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How to master the one-buyer auction: Stuart Bourne

Stuart Bourne is Raine & Horne's top auction lister with more than 100 properties going under the hammer last year. But the real skill, he says, is not when there are lines of buyers for a property - it's knowing how to carefully, and respectfully, negotiate an auction sale with a single buyer.

They say you only need one solid buyer to sell a property, and no one knows that better than Stuart Bourne.

The Raine & Horne Lane Cove managing director is the company’s top auction lister nationally, with more than 100 properties going under the hammer last year.

While most agents spruik about the auctions that have a dozen registered bidders and sell for thousands above reserve, Stuart celebrates the single-buyer auctions too.

He’s modest in reflecting on his success with such sales, but it’s safe to say one-buyer auctions are somewhat of a specialty for the 12-year real estate veteran.

“A lot of our auctions were, and still are, single-buyer auctions,” Stuart explains.

“We’re only seeing about 10 to 20 groups through a property for a whole campaign.

“It’s starting to pick up a bit now, but for the past couple of months, since COVID especially, everything has pretty much been a one-buyer auction.

“Everyone tells you about the auctions that have 10 registered buyers, and it sells for $400,000 over reserve.

“That’s good. We have those as well. But it’s not where the skill is.”

The skill Stuart is referring to is knowing when not to hit the panic button and how to carefully, and respectfully, negotiate an auction sale with a single buyer.

With no other bidders to help push the price up, negotiations are often a balancing act in terms of getting the vendor and the buyer to agree on the big-ticket item of price.

Stuart says a critical factor that makes a big difference at one-buyer auctions is allowing enough time for discussions to take place.

Sometimes this happens pre-auction and the property sells under the hammer, and on other occasions, it sells under auction conditions soon after being set aside.

“It’s about not booking auctions back-to-back and allowing time to sit down with the buyers and say, ‘Look, at the end of the day, you guys still want to buy it. That’s why you’re here. The vendors want to sell it. The problem we’ve got is you’re both far apart, and we need to solve that problem’,” Stuart says.

“I go to both the owners and the buyers and say, ‘There’s a deal here. As long as you’re both commercial, and you’re both willing to work with us, we’ll get this deal done’.”

Stuart’s advice for other agents navigating one-buyer auctions is never be afraid of asking either party, a vendor or a buyer, a question, whether that be to shift on price or other key criteria.

“As long as you ask in a respectful way the worst thing that can happen is they will say no,” he says.

“But they could say yes, and you won’t know that unless you ask.

“Also, put yourself in the shoes of the vendor and the buyer and don’t lose sight of the fact that the sale is actually about them and not about a commission.”

Stuart kicked off his real estate career in 2008 in Sydney’s north-western suburbs before shifting to Lane Cove, on the prestigious lower north shore.

Three years ago he went out on his own and opened the Raine & Horne office in the affluent, family-oriented suburb alongside business partners Nathan Westerbrink and Alex Banning.

Stuart says some of the other agents in the area tried to muscle the trio out, but they fought hard and have since grown to a team of 18 staff, including seven selling agents.

“It was exciting and it was self-challenging,” he says.

This financial year, the Lane Cove office is sitting at number one for sales and GCI across the Raine & Horne network, and Stuart says that’s a bigger achievement than any individual accolade.

“We’re on target to do $7 million GCI for the office,” Stuart says.

“Some of the agents are up as much as 26 per cent within their own businesses.”

Stuart puts the success down to maintaining a culture that encompasses a “hungry” attitude, places importance on training, mentoring and reflection, as well as embracing the new world order of social media marketing and artificial intelligence.

“We’re trying to elevate our position in the market and really take our skill set to the next level professionally, so that when we meet with clients, they walk out with a feeling of, ‘Wow, these guys are super polished. They know exactly what’s happening and I liked everything they said’,” Stuart explains.

He says the team is using social media more and more leads are coming from that source, while AI, such as automated email replies and digital document signing, give agents more time to focus on direct client relationships.

In 2021, Stuart plans to expand the business further to 29 staff and potentially a second office.

No doubt putting into action his top business tip, of completing a SWOT analysis on key competitors, will play a role in whether that expansion is a success.

“You should always do a SWOT analysis on your biggest competitors,” Stuart advises.

“What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses? What are their opportunities? What are your opportunities?

“Then set your targets. You need to commit to working harder than they are.

“If they’ve got three staff and they’re doing 2,000 calls a month, we need to do 2,500 calls a month.

“You need to outwork the biggest agent in the area.”

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