Pages from an auctioneers diary

Gary Murphy
Katharine Hepburn's Esate Being Offered At Auction
Everything has its price, and so its buyers

My life as a residential property auctioneer is a continual cycle of selling.

Seven auctions a year of up to 300 lots, with a combined value of around half a billion. Thinking back to the run up to our last sale, I was concerned, it has to be said. Brexit jitters, political wobbles, the Trump factor, taxes – had we got our pricing right? Or were bidders just going to sit on their hands? They didn’t.

Pricing is everything at auction. It’s a delicate balancing act. Sellers want top dollar but prices need to attract buyers. We have to present value for money. Every catalogue is an extraordinary mix. Houses from £5,000 to £5m, sites for development, blocks of flats – to the more wacky lots: water towers, old loos, rooftops.

Everything has its price, and so its buyers. Now on to the next auction.

It’s the September sale. The night before auction I prepare my catalogue. It’s the bible. It records my reserves (the only thing I write in red), amendments, remote bids, levels of interest and suggested starting prices.

Auction day

Auction morning – 15 September at the Great Cumberland Hotel. Everyone knows what to do, from the clerks to the “runners”, from the phone desk to the legal room. It’s a well-rehearsed operation. After 30 years on the rostrum, I still have butterflies. But once up there, I love it.

A good auctioneer is there to sell, and for the best price. But he has to be friendly, engaging, reactive, numerate, and always entertaining. Each lot has been marketed for three weeks, but takes only three minutes to offer. Each client is watching.

Certain lots just jump out of a catalogue from the start. Lot 21 gets the room excited. But then where can you buy a freehold house in London's Belgravia for £1.3m?

All eyes are on a small, run-down house on a beach in St Ives. Guide price £550,000. We’ve had a sweepstake in the office. Someone’s said £1m! Surely not?

By 6.30, the last lot is sold.

A total of £71m has been raised. Lots in London proved as popular as always. Belgravia’s lot 21 goes for £1.6m. But I can’t believe St Ives – it sells for £1.44m, almost as much as Belgravia!

The auction cycle for our 26 October auction starts tomorrow, but not before a well-deserved celebration with my team.


Monday morning and an important meeting with a housebuilder to discuss arrangements for a global online auction of new, off-plan homes later this year. I had the idea a couple of years ago and I’m convinced that this will be the future for selling this sort of stock in a fair and transparent way. There’s wide demand for UK residential property and I love the pitch line: the largest auctioneer of UK real estate in the world.

We leave with instructions for a major sale later this year.

Charity highlights

Over the next two weeks, my auctioneering time is spent at charity events. Sunday evening and I’m on stage at the Lyric Hammersmith Fundraising Gala. £125,000 raised for the theatre’s young artists’ programme. Jude Law interrupts the sale to catch a flight to New York. That’s a first for me.

Thursday and it’s the Amy Winehouse Foundation Gala at the Dorchester – £70,000 raised to save young people from drug abuse. News presenter Jon Snow spontaneously offers the red tie he wore to read the news last night. We sell it for £350. But I can’t persuade him to offer his matching socks.

Friday morning and back to the office with a sore head. We’re putting the finishing touches to a 302-lot catalogue for 26 October. It goes live online tomorrow. Off we go again....

Gary Murphy is a property auctioneer at Allsop.

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