Agent profile: Harry Li - what it takes to be a top auctioneer

Zoe FieldingDecember 2, 20140 min read

Harry Li, director of the McDonald Real Estate’s Springvale office in Victoria was REIV’s winner of the award for senior auctioneer of the year in 2014 and a finalist in the Australia and New Zealand auctioneering event held recently in New Zealand.

He spoke to Zoe Fielding about what it takes to be a top auctioneer.

Harry Li (pictured above) started out as a real estate rookie in Victoria about a decade ago.

After four years in property sales, Li – now a director of McDonald Real Estate Springvale – turned his sights towards auctioneering.

“I felt that was a natural progression,” he says. “At the time the company did not have a full time auctioneer so I thought I would do the training.”

Basic auctioneer training teaches the foundations needed to run an auction sales campaign and the technical skills to call an auction.

Some auctioneers simply do the basics but Li goes much further. Over the years he has taken one-on-one training from other auctioneers, and sought guidance and tips from people with more experience. But the most important element of Li’s skills development is practice.

“Time is what it takes,” Li says. “I practice with a partner four times a week. It’s like going to the gym. If you want to build your muscles you have to train regularly.”

The pair conduct mock auctions on a weekly basis whereas Li says many auctioneers only train once a week or only practice their craft when they conduct auctions on a Saturday.

It’s the details that make a good auctioneer stand out from the crowd, Li says.

In addition to the technical skills, such as knowing the rules, keeping track of the numbers, and using the right type of language, an auctioneer’s general persona is important. The auctioneer must be likeable and “real”.

“You don’t have to be an aggressive person. Some people are more passive and that’s OK but you have to be able to read the play of the auction. You have to be flexible enough to handle the scenarios that come up,” Li says.

An auctioneer must know when to take large or small bids and how far to push the bidders.

The auctioneer’s performance can have a major effect on how much more a property sells for, regardless of whether it is snapped up under the hammer or passes in and sells during later negotiations.

“If the auctioneer gets on the wrong side of a buyer it can cost the seller a lot,” Li says. “It’s an art form and that plays a part when it comes to the final result.”

Li’s hard work has paid off. He was winner of the Real Estate Institute of Victoria’s award for senior auctioneer of the year in October and was a finalist in the Real Estate Institute of Australia’s auctioneering competition held in New Zealand.

Unsurprisingly, he is a big advocate of auctions, although he says they are not appropriate in all markets or for all homes. In a slow market, or when buyers have access to a large amount of accurate data about the property’s value, which might be the case for identical units in a large block for example, an auction may not be the best option.

“If it’s a highly competitive area and there’s good demand for properties an auction is the way to go,” Li says.

Competitive bidding can boost the price that the property achieves, pushing buyers to spend the maximum amount they can, or risk losing the auction to another more committed bidder.

Auctions also create a sense of urgency among buyers with auction day acting as a deadline by which they must make a decision on the property. In a private treaty sale, the process may be more drawn out.

The seller in an auction is protected by the reserve price, which means the property will not sell unless the pre-agreed level is reached.

After the hammer falls, the sale is final and unconditional. This allows the vendor to set specific sale terms, such as the settlement date, and prevents a buyer from backing out after the deal has been agreed. This is typically a benefit to sellers but it can limit the number of potential buyers as some people wish to purchase subject to finance, which is not an option with an auction.

Another potential downside of an auction is that engaging a specialist auctioneer comes with an additional cost, but if the campaign and auction are run well, the extra cost may be recouped through a higher sales price.

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Zoe Fielding

I am a freelance journalist and editor with more than 15 years experience specialising in personal finance, property, financial services and financial technology. A skilled writer and researcher, I have extensive experience producing high quality content for corporate and media clients. I am used to working to tight deadlines and tailoring the pieces I produce to suit a variety of audiences and formats.
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