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Q&A - how are auctions adapting to the lockdown?

The coronavirus crisis has led to a rising interest in selling at auction, with this industry more prepared and better-equipped than most to operate remotely. Some were doing online auctions of some form already, or at the very least accepting online bids during the traditional auction process, while others have adapted in recent months to offer their usual auctions in a social distancing-friendly way.

Here, we speak to Andrew Parker, managing director and auctioneer at nationwide auction house SDL Auctions, for his thoughts on how the industry is coping with Covid-19, what auctions will look like once the crisis has passed, and how he became an auctioneer in the first place.  

How has SDL Auctions adapted to the changes brought about by coronavirus? Has it been difficult or smooth sailing?


There have been a few things that we've had to fundamentally change in the running of our auctions, but there are many things that remain the same.

Our online auctions continue to run the same as they’ve always done. We have online auctions starting and ending each and every day of the year, all of which are open to real time bidding as you would with other online auction sites.

Obviously, due to the government's social distancing rules, we are no longer able to hold our auctions in a public space with hundreds of buyers raising their bidding paddles. However, we have always broadcast our auctions live on our website and accepted proxy, internet and phone bids.

This is the way we are now currently running our auctions - via a live video feed with remote bidding and only myself at the rostrum with my wife Rachael, our East Midlands regional property manager, by my side to manage our remote bids.

We’re one of only a handful of auctioneers who are able to conduct an auction with an auctioneer at the rostrum, many others have moved to an online-only model.

We held our first fully remote auctions in March and we were delighted with the success. We raised over £7.1 million for sellers and saw more than 1,800 people tune in to watch live. For our next National Property Auction on 30th April, we have more than 110 lots for sale so we're confident of another great auction for our buyers and sellers.

Why are auctions a good solution for buyers and sellers during this time?

Much of our lives have been put on hold right now, quite rightly. Our experience running auctions has shown us that selling a property is often born of necessity and this crisis is not going to change that. If anything, some sellers will have an even greater need for the speed and security provided by an auction sale - maybe due to financial issues, for example.

We’re not here to take advantage of people’s difficulties but we feel we have a duty to those sellers who need to realise their assets now, rather than wait for the crisis to pass.

We know there will always be demand from investors, regardless of circumstances, so we are confident that auction remains the best method for achieving the best prices for sellers in today’s market.

Once the national lockdown is lifted, do you think more auction houses will remain online, or is it simply a temporary measure?

I think more auctioneers will incorporate online auctions into their business when they may have previously not, in the same way that I think many of us will choose conference calls over emails.

This time in lockdown has helped us look at what we can do to continue keeping the wheels of industry turning. For our business, we have made little adaptations, but the core of our business has remained the same.

We've learned a lot during the past few months which will make us a more robust - and hopefully a more successful - business in the future.

SDL's latest online auctions were watched by nearly 2,000 people. Have you seen confidence among buyers and sellers wane, or has not much changed?

We are still seeing a high level of confidence from our sellers. In our next National Property Auction we have 113 lots for sale showing that sellers are still confident with the auction process.

And we've got remote bidding requests flooding in so buyers are obviously still keen to invest in property. In our March lockdown auctions, we received more than 400 remote bids and sale prices averaged 15% above the guide prices.

What are the differences between doing an auction for an online audience and one in the flesh? Does the tone/style have to change?

What's great about conducting an auction in front of a busy room of engaged bidders is that you naturally have audience participation. Obviously they're raising their bidding paddles to bid, but they're also making eye contact and smiling which makes it easier to manage the bids.

With an online audience, you know when you have a bidder ready to bid but you don't know when they will bid. It's much slower in that respect, but it does retain the excitement of competitive bidding and with our phone bidders you can hear their response when they're the successful buyer.

Can the market recover after the crisis? How long do you think it will take?

Absolutely it can. Over the past 10 years, the property market has seen huge changes, and this is just something else for us to overcome and grow from.

As an auction business, we're learning a lot from our home working environment and finding new ways of interacting with our buyers and sellers, which can only be a positive thing for the future.

In terms of how long it will take, I'm not sure anyone knows that right now. But I would suggest that those businesses who aren't solely reliant on a high street presence are likely to recover quicker.

How did you become an auctioneer in the first place?

I ran my own Reed Rains franchise for many years and, once it became time for a change, I joined the team at SDL Auctions (Graham Penny Auctions at the time) and learned about auctioneering from the very best, Graham Penny.

I spent a few years shadowing Graham and learned about the benefits of an auction sale over a private treaty sale, then I was fortunate enough to win the National Association of Valuers and Auctioneers (NAVA): Auctioneer of the Year competition.

This coincided with the launch of our second branch and gave me the opportunity to share rostrum time with Graham. I am now lead auctioneer for all our SDL Auctions regional and national auctions and I love it. I feel a huge sense of pride standing on the rostrum on behalf of our vendors and to see the happy faces of our buyers on the fall of the gavel is unmatched.

Poll: Would you consider buying or selling at auction during lockdown?



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