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Image: supplied by Harcourts
Image: supplied by Harcourts

SocietyNovember 17, 2020

The craft of the deal: The life of a real estate auctioneer

Image: supplied by Harcourts
Image: supplied by Harcourts

For extreme auctioneers, selling houses isn’t a nightmare – it’s a craft. Josie Adams talks to National Real Estate Auctioneering champ Ned Allison about discovering his talent, and what it takes to be a two-time winner. 

Every year real estate agents from around the country are locked in a room. Their phones are taken, and their world is whittled down to just a few metres of mid-range carpet. One by one they’re led to a podium, where they will call the hardest auction of their lives.

It’s the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand (REINZ) National Real Estate Auctioneering Championships, and Ned Allison just won it for the second time. “So it’s not a fluke, I guess,” he says.

The career of a competitive auctioneer could be five years, or it could be ten. It could be longer if you’ve got the hunger. Eventually repeat winners become judges or members of the artificial crowd, making their old competitors buckle with hard questions about valuation and throwing out terrifyingly low bids. These are your Andrew Norths, your Aaron Davises, your Rob Tulps. “They’re the guys I really idolise,” says Allison. “I try to take bits and pieces from them.”

The 29-year-old Harcourts sales manager has been in the real estate game for eight years, working out of the Grenadier branch in Christchurch. As a youth he had a brief stint in hotel management but discovered his talent for auction calling early on, winning his first national championship in 2017.

“I don’t think anyone intends to be an auctioneer,” he says. “One thing led to another.”

Auctions, he says, aren’t just detached yelling from a platform. It’s about negotiating. It’s about having a rapport with the audience. And, most importantly to the judges, it’s about accuracy. “If you put the property on the market below the reserve price, or sell it for the wrong figure…” Allison stops, and breathes. Breathing is something he doesn’t have time for on the stage, in between yelling, selling, and remembering how much the house is worth. “All these things are pretty critical.”

“You have to read the room.”

Allison at the 2019 Harcourts national championship. (Photo: Supplied by Harcourts.)

“I’m not sure it’s a sport,” says Allison of auctioneering. “It’s certainly a real craft.” Whatever it is, it takes months of training and commitment to win. “You’re not drinking in the lead up,” he says. “You’re running auction numbers for other agents.”

Does he enjoy it? “Oh yeah … [And] if you can handle it, you’re better when you come back and call a normal auction.”

There are plenty of “normal” auctions to go around. The housing crisis, which has crushed dreams of homeownership for thousands of New Zealanders, has given competitors ample opportunity to practice. Allison says the current Christchurch market is the busiest he’s ever seen. “I haven’t seen anything like it. Anything around that $600,000 mark is flying out the door.”

“As a result the auction clearance rates are up to 70 or 80%, whereas they were 50% pre-Covid-19.”

With so much demand for property, there’s not much ill will in the community. “There’s a really good fraternity in New Zealand,” says Allison of his chosen profession. “You know all the top guys, and there’s always new blood coming through.”

Seven years ago the new blood was Allison. Those were the days of auctioneers like his heroes North and Davis. “We watched in awe at their skill and prowess, hoping one day we would stand on the same platform.”

Now he stands atop that platform, peering over the Tasman at unconquered Australasian championships. While the effects of Covid-19 on the housing market aren’t worrying Allison too much, the closed borders are keeping him from everything the world of auctioneering has to offer.

Still, he’s content. He’s entered seven REINZ competitions, made three finals, and won twice. Will he try to break the national record of four wins? “I was quite happy with two,” he says. “I’ll take what I can.”

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