There’s nothing Stu Benson loves more than a live auction. An industry expert synonymous with the sales technique in Sydney’s north-west, Stu has weathered the COVID-19 storm to have his best quarter yet at the end of 2020.
Stu Benson’s not afraid to admit that when COVID-19 restrictions eased, he dropped online auctions quick-smart.
A 20-year industry veteran and director of Benson Auctions, Stu is unapologetic in his belief that live auctions deliver better results.
“As soon as agents and agencies were able to have bidders live at auctions we dropped online auctions like a hot potato,” he says.
“It’s not that the medium didn’t work, it certainly did, but it was a means to an end.
“There are a lot of things our industry is trying to automate through artificial intelligence and algorithms, but I do think there are certain things that you can’t replicate.
“One of those things is the raw human emotion of being at an auction.
“You can’t replicate the adrenaline, having the heart rate up and having a fear of missing out.”
AN EMOTIONAL CONNECTION
With such emotional elements near impossible to duplicate in a digitised setting, Stu says online auctions lacked atmosphere and bordered on being little more than number crunching.
“It almost turned into an eBay auction where people wouldn’t bid until I was saying, ‘first, second, third and final time’,” he says.
“I was like the artificial timekeeper, and it wasn’t until I would call for a final bid and hold my gavel up to the camera, that someone would jump in with a bid.
“That’s not going to end up in an emotional result. It’s just going to be simply mathematical or transactional, and that’s not what we’re looking for when it comes to an auction.
“We want competition. We want it to be heated. We want it to be contested, and ultimately, we’d love it to be emotional as well, but you lose that through the screen.”
The impact of in-person, live auctions has never been more prevalent for Stu than in October, November and December last year.
A BUMPER QUARTER
A lead auctioneer in Sydney’s north-west, and particularly in The Hills Shire, Stu recorded his biggest quarter since he started Benson Auctions in 2010.
He called 202 auctions between October 3 and December 20, with just under $300 million worth of property sold.
In his last auction week of the year, Stu auctioned 27 properties, including eight midweek auctions, 12 on December 19 and seven auctions on Sunday, December 20.
“My mantra has always been that auctions work any day, any time, anywhere,” he says.
“The auction process doesn’t know what day it’s being applied, what property type it’s being applied to, whether it’s being applied in the morning, noon or night, or whether the conditions are hot, cold, stormy, wet or dry.
“It’s a deadline-driven process for selling property which opens the negotiation up to the entire marketplace, and encourages them to value the property in real-time. It’s fair, and it’s transparent.
“Whether it’s 6.30pm on a Tuesday, 12pm on a Saturday or 2.45pm on a Sunday, if a buyer wants the property, they’ll be there whenever you schedule the auction.”
LOW STOCK, HIGH DEMAND
Stu says that while doom and gloom were predicted for the real estate market at the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, that hadn’t eventuated, with low stock and high demand securing sales at high prices.
“There’s just not enough houses,” he says.
“At each and every auction, for the one person that’s purchasing under the hammer, there’s probably six or seven people missing out.
“They have to go to Plan B, or wait for the next weekend, and there’s this perpetual energy that’s pushing through week after week.”
This creates a snowball effect where buyers who missed out the week before become even more competitive and push prices higher as they strive to come out on top at the next auction.
“You’re almost seeing a market where waiting seven days to buy a house is costing you thousands of dollars because of market forces,” Stu says.
Stu says he expects stock shortages will continue for a while, with some potential vendors sitting on the fence in the hope of achieving higher sale prices if they wait.
“I think a lot of people are sitting there saying, ‘well, I can sell my house today for $1 million, but the way the market’s going, it’s going to be worth $1.1 million in a couple of months’,” he says.
“That’s not to say greed is creeping in, but people are seeing the worth and value of their assets moving weekly so they figure the longer they wait, the more money they stand to make.”
A NEW TREND
Stu says one of the trends that started last year and which has solidified this year is Sunday auctions.
He says it’s logistically difficult for busy agents to run open homes and auctions on a Saturday, especially with the added COVID-19 safety procedures, signing of contracts, staying back to speak with the underbidders, taking social media pictures, and talking with the neighbours, who could be potential clients.
“Rather than doing this once or twice on a Saturday, these agents are choosing to dedicate their Saturdays to open homes, private inspections and callbacks, allowing their Sunday to focus on their auctions,” Stu says.
“That never would have happened 18 months ago.”
Stu says he hasn’t seen any increase in properties needing to be auctioned in a mortgagee, debt or stress-related sale.
He puts this down to government stimulus packages, banks giving homeowner mortgage holidays, low interest rates, and stringent lending criteria.
“That’s a really good thing because if you look at America and the subprime markets dropping and people literally leaving the keys in the letterbox, moving out of houses and defaulting on mortgages,” he says.
Stu credits getting physically fit last year with enabling him to cope with the increased workload and remain mentally sharp.
As someone who has always feared milestone birthdays, Stu decided to walk five kilometres a day for 100 days in the lead-up to his 40th birthday.
“I did embarrassingly jump on the scales with my brother-in-law at a party in the middle of last year, and I was a little bit shocked at the number I saw spinning on the scale,” he laments.
“When I confirmed nobody else had their foot on the scale and it was indeed all my weight, I ran out straight away and got myself a pair of walking shoes, got myself walking and committed to my fitness.
“My ability to work at such a high, frenetic pace during the last quarter of last year definitely came back to my health and fitness. I’m so glad that I gave it my focus and I’m continuing to do so this year.
“Getting up early and committing to that routine sets up your day.
“To use an analogy, it’s just like putting coals into your furnace in the morning.
“If you stoke the furnace at 5am or 6am, you’re going to be pretty assured that it’s going to be burning and firing well throughout the day.”
A HELPING HAND
Stu’s advice for auctioneers new to the game is to continually push themselves, to upskill and to reach out to the more experienced names in the business – including himself.
He says that while there’s a lot of healthy competition in the industry, it’s a myth that everyone is enemies, and those new to the profession would be surprised how many auctioneers and agents are willing to help and depart their knowledge onto others.
“There are some agents in The Hills district at the moment that launched their business at the end of last year and I have been on the front foot helping them with their social media strategy, putting them in touch with videographers and graphic designers,” Stu says.
“A couple of agents took a chance on me and helped me get my business off the ground and I’ll never forget that.
“It’s about paying it forward.”