While the Illawarra property market continues to boom, online auctions have become a go-to during the current lockdown.
Under newly announced lockdown rules issued by the NSW government, auctions that people attend in person aren't allowed in Greater Sydney.
The Mercury, while wearing masks, observing social distancing and other COVID-Safe measures, attended the MMJ Wollongong offices on Saturday to get a first-hand look at the online auction process.
The two auctions, run by auctioneer Daniel Hastings, were live-streamed via the AuctionNow platform.
Mr Hastings outlined the process to the bidders, who had been encouraged to watch other online auctions beforehand to get a feel for it all prior to taking part.
Prospective buyers were able to make their bids in real time, with staff signalling to Mr Hastings when a new bid had been lodged.
The first property up for sale was a five-bedroom home at 36 Hunter Street, Balgownie.
The home had a bidders' guide of $1,070,000, with 19 registered bidders.
After a $1 million opening bid, a spirited, half-hour long auction took place.
"You've got to bid to buy, ladies and gentlemen," Mr Hastings said at one stage. "Fortune favours the brave."
It eventually became a two-horse race. After 93 bids, the home sold to a Sydney buyer for $1,376,000.
The under-bidder was from Tarrawanna.
The seller, Hamilton Wearing, wasn't able to be present at the MMJ Wollongong offices, but spoke to the Mercury moments after the auction concluded.
He was pleased with the sale price for the home - which he'd owned for 13 years - being more than $300,000 above the guide.
He said he felt a "little disconnected" watching the process unfold virtually, without being able to see the faces of the bidders.
"It would have been nice to have personally put a face to the (successful buyer)... And be able to meet them, shake their hand or bump elbows at the end, and basically invite them into their new home," he said.
"So you do miss that personal touch."
While he said "we'll never know" if an on-site, in-person auction would have resulted in a higher sale price, "we'd be a bit greedy to ask for more". "I've said from the outset that the value of the house is whatever the final bid is," he said.
Mr Hastings said it was "challenging" to essentially perform to a virtual auction room, rather than an in-person gathering.
"You can react to body language when you're on the floor, but you're just relying on a computer screen effectively with the bids," he said.
"You just do your best to communicate with the bidders."
Mr Hastings said ensuring the technical aspects of the process were properly in place was crucial to an online auction's success.
Mr Hastings said the online auction method may be preferable to some prospective buyers, as it afforded them anonymity during the bidding, as well as potentially making the overall process less intimidating.
He said as restrictions eased in some areas of the state but perhaps not in others, auctions may well incorporate both in-person and online bidding.
The second property auctioned on Saturday was an acreage at 571 Avondale Road, Avondale.
Bidding started slowly. Despite a maximum bid of $2.2 million, the reserve price wasn't reached, and the property was passed in.
Mr Hastings said this type of result was "nothing unusual", whether it be an on-site or online auction.
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