Four men sitting at a long table judging a competition.

How to win an auction competition

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As the finals of the REIQ Auctioneer of the Year loom, our finalists may be wondering what they need to do to claim victory. We asked leading New Zealand auction coach and judge of this year’s competition Mark Sumich what he thought the competitors needed to show in order to lift the cup on August 23.

Auction competitions are tests of skill, stamina and above all, training. The secret to winning an auction competition is simple – put in the training and the hard work and you will perform better than your fellow competitors.

That’s the inside tip from auction coach and one of this year’s judges of the REIQ Auctioneer of the Year competition, Mark Sumich.

Mr Sumich, an experienced auction competition judge, said there were a few key things the judges looked for when deciding points in a competition.

“We want [the competitors] to front well, we want them to provide us with a 12-15-minute package of appropriate legal and statutory obligations around an auction, we want them to be entertaining,” he says.

“We want them to show a degree of humour, where it’s appropriate, and we want them to be arithmetically clever. We want them to show good timing and a degree of cunning and savviness that will entertain everybody as well as maximising the price that is available.”

The pressure of competition conditions can be overwhelming and it’s not uncommon to see very experienced auctioneering professionals stumble in a competition.

However, how much does a stumble really cost? Well, according to Mr Sumich, sometimes it can be very little. The key, he says, is not about the fall, but how well the auctioneer recovers and that can be the difference between winning and losing.

“[A stumble in the mathematics] generally doesn’t cost them the win,” he says. “So many competitions are won and lost on how well auctioneers recover or rectify their mistakes. A small little mistake about transposing two numbers is pretty easy to make, and that auctioneer just has to press on,” he said. “If they can do that, if they can carry on, nonchalantly they will be seen to be running with the flow and they will arguably be marked down less than if they tried to dispute that particular scenario,” he says.

The science of keeping the bids straight in your head is a common area of weakness for many auctioneers, according to Mr Sumich. It’s where the rookies struggle. But numeracy is a skill and he argues that it’s a coachable, learnable skill.

Reigning REIQ Auctioneer of the Year and Australasian Auctioneering Champion, Justin Nickerson, agrees. Nicknamed by many as a human calculator, Mr Nickerson says he would rank his own maths skills as perhaps “slightly above average” but that training and repetition have improved his abilities.

“I have a deck of cards that I practice with every day. The fastest time is 19 seconds, by Mark Sumich,” he says. Mr Nickerson is working to beat that time, and while he’s close, he hasn’t quite cracked 19 seconds.

“That numeracy is a learned skill. I work at it every day,” he adds.

The daily training is important, Mr Sumich agrees. And it’s an area where new auctioneers are struggling to keep up with the more experienced professionals.

“The young ones now they just don’t appear to want to put the effort in. Why do they think they’re going to be really good at this unless they practice or train like any good sportsman, or writer, or dancer or musician? It’s a trade and a craft,” he says.

Other areas where rookies struggle in competition is around the structure of their call.

“Most of the mathematical errors come down to either one of two things. One – poor structure around doing their addition or, secondly, poor retention of the numbers and that is because they don’t have a tight enough structure in how they announce the number and the way they say it,” he says.

“I have auctioneers here in New Zealand who have six or seven different ways of saying a number. One million and twenty-five thousand dollars could be just that or one point oh-two-five. Or one oh two five, or one mill twenty-five or twenty-five thousand over the top. They have various ways of saying it and how you get used to saying it will determine whether you have ongoing lack of confusion around your numbers,” he says.

Much like a real-life auction, a competition auction is all about encouraging bidders. The goal is to keep the flow of the auction moving along, to gain momentum and then to get out of the way while bidders compete for the property.

“[Competitors get] marks in handling the bidding flow, controlling the bidding, and creating encouragement to bid,” Mr Sumich says. “It’s about retention of numbers and identification of bidders and all that sort of stuff. So, the pre and the filler lines in between the bids and between saying the numbers, they tend to be the things that will determine the winner,” he says.

“I think that an auctioneering competition could potentially be run without the bidders saying a word, all driven by the auctioneer asking where he wants the next bid to be and compromising where appropriate but the bidders shouldn’t have to say anything. They can nod, put their hand up, make hand signals, shake their heads and really it should all be driven by the auctioneer.

“In truth, the ones who win are the ones who have that innate sense of timing, which is difficult to coach but you can coach it once they have all the basics in place,” he says.

In a recent competition, bidding had reached almost $5 million. A competitor faced a bid of “Five” and asked the bidder, “Are you increasing the bid by five (thousand) or are you bidding $5 million?” The bidder remained silent. The competitor took it as a bid for $5 million where the other competitors in the identical situation took it as an increase of $5000. So, the end result was one competitor who achieved a significantly higher sale price than the rest of the field.

Was the competitor wrong to not insist on clarification from the bidder? Should the competitor have been penalised for finishing with the wrong end price? No, says Mr Sumich.

“What we train the auctioneers to do is to go for the highest figure that might be reasonably assumed from that bid and then it’s up to the bidder to correct the bid if that’s not what was intended. But a judge might say ‘that was good work by the auctioneer, I’ll give him an extra mark’ in that particular category of the bidding,” he says.

So, where in a real-life auction situation it could be argued that the person with the highest knock-down price is the best auctioneer, in the competition, this is only one component that goes into a win.

While success in a range of categories go into winning an auction competition, Mr Sumich says the overall big picture is more important than each individual component. A small stumble won’t cost the win if the overall call is entertaining, encourages bidding, builds momentum, and gets the legal and technical elements correct.

“It’s about the overall flow of the call, more than anything else,” he says. “That’s who will win on the day.”

To see our finalists, Mark MacCabe, Gavin Croft, David Holmes and Justin Nickerson, compete in the REIQ Auctioneer of the Year final on August 23, purchase tickets here.