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A perfect auction day

By Nicola McDougall
07 November 2023 | 14 minute read
justin nickerson apollo auctions reb su0ntp

Apollo Auctions director Justin Nickerson admits that it’s not an overly common occurrence to sell every property under the hammer on a random Saturday in winter – unless markets are booming like they were in 2021 – but, even back then, it didn’t happen every single weekend.

On a recent Saturday, though, as we crisscrossed the city, one by one of the nine properties under his auction stewardship that day would be sold.

The lowest price was $803,000 and the highest was $4.9 million on a day that didn’t end until well after dark in the ocean-front suburb of Shorncliffe in Brisbane’s north.

But whether it was the worst house in a desirable inner-city suburb that attracted three bidders and was won by a $1,000 final bid, or top-of-the range homes in a variety of blue-chip locales where bidders, onlookers and neighbours were plentiful, Justin’s philosophy was always the same.

“It’s not about the property. It’s about the negotiation techniques and it’s also about the auctioneering process, which is the same regardless of the property that’s being auctioned on the day,” Justin said.

And here’s the thing – even for someone like me who likes to think she knows a “thing or two” about real estate – I have no idea what every Saturday is generally like for someone who is not only one of the most awarded auctioneers in Australasia, but is clearly one of the most in demand, too, given he called about 1,200 in the past year.

Justin said, on his average Saturday, he is usually “hungry, thirsty, or needing to use the bathroom” because there’s generally not a moment to spare between calling each auction, being heavily involved in negotiations, and then travelling to the next event to do it all over again.

“I never think about the next auction until I am back in the car driving to it. That way, I can devote all my energy and experience to the one in front of me,” he said.

When you’re booked to call multiple auctions in a single day – or nine on the day I spent with him – that means it doesn’t take much for the dominoes to start falling, and he’s chasing his tail for the rest of the day.

In reality, that means there isn’t much time for lunch, coffee, let alone a toilet break, I soon learned.

Negotiation prowess


During the course of the day, eight of the nine properties required the auction to be paused so further negotiations could be undertaken with the highest bidder and the vendor.

Now, some of those negotiations lasted mere minutes, while others stretched out to nearly three quarters of an hour – often due to how quickly (or otherwise) people were naturally inclined to make important decisions like buying their next home.

Most property pundits probably don’t know that auctioneers do much more than calling auctions – and somehow managing to keep up with fast-flowing bids that numbered 37 in about 10 minutes as was the case in East Brisbane that day.

You see, because if a pause is required to negotiate behind closed doors with the highest bidder and the seller, the auctioneer is front and centre at that, too.

“The reserve is never disclosed – even during those negotiations,” Justin said.

“As an independent auctioneer, who is paid a fee for service, I get paid regardless of the outcome of the auction.

“So, that means I’m the most objective person in that room and can utilise my negotiation skills, knowledge of buyer and seller behaviour, as well as my understanding of current market conditions to guide the highest bidder to a figure that will enable the property to be on the market once the auction reopens.”

He must be quite good at it, given eight of the nine auctions that day had negotiations with the highest bidder before selling under the hammer directly afterwards. Sometimes the highest bid had increased by hundreds of thousands of dollars by the time the auction restarted.

Bidder behaviour

It was fascinating to observe not only an auctioneer who can identify who is likely to bid, but who also understands if they are at their limit or just utilising a “strategy” they hope will slow things down.

“If someone puts the paddle in their pocket, they are unlikely to bid; if it’s in their handbag, they’re even less likely to bid,” he said.

“Sometimes, people will start throwing $1,000 bids because they are trying to slow things down, which rarely works by the way, or they are at, or over, their budgets.

“If they do it more than once or twice, it’s a strategy, which may or may not result in them securing the property or being the highest bidder at the end.”

During the course of our day together, there were plenty of instances of small bids but sometimes Justin simply refused to accept them if the price was still miles away from the reserve. His push back drove the bids higher and stymied the slowdown strategy that some bidders were trying to employ – usually to no avail.

His advice to bidders is always to be out in front – indeed research shows that 68 per cent of first bidders wind up buying the property at auction – and to outsmart your competition by making them believe you have more money than they do … not the other way around.

Indeed, at one of the auctions that day, a professional buyer’s agent did just that by blowing the other six bidders out of the game with the very first bid. Negotiation was still required to get the deal over the line, but they had eliminated their competition in mere seconds.

Staying the course

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This perfect auction day, as it would turn out, involved multiple different agents and literally hundreds of people at the nine properties. Some agents worked hard to secure bids from buyers onsite or on the phones, while others seemed to let the process take its natural course with Justin acting as the auction maestro.

More agents still put on a party with free-flowing champagne and cheese boards to entertain the dozens of mainly locals who had arrived to witness the auction of one of the suburb’s most prestigious addresses.

One thing that never changed, though, was Justin’s handling of each auction. It didn’t matter whether it was the first one of the day or the last. He was present and professional for each and every one.

By day’s end, properties had been bought under the hammer by everyone from the current tenants to the neighbour next door, as well as a number of young families who shed tears of joy as they were declared the new home owners.

This old journo – who has known Justin since he was a novice competitor at the REIQ Auctioneer of the Year champs many, many moons ago – may have shed a few happy tears for them, too.

The final auction of the day had attracted dozens of onlookers who were fed and watered by the agent as they eagerly waited for the auction of a prestige home with direct ocean views to begin and would be one that would make it nine sales from nine auctions in a single day.

And as darkness descended, my Uber drove away, some 10 hours after the day had begun. I watched as Justin headed towards his car – the last to leave – but thankfully just around the corner from where his wife and young daughter waited for him to arrive home – hungry, thirsty … and happy.

Total bids counted – 169

Cumulative negotiation undertaken – 121 minutes

Total real estate sold – $18.425 million

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