By Gurpreet Bassi, Founder and Chief Executive – Bond Wolfe Auctions
We started 2020 with huge optimism and our first auction of the year was the largest and most successful auction to ever be held outside of London. We sold 203 properties and raised over £20.2 million in sales (with a success rate of 96%).
Rumours had started to circulate that a virus originating in China was heading over to West at a rapid pace. I did not think for a second that it would affect us directly.
When the lockdown was announced in March, my initial thoughts were that we would all go home for 2-3 weeks and then come back to work and hold our already scheduled May auction.
How wrong I was!
In the coming weeks it became very clear that we would not be returning to the “normal way” of doing things for the foreseeable future.
As a company that was still young, but which was growing rapidly and now widely acknowledged as the number one auction house in the Midlands.
In our first year we also managed to win many tenders and contracts to include Birmingham City Council, West Midlands Police, Walsall Council, Wolverhampton Council, and we also acted for Sandwell Council, Canal & River Trust and Accord Housing Group.
But despite our rapid growth – It was becoming difficult to know how to deal with this unique situation. We had no previous experience to fall back on.
I made the decision to cancel the May auction. While we could have held live-streamed auctions via our website, it was more important to put the health of my staff before profits. I also felt it was ethically the best decision with potential purchasers not being able to view properties which would have had a detrimental effect on the prices we achieved.
I used the time to plan for the future. We invested heavily in developing a bespoke buyers’ registration system and this has been fundamental to success of the business post-lockdown. Also, during this time, we were not reliant on any Government funding and continued to hold good cash reserves. This puts us in a positive position to deal with any future uncertainty.
Our team returned to work in May having put necessary measures in place to make our work environment as safe as possible and we had to re-model our entire business. Our business was built around having “live events” with thousands of people congregating in a room, but this was obviously going to be impossible.
After lots of planning, hard work, early mornings, and very late nights, we held our first “live streamed only” auction on 24 June.
There were lots of nerves in the build-up, but the team adapted incredibly well selling 125 of the 128 properties on offer representing a success rate of 98% and we raised over £17 million in sales.
The staggering thing for me though was learning that we had an audience of over 33,000 people watching the auction live. Of course, we would never be able to get this many people into a traditional auction room.
Despite all of the uncertainty surrounding Covid-19 the demand for property appeared to be as strong as ever and this has remained the case throughout this year- we have now held 5 “live streamed only” and in 2020 we have sold 1028 properties, raising over £111.2 million in sales- £30 million up on last year!
Looking ahead now to 2021, what will the property and auction market look like post-Brexit and along with effect of the pandemic? The real answer is that nobody can say for sure.
I do strongly believe that we can look ahead with optimism, particularly in the regions. I feel that the Midlands in particular will continue to thrive with the Commonwealth Games, HS2 and Coventry City of Culture having positive impacts.
Many people still feel property is the safest investment and I believe that this will always be the case. We are also seeing money from London and abroad coming into the regions where buyers feel that there is better value for them.
In terms of auctions specifically, will we ever go back to holding traditional in-room auctions? I believe that we will, however we will continue to see many bidders choosing to bid online or by the phone, so we may see a hybrid of the “old way” and the way in which we are currently operating.
Smaller auction businesses that struggle to fill the room will probably elect to continue working as they are, but our traditional in-room auctions are more than just an auction, they are events were thousands of property people can mix and you can feel the buzz of business happening and connections being made.
I have been to many auctions up and down the country and I have to say that our in-room auctions are truly unique.
The plan for Bond Wolfe is to become one of the largest and most successful property brands in the UK and we have some very ambitious growth plans as we look to move into new regions and add other sectors of the property industry to our business to become a multi-disciplined real estate company.
We really are only just getting started.