More than 10,500 would-be buyers attended a viewing of a Savills auction listing last year. However, the viewing process for an auction property is rather different from that involved in the sale or let of a home through agency. Firstly, you don't book a viewing. Once the catalogue is published two weeks prior to an auction, times and dates of viewings, which are much like an open house event, are listed on our website. Potential buyers simply turn up on the appropriate day.
The geographical spread of lots means that regional teams have to conduct viewings of as many as 10-12 properties per day. It’s therefore important that the day runs like clockwork. Armed with specific knowledge about each listing, the teams are on hand to answer questions and to show potential purchasers around. Having already done plenty of homework, the viewing is often the last piece in the puzzle for buyers before they place a bid on the day of the auction.
While the viewings are handled by specific teams, they present a fantastic opportunity for us as auctioneers to meet the buyers, some of whom are first-timers while others have been buying and selling at auction for decades. These viewings also give us real insight into the changing profile of buyers at auction, be they an investor, owner-occupier or developer. On the day of the auction, a sale can happen within just a matter of minutes so engaging with potential purchasers also allows us to have a much more personal and deeper understanding of the lots coming through on the podium.
With around 1,300 viewings per auction, and given the eclectic mix of auction properties, it’s no wonder that we have encountered all manner of viewing experiences over the years. One of my first was a studio flat in West Kensington. With a low guide price in a prime central London location, it was inevitable that it would prove popular. Despite its size – only two or three people could fit in the studio at one time – it attracted significant attention. So much so that an orderly queue some 500 yards long formed as buyers clamoured to see inside, with members of the public joining the line despite not knowing where it led. It was no surprise that on the day, the property sold for over three times its asking price.
Another memorable viewing took place in Essex. Instructed to sell a former water tower that formed part of a Victorian hospital, I turned up early for the viewing. It was the depths of winter and the cold weather had attracted pigeons seeking shelter. 3,000 pigeons, as I soon discovered, create rather a lot of mess and it quickly became apparent that this wasn’t an optimum environment to show people round. Experts were called in to deal with the problem and the viewing had to be re-scheduled.
A number of years ago, a property with film connections was put up for auction. Withnail & I was an Eighties' cult classic and a farmhouse we were listing was one of its key locations. Aside from those genuinely interested in purchasing the Cumbrian bolthole, including a very well-known celebrity, we were contacted by hordes of fans eager to visit. On the day of the auction, a number of parties went head to head in the room, over the phone and on the internet. The room was abuzz when the gavel came finally down.
The auction room holds a wealth of emotions – it’s an energetic environment which can prove tense at times but thrilling when a successful bid is lodged. And it all begins at that initial viewing.