As real estate agents, we’ve worked with a few auctioneers in our time, but James is by far the best in the business.
Cool, calm and collected, he’s also got a good sense of humour. We sat down with him for a chat about where it all began, what makes a good auctioneer and his favourite auction story.
Hi James, thanks for the chat. How did you get into auctioneering?
On my first day in real estate sales, one of the directors said, ‘we’re entering everybody into the Novice Auctioneers Competition.’ I really didn’t want to do it. I had no idea what auctioneering was. The only reason I entered is because it was my very first day in real estate so I just went with the flow. To cut a long story short, I ended up winning that competition and went to the state final and was runner up. Once I was runner up at the state final I thought, ‘perhaps I could do this properly. This isn’t so bad.’
What skills make a good auctioneer?
Definitely being able to calculate numbers helps, but I also think it’s important to have the mindset that you’re there to do a job for someone else. Being a team player, taking direction from the agent and the vendor. It’s not about you, it’s not your time to shine, it’s your time to do a job.
What do you like about it?
You get to see some amazing and unique houses. I feel really fortunate that I’ve been able to auction overseas and interstate, and auction houses, apartments, land. There are some pretty incredible experiences that come with it, but I really just enjoy helping people. There’s a really good feeling you get when you sell a property for someone and you get to see their joy 15 minutes later.
Do you get nervous, or do you thrive on the adrenaline?
I don’t get as nervous as I used to. In fact, sometimes I can just get into autopilot mode because I’ve done so many. Every now and then you have a unique situation and the nerves kick in again, but for the most part, it’s not like it used to be when I first started out.
What are the advantages of selling at auction?
Obviously, I’m very pro-auction, but it’s pretty clear that you can get a lot more money at auction than selling by private treaty. From the agent’s perspective, much more urgency is put onto the sale, and statistically, auction sells property faster and for more.
For the owner, I think an auction is a lot more transparent, letting you see what the market’s actually saying your property’s going to sell for. If it’s a unique property, taking it to auction is a good way to put a price on it. Let’s say it’s a three-bedroom apartment with three car parking in the city. You’ll actually see what the market says it’s worth, rather than trying to compare it to a two-bedroom unit with two parking spaces.
I think for the buyers as well, it’s really transparent. You’ve got people putting offers in before auction. The fairest way is let everyone fight it out and see for themselves.
What’s the future of auctioneering? Advances in technology and the pandemic have put online auctions in the spotlight.
I think there will be real estate offices looking to do a more online, hands-off, less personal approach with auctions and I think there’ll be offices that keep to the traditional route for the long-term. I think COVID was a good beta test for online auctions. They didn’t work for the clients I had, in the sense that the urgency just isn’t there online like it is in-person.
Are there any auction stories that stay with you?
Yes. I was only a couple of years into the industry, and I was selling an apartment. I arrived at the property and the agent told me that the owners are inside and they’re a little distraught. This was around 2010, and the agent said, ‘they’ve set a reserve of $400,000, we’ve got four or five registered bidders but they’re all saying they’re not going to pay anything more than $380,000. And to give you a heads up, the vendors are selling because they’re bankrupt and they’re going to take a huge loss. Even if the apartment sells at $400,000, they’re still going to owe the bank $100,000.’
I went inside and there was this really great couple. They were really kind people who had just had some unfortunate luck in their life. So I went out, did the auction and sold the apartment for $780,000, which was a record in the suburb at the time.
But it did take a very long time. We were in the $500,000s for quite a long time. The agent had done his job, and even though the feedback from the market was saying it was worth nothing more than $400,000, it just so happened that was the very first week when the Sydney market really started to turn.
I went back inside and I just remember these guys were crying and they gave me this big hug. And the guy said, ‘Oh I owe you one. You tell me anytime in life, you break down at 12 o’clock at night, I’ll come change your tyre.’ They went from thinking they’d owe the bank $100,000 and then suddenly they had been able to sell, make extra money and it was a life changing experience.
They were genuinely so nice even when they knew that they were going to be bankrupt, so it was a really nice feeling that when they did sell, they were genuine people who deserved what they got, which was a really nice profit.
What a great story. That auction changed their life.
Yeah. Never taken them up on the favour though.
You can keep that one in your back pocket! Thanks for the chat, James.
Find out more about James Pratt Auctions Group at their website.