned to companies who hold or facilitate online auctions to help shift stock when traditional private treaty sales were almost impossible.

But the revolution that has delivered this is in part due to a small group of British and Irish property professionals who have pioneered the use of online auctions in several forms.

And one of them is Richard O’Neill, one of only a handful of British estate agents who have made their name within the Irish housing market, and who currently runs a hybrid estate agency cum auction business in Dublin.

He says it all started when in 2009 when, after a spell working in Manchester in commercial property, he joined auctioneer Allsop in London and was then seconded for six months to help start up its Irish joint venture in 2011.

Never left

The only trouble, he says, is that he never really left. “The first auction we held in Dublin made national TV news and we had 82 lots but 2,000 bidders with people spilling out into the street.

Well organised and slick auctions were unheard of in Ireland at the time and, despite being only a few years after the financial crash, there was plenty of demand for the ‘distressed properties sale’ in the ballroom, which raised €15 million.

Alsopp’s share in this business was bought out in August 2017 and rebranded as Bidx1 – arguably the fastes-growing auction-only auction business within the UK and Ireland now.

For a while O’Neill worked in London launching the brand into the UK, but returned last year to launch his new company, Artis Real Estate.

World first

As we reported last week, it recently claimed to be the first agent in world to sell a property direct through a property portal-hosted online auction.

The tech behind it is from Offr, another Irish company headed up by Robert Hoban, who is also a former Allsop employee.

“My goal is to marry personal touch and expertise with the technology that Offr provides to create greater, and faster outcomes for buyers and sellers and ‘maximise price, minimise time’ is my moto,” says O’Neill.

“To date we have run digital private treaty best bids, online auctions, online conditional bidding, and we are now looking at our first digital tender.”

Change will come

But will UK consumers and estate agents be as keen to embrace auction tech as their Irish counterparts?

“I think the change will come in the UK, and Covid will accelerate that,” he says.

“Ireland is ahead of the curve right now, and that’s due to the difference in population and market size – i.e. a five million population versus a 60 million one in the UK – allowing ideas and new ways of doing business to spread faster.

“Somebody like Robert Hoban, who has a great product and a strong networking base, can get himself in front of all the main players in Ireland very quickly – and if one starts using it, then they’ll all follow.

“That’s a much longer process in the UK given the greater market size and diversity.”

September 17, 2020

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