Exclusive: Barnard Marcus is first major auction house to return to live events

Chris Glenn says his 'old school' instincts led him to gamble considerable sums on a room sale last week, but says it was a 'hybrid' affair.

chris glenn auctions

Barnard Marcus is the first large UK auctions house to return to live events, its MD Chris Glenn (main pic) has said.

The firm’s return to ballroom events last week, which saw 161 lots offered to both physical and online bidders at the Grand Connaught Rooms in London, follows decisions by many of its rivals to stick to online-only events for the time being.

Glenn considers the event to have been the future – a hybrid auction mixing live, proxy, telephone and online bids – and that it was a success, but at the end of the day says it’s still a people business and we need to keep that in mind.

“We are the first major auction house to do this because, to a degree I am quite old school and it’s still a people business, but nevertheless we’re spending £100,000 on doing our first three live auctions, sums that I suspect our competitors are not yet ready to risk.”

Carefully considering

Andrew Binstock, Auction House London imageAuction House says it is ‘carefully considering’ whether to return to live events but can’t see these taking place until next year, while both Savills and Allsop have yet to announce plans to return to ‘live’.

Director Andrew Binstock (pictured) says: “We have had some of our highest sales figures during Covid and we’re seeing three to four times the number of people engaging with our auctions as we did when sales were held in the room, both in terms of registered bidders and others simply interested in watching and experiencing the excitement of the auction process.”

He is not the only senior auctioneer figure to suggest that Covid has fundamentally changed the industry.

Jamie Cooke - IAM Sold - imageJamie Cooke (pictured), MD of Iamsold, says prior to Covid 20% of its sales came via ‘room sales’ but that since then, its switch to just online events has boosted take up of its ‘modern method of auction’ digital model.

“It provides a more accessible option, without any of the ‘intimidation factor’ that can exist with an in-room sales environment,” he says.

“Consumers are more digitally minded, and the property sector has also been through a period of digital acceleration which has changed the perception of proptech and technology in general and positioned it as more of a trusted enabler, rather than something to be scared of.”

Kind of normal

Auctioneer Pugh & Co says it is also ‘continually reviewing’ the situation as UK business and life in general returns to a kind of normal.

“During the pandemic both our selling clients and investors fully engaged with the online format which we had been running successfully, alongside our room auctions, for a number of years,” says its MD Paul Thompson.

“We continue to monitor the position regarding large gatherings to ensure the safety of our customers and staff. We’ll map out our strategy as circumstances evolve, to ensure we deliver the optimum service to buyers and sellers alike.”

David Sandeman (pictured), who heads up online auction platform EIG, says he is not surprised by the slow return to live events.

“Covid has accelerated an existing trend within auctions – that both bidders, sellers and auctioneers have seen events appeal to a wider audience, costs have tumbled – some ballrooms cost £25k to hire – while digital auctions can be much more sophisticated.”

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