My wife has developed a habit of pulling over at property auctions on weekends. She loves to watch without bidding, but always makes a point of registering. I think this makes her some kind of voyeur, but one who needs to be taken seriously.
“It’s more fun this way,” she said last week, before giving our details to the real-estate lackey. We were out the front of a shabby block with about 30 other people, including a kid on a BMX bike, a lady who wandered across the street in gardening gloves, and a small herd of indolent council workers from a nearby site that didn’t so much have to ‘down tools’ as just continue to let them lie.
I was bored and hungry. I moaned to Deirdre that brunch time would soon turn into lunch time, which meant eggs were frowned upon and I’d be forced to eat avocado that was smashed or pork that was pulled. She ‘poppykoshed’ me into submission with a wave of her newly acquired bidding paddle.
The auctioneer welcomed everyone and began extolling the virtues of an art-deco cubby house on the third floor. My wife pursed her lips and stroked her chin.
Surveying the scene around me, I slotted the attendees into their respective archetypes.
There were half a dozen Chinese buyers, looking to find a study pad for their eldest child. They wore the foreign investor stamp duty surcharge like a badge of honour, as if to say, ‘Look, I’m willing to pay an extra 8 per cent for this thing…You really think you can outbid me?’
There were the ubiquitous pre-retirees, four couples in all, on the hunt for that perfect property for their SMSF. I fight the urge to put on my best-interests duty hat and berate the naivete out of them.
Flanking the crowd are three or four buyer’s agents, phones ready. One of them, a lady in a navy pantsuit and aviator glasses, looks like she means business. I catch my wife throwing her a snarky look.
There is a man in his late 20s, nervously patrolling the inner circle of bidders. He’ll come in relatively early and bark out three bids, no doubt including one against himself, before literally throwing his hands in the air and storming off.
A handful of young professional couples are also in attendance. They’re hopeful, but they’ve been at it for months and know they are swimming with sharks that have bigger teeth. If any of them bid, it will be in $500 increments.
The auctioneer announces the start of bidding and I make my gambit.
Before she has a chance to make sense of the situation, I’ve been outbid. She continues staring at me as her fascination with the bidding is outstripped by confusion and wifely anger. She mimes a ‘What the hell???’ at me while the auction continues, and I ignore it.
Despite a valiant effort from one of the young couples, a portly Chinese man purchases the apartment for something closer to $1 million than my paltry offer. The Chinese man and I do have something in common, however – a ribboned bottle of Moët.
You see, some real-estate agencies give a bottle of champagne to the highest bidder, and some also give one to the brave soul that gets things rolling with the first respectable bid. I’ve been dragged to enough of these things to know that this mob, in particular, were big on the bubbles incentive.
My wife is furious and accuses me of jeopardising our financial future. “Poppykosh,” I say. A one-bedroom apartment in eastern Sydney hasn’t sold for less than $750,000 since the turn of the century.
Tonight we drink the good stuff, while I secretly celebrate Deirdre’s new found aversion to auctions.