The pandemic has forced many businesses to think on their feet and act decisively to remain relevant in a world riddled with ever-changing restrictions. Auction houses, for example, were forced to put ballroom sales on hold and switch to the online format indefinitely. Our sector, which thrives on human interaction, word of mouth and chance encounters, has accepted the move towards digital as something inevitable, fully aware that some of the elements of pre-Covid auctions will be impossible to replicate online.
Despite restrictions progressively easing in the UK and across Europe, and the efficiency of the UK vaccination programme, some people remain cautious and are not yet fully prepared to resume their pre-Covid lifestyles, which means that for the time being, online auctions are here to stay.
Those familiar with an auction world no doubt miss the pace and excitement of ballroom sales, where bidding wars unravel right before our eyes and deals are sealed at the strike of the auction hammer. However, instead of succumbing to nostalgia, I would encourage buyers and sellers to embrace the opportunities unlocked by the temporary switch to digital.
Prior to the pandemic, when physical auctions were the predominant way of conducting business in our sector, few would deem organising an auction in August practical, with many would-be buyers and sellers away and unable to attend due to the traditional summer holiday period.
However, this summer, for the first time, Allsop decided to hold an additional auction in August – something we would not have considered doing even two years ago. Thanks to the flexibility offered by the online format, buyers were able to submit bids from anywhere – whether they were cruising around the Mediterranean or sipping cocktails in a garden in Cornwall.
And the proof was in the summer pudding. On the day of the auction, we received an encouraging response from buyers, with more than 3,000 bids submitted. Some of the lots received particularly high levels of attention, attracting more than 150 bids.
It’s clear that holding online auctions during a period that was traditionally perceived as quiet provides buyers with an additional opportunity to deploy cash at a time when the rest of the market is less active. For sellers, especially those that are date-driven, like receivers and housing associations, it provides an opportunity to sell now rather than wait for the autumn.
Property is far from being the most innovative of sectors, and the pandemic, despite its devastating effect on the economy and people’s wellbeing, has acted as a catalyst for our industry, forcing us to adapt and accept new practices.
Thinking beyond Covid-19, it’s important to ensure our sector retains its appeal for the new generation of buyers, sellers and auctioneers. For many of us, watching on-demand movies on Netflix, ordering with Amazon Prime and Deliveroo are the most natural things to do now – their convenience and speed allow us to save time and get what we want when we want it – another series of options in addition to the likes of roaming Oxford Street, watching films at cinemas and eating out at restaurants. So why should buying or selling at auction be any different?