Property auctions: Deals of the year
Looking back at 2009: Bargains, bullets, movers-and-shakers

CAPE TOWN: I've attended a fair amount of auctions this year and it's been an interesting one to say the least. Auctions continue to grow in popularity and are slowly building market share, particularly in South Africa's residential property market. The commercial market, while not unaffected has always been a more successful area for auctioneers. These days the multiple commercial auctions may see in excess of 200 people attend while a mere handful may attend a residential, on-site auction.

In fact many of the residential auctions I attended, properties in the R2m to R8m bracket seem to be difficult to sell in general and were largely poorly attended, with bidding often absent or short-lived and the property often remaining unsold. These were mainly in the Atlantic Sea Board and City Bowl areas in Cape Town.

This is not always the case and the more high profile property auctions are usually well attended. For example, celebrity chef Conrad Gallagher's old abode in Green Point was sold for R5m. That Claremart auction was well-attended and a satisfactory result achieved.

Not so at the biggest auction of the year, the Sentinel Mountain in Hout Bay. Hout Bay Residents were horrified to find out the mountain was privately owned, although it has been since 1902.

A large protest by locals from the Hangberg fishing village resulted in tear gas and rubber bullets being fired by the police outside the auction at the Chapman's Peak Hotel. The Julius Buchinsky auction was finally cancelled without a bid been cast. The mountain is still unsold today.

This was a far cry from the sparkling wine and strawberries that flowed at the auction of Fair Seat, Brett Kebbles old house, a sprawling mansion in Bishops Court with three guest cottages, a tennis court, squash court and gym. The place was packed with agents, media, onlookers, neighbours and the occasional bidder. Bidding started at R20m and seemed to be stuck on R25m when an elderly gentleman stuck his head through the door and bid R26m. Alliance Group, auctioneer and CEO Rael Levitt tried to coax some extra cash out of the large crowd but Alan Porter, a well known car dealer, bought it. It was a childhood home of his and he probably got it for a steal, if you can call R26m plus commission a steal.

It was also a year that saw some smaller companies entering the market but finding it pretty difficult to penetrate. With a limited amount of qualified buyers, getting the right people to attend can be difficult and expensive and not always successful. It is not an easy transformation to make and many have struggled.

While the big names continue to dominate the local auction scene, Savile Row auctions make their entry into Cape Town with their inaugural auction on November 19. It will be interesting to see if they become an auctioneering force in Cape Town and South Africa with their strong track record in the real estate game. Group chairman Lew Geffen is chairman and co-owner of Sotheby's International Realty South Africa.

While the experienced auctioneers continue to make trading buildings look easy, I saw a few new auctioneers on the block. Although the seasoned pros make it look easy, it isn't. A packed hotel venue with lots of rich bidders around may be fun, trying to sell a property to a silent room with just two bidders or one is something else.

Either way auctioneering continues to grow in this country and that's a good thing. Real estate agents may complain about the auctioneers and vice versa but the truth is there's room for all of them, especially when the economy picks up again. Write to

*Barry Washkansky is a Cape Town-based property journalist.

Article by: Barry Washkansky -