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Ray White keeps Melbourne auctions online despite easing restrictions

By Georgina Shanahan

One of the nation’s largest real estate agencies is sticking with online auctions in Melbourne, despite the state government clearing in-person bidding to resume.

On Sunday, Premier Daniel Andrews revived outdoor auctions for the first time since July 8, with just 10 people plus the minimum required staff allowed to attend.

But Ray White agents are expected to send 122 Melbourne homes under the hammer online only this week — meaning at least one in five of Victoria’s anticipated 500-odd auctions will not be held face-to-face.

Ray White Victoria chief executive Stephen Dullens said policing the attendance cap would be complicated, particularly if a property didn’t have a backyard or a gate to control access to a front yard. As such, proceeding online would reduce risks and disruptions.

His main concern stemmed from the firm’s internal figures from more than 800 Victorian online auctions held since March, which showed an average 34 viewers and six registered bidders. In many cases, these online attendees were joined by a partner, too.

“Agents will have to tell people to leave, and husbands and wives will be told one will need to go wait in a car,” Mr Dullens said.

“If it hails, you won’t have the option to move it inside.

“Our recommendation at the moment is to stay online. With the settings as they are, it doesn’t make sense to be on site when it could be online.

“(On-site and online) hybrids would be good, But there are challenges and online is working really, really well.”

Last weekend, a four-bedroom house at 87 Pakenham Street, Blackburn, soared $100,000 past its reserve to a $2.105m sale in an online auction. Twelve registered bidders and 34 onlookers logged in.

Mr Dullens also had concerns about minimising staff on site, if a live stream needed to be hosted as well.

He added Ray White would review the advice to its auctioneers if the cap was raised to 20 people or restrictions were otherwise eased, making the situation “more manageable”.

He said he did not believe vendors would be worse off, with the agency’s 2020 clearance rate sitting 3-4 per cent higher than the same time last year and hovering in the high-80 per cent range over recent weeks, despite auctions being limited to online and phone bidding.

Despite Ray White’s decision, most Victorian auctioneers are expected to return to the streets across the week.

Barry Plant, one of the city’s next biggest agency groups, is expecting just under 100 homes to go under the hammer.

Chief executive Mike McCarthy said bidders would be confirmed to attend as they registered. And once 10 people signed up, others would be asked to attend digitally.

“That worked fine earlier in the year,” Mr McCarthy said.

To conduct COVID-safe public sales, the Real Estate Institute of Victoria is recommending agents pre-register attendees, clearly mark out “auction zones”, hold auctions in backyards if possible and mark bidder spots with the required 1.5m gap.

The REIV also notes on-site auctions must be held outdoors, and regional Victorians can only participate in Melbourne auctions virtually.


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