Melbourne auction scene may see rise in bidders in coming months: Mal James

Clearance rates were strong in inner Melbourne and Bayside's million-dollar-plus property market last weekend, with an overall 75% on the 36 auctions we covered. But bidder per auction rates were lower - at 1.6 bidders - compared to around 2 for much of this year.

Boroondara had a solid weekend with several strong sales, among them a family home on a huge 1600 square metre block with pool and tennis court at 25 Wimba Ave, Kew, where three bidders took the opening vendor bid of $3.6m to a final result of $4,105,000. 

Port Phillip had meagre pickings of just 9 $1 million plus auctions this weekend, and there was little of the excitement we have been seeing recently with the auctions at St Vincents Place and 93 Richardson Street in Albert Park a couple of weeks ago. This week's auction of 115 Richardson Street showed that buyers are less emotionally attached to an Edwardian facade than a Victorian. The narrower frontage probably didn't help either. The property passed in at $1,835,000, and sold soon after for around $1,850,000.

In Brighton, there was a buzz around the auction at 52 Cole St, an attractive 1920s brick home in the Golden Mile. With 4 bidders, the opening bid of $1,575,000 was quickly taken to the final sale price of $2,055,000. 

But some of the biggest action we've been seeing lately has been away from the auction arena. We have bought several off-markets over the past couple of months - many of them in the above $3 million price range. And there are many others sitting quietly in the wings. 

In Port Phillip  off-markets are available in Harold Street, Middle Park, in Park Road, Middle Park as well as a unique terrace in Esplanade East, Port Melbourne. Two of the three will stay as off-markets until they are sold, while the other will come onto the market later in the year if it is not sold soon.

There are many off-markets quietly for sale at the moment around Brighton and further south, including a couple of family homes in North Brighton between $2 million and $4 million, two larger properties around $4 million in the Hampton/Brighton beach area, one in the Castlefield estate in the early $1 millions, and land for between $2 million and $3 million in Brighton’s Diamond K.

In Hawthorn, offers in the high $3 millions are being considered for a large family home in the Anderson Park area, and a large 1920s home in Kew is also available in the early $3 millions.

Selling off-market, without any advertising or open-for-inspections, is usually more common when the market is floundering. That's not exactly the case in 2013. Instead it seems that some vendors are taking advantage of the livelier market to ride on the back of another sale in their area, hoping the agent can persuade the losing bidders to look at their home and conduct a sale without any fuss or fanfare.

Off-markets can work well for both the vendors and the buyers, but there are traps for inexperienced players. Just because a sale is quiet doesn't mean it's a good home. Buyers need to be careful to do their due diligence on an off-market home, and be clear on the value of the home, because you won't get a chance to validate the value as you would at an auction.

Last week I noted it's taken more than three years, but Melbourne's Inner and Bayside million-dollar-plus property market is pretty much back to the peak we saw last in April 2010.. 

Even B- and C-grade homes are back to their 2010 price highs. And A-grade properties are selling for even a tad better than they did back in 2010, partly because there's still such a shortage of them. It's a pretty good time to be selling C-grade properties right now, because not many are being left on the shelf.

The overall clearance rate for million dollar plus Melbourne was 69%, with our bidder per auction measurement, Bidderman, still strong at 2.

What we're seeing this year is bidders willing to stick their hands up at auction and get amongst it. It's quite unlike last year, when everyone thought the smart idea was to wait and try to buy cheaply after a pass-in.

But we're also starting to see more properties being sold before auction, with some buyers trying to avoid the competition from other bidders. One recent example was 123 Prospect Hill Road Camberwell, a well-presented, smaller period home, adjacent to Camberwell High. A hopeful buyer for this property, which was quoted initially around the $1.2 million – $1.3 million mark, put in an early acceptable offer, possibly hoping to head off an auction. But it triggered instead an early auction on Thursday night, with five bidders attending. The final result is believed to be over $1.6 million.

The $3 million-plus market is also still lively. The fact that no less than 12 under-bidders missed out on the three properties in St Vincent Place over the last few weeks shows there is still plenty of money burning a hole in those pockets. Some of it may have gone to the auction this weekend of 49 York Street, St Kilda West, which sold under the hammer with four bidders for $3.6 million. 

So what will we see from here on?  After a balmy autumn weekend, we are about to head back into winter and winter in Melbourne often coincides with reduced property numbers on the market, as many vendors prefer to hold off selling their homes until spring. 

If property numbers remain low and buyer demand remains higher through the winter months, we may see continued increases in the number of bidders at auctions, such as we have seen so far this year. The real test of whether the increased ‘warmth’ we have seen is sustainable won't come until stock levels increase.

Mal James is principal of James Buyer Advocates, which advocates on behalf of buyers of property over $1 million. Mal writes weekly auction reports, advice and in-depth market analysis on James' website.

Mal James

Mal James

Mal James is principal of James Buyer Advocates, which advocates on behalf of buyers of property over $1 million.

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