The art of the auctioneer

I think a good auctioneer needs to reassure bidders that whatever they buy today, that if they intend to hold it long term, will represent an astute purchase.
08-12-2020

The drama of an auction can be just as nerve-racking for the auctioneer as for vendors and buyers.

Just ask KR Peters Director Peter Nicolls who has conducted hundreds of auctions over his 44 year career, yet still gets nervous before each one.

An auction is like a theatre performance, and the worst outcome is not that the audience won't applaud at the end, but that buyers will stay silent and no one puts up their hand to open the bidding.

"When you conduct an auction and no one bids it gives you goose bumps, makes you feel ill in the pit of your stomach. Every time I do an auction I still get nervous," Mr Nicolls said.

"Getting the auction going is the true art of auctioneer. Once you get it going, people make the decision they want it, they don't want to lose and you are on your way."

Come auction day the action can be over quite quickly, but putting together a successful auction takes weeks of hard work behind the scenes by the team at KR Peters. Careful thought and planning goes into marketing the property, conducting inspections, distributing contracts and making countless follow up phone calls.

And with online auctions now commonplace thanks to Covid-19, there is extra work to ensure bidders are registered and the technology works smoothly.

All that effort is designed to foster competition between bidders and get the best outcome possible for the vendor.

"The old line is it doesn't matter where you start, it's where you finish. So it's a case of how do you get a bidder emotionally involved," said Mr Nicolls.

"To get the bidding going the auctioneer has to believe in himself and have confidence that the property represents good value."

If the auction is slow, the auctioneer will place a vendor bid close to the reserve to indicate to the public where they should pitch their expectations.

The aim is to get the property on the market. Once the property is declared on the market, it must be sold to the highest bidder.

"A lot of people hold back and wait until the auctioneer says the property is on the market. They know then they are playing for keeps," Mr Nicolls explained.

"When you watch a lot of auctions you notice the auctioneer's body language change when the property is on the market. The pressure of delivering and achieving the outcome is released."

The role of the auctioneer is also to be a reassuring voice to calm the nerves of bidders and convince them that they are making a sound financial investment.

"I think a good auctioneer needs to reassure bidders that whatever they buy today, that if they intend to hold it long term, will represent an astute purchase."

Mr Nicolls recounts an auction in Bentleigh where a buyer's advocate asked for an indication of the reserve. Straight out of the blocks the advocate bid loud and strong close to the reserve. Everyone else in the crowd froze.

"Afterwards, when I asked people why they didn't bid, they said because he (the advocate) bid so aggressively with his first bid they thought he was going to be unstoppable. He positioned himself to the right of me and dressed up in a suit. He looked like one of my agents. He definitely psyched people out."

In the hundreds of auctions Mr Nicolls has called over his long career, very few have attracted zero bids, but it is a situation that tests the very best.

"As an auctioneer I have to dig deep in my intestinal fortitude and stay calm and confident and keep all my belief systems intact."

If an auction stalls, Mr Nicolls reminds potential buyers of the benefits the property has to offer and pitches his rhetoric at the heart.

"People buy for two reasons - fear of loss or fear that they are going to pay more if they don't buy now."

"However, you can't get too greedy. Experience comes into play when you've done a lot of auctions."

One of his most memorable auctions was a property on Scoresby Road, which soared $100,000 over reserve thanks to a 'dream bidder'.

"No matter what bid came in, he would immediately bid again. He wasn't going to walk away."

"Auctions don't always work out so well, but they are still a great way for property to be bought and sold."