The Godfather: Peter Corris on auctions
It is often said that people living cheek by jowl in the city do not know each other or, at best, have only a nodding acquaintance. This was not our experience in Hordern Street, Newtown, as I have recorded in an earlier column, but it has been so recently in a different street, apart from striking up a passing friendship with a couple in a nearby block of flats. We have had virtually no acquaintance with our immediate neighbours. At one’s request we OK’d Foxtel technicians entering our yard to erect a dish, and have smiled hello when we’ve encountered them at the gates. Otherwise nothing.
Then renovations began in the house two doors up. You know the sort of thing – the whine of power tools at 8.00 am; hammering and banging; delivery trucks parked outside; activity in the lane behind our set of terraces.
A few weeks ago a For Sale sign appeared outside, but not one I’d ever seen before. It had the usual indications of the date of the auction, number of rooms and the garaging availability and so on, but it glowed in the dark! I had my 11-year-old grandson investigate. He discovered that the sign was mounted on a frame with cables leading from it. Evidently fitted with sensors, the sign lit up at dusk. Were I ever to have a property of mine auctioned, I would insist on just such a sign.
In the past, separately and together, Jean and I have had houses auctioned. The most successful was in 1976, the auction of our first house in Fitzroy, an inner suburb of Melbourne. It was a handsome, two-storeyed, red-brick Georgian terrace in a highly desirable neighbourhood. We were nervous vendors, hoping the sale would yield enough to facilitate our move to Sydney and the purchase of a similar house in Glebe. Our auctioneer was optimistic but the result surpassed all expectations. There had been strong signs of interest.
The day dawned fine and the crowd was large – essential requirements for a good result. Jean had prepared the house attractively and it so happened that a mature apricot tree in the tiny back courtyard had fruited abundantly. Bowls of perfect apricots were available for the punters. Too nervous to attend, we adjourned to the pub with a friend until it was over. We learned that the reserve price was reached and passed easily. The buyer was a youngish man with parental backing. ‘It’s a nice little place,’ he said. That’s what you want – someone who feels that the thing is comfortably within his or her capacity.
Now here we were in Newtown in 2016, on the day of the auction up the road. Given the crazy house prices in Sydney, Jean guessed at a sold price of $1.2 to $1.5 million. Naturally we stepped in for a snoop and a possibly dramatic event, for things can go seriously wrong at an auction. Fine day; flag outside; big crowd; dark-suited auctioneer and assistants, anxious faces.
The renovations had produced a sterility eliminating most of the Victorian charm of the original, but the bidding was brisk. The reserve price must have been $1.2 million because at that point the auctioneer announced that the house would be sold, and so being ‘passed in’, a result dreaded by vendor and auctioneer, was averted. Bidding then went up in smaller amounts and the narrow terrace with its by no means large rooms and cramped spaces was knocked down for $1 380 000. Jean had been right on the money.
Welcome to your mortgage, I thought, and pray that interest rates remain low.