The Auction
A short story of contemporary Melbourne life.

11 AM on a sunny Sunday morning in St Kilda.  The three realoh's in their conservative suits and ties stood out among the crowd of fifty or so onlookers, most of them neighbours. In contrast to the suits, the onlookers are dressed for Sunday morning in faded coloured t-shirts, tank tops and denim jeans. 

He suspects it's a case of that old country saying, 'the bigger the hat the smaller the property'.  In this case the more faded and casual the clothes, probably the wealthier these inner suburban people are.  As a consequence of inflation the locals present who are also property owners must be multi-millionaires, and the front garden of the house for sale was abuzz with those staples of casual middle class conversation; real estate prices and private schools.  

The real estate advice on the probable value was one point eight, the noughts are assumed, but the locals all knowingly say two and he was reminded of the so-true remark by wily old Ben Franklin, 'If you want to know the value of something, try and sell it!'  The neighbours are all there waiting for the upward trajectory of their wealth to be reconfirmed.

The house was a solid Victorian number with a front verandah held up by some cast concrete columns sitting on brick pillars. A high fence of painted mini-orb corrugated iron with a timber cap surrounded the ragged front garden.  The main rooms are impressive with high ceilings, polished timber floors, large casement windows coming down almost to the floor and high folding cedar doors connecting the two main rooms.  At the back of the house there are a number of disjointed later add-ons for the kitchen and other service areas a few steps down.  The backyard is large and unkempt and backs onto a bluestone lane; there is clearly room to extend.

Everyone are experts; knock off the back stuff they knowingly say, add a wing along the side lane and Bob's your uncle. They were all confident about what to do and what the council would and wouldn't allow.  He had some friends who had said they were interested if the price was right, and he grinned at the husband to encourage him; his wife had gone to Sydney on business the previous afternoon, her partner told him and was on her way back but would probably miss the auction.

Once the attention of the audience had been gained by ringing a brass bell, the realoh did a five minute warm up number about our heritage and the St Kilda location, there was almost an art form feeling to it all, a ritual tribal dance before the real tension of bidding.

Bidding started below one point eight and quickly moved to around one point nine then slowed down.  There were only two bidders, both men in their forties and one of them was his friend.  The real estate guys had sussed out the real bidders of course, they had all been back inspecting the house the day before, so the suits sidled around whispering in their ears and encouraging them.  His friend claimed to be a bit nervous, although he didn't sound nervous when he bid.  Eventually he held up his hand to indicate that he was stopping, that enough was enough.

The bidding must have almost reached some preset reserve level because the auctioneer called for a pause while they consulted their client. When he returned ten minutes later he cranked up the bidding again saying the property was for sale with no reserve. 

By now there was a new third bidder in the far corner of the garden, a man about the same age as the earlier bidders.  He took his time, pausing from time to time to consult someone on his mobile.  He gave the clear impression he was a pro, bidding for someone who wasn't there.  He quickly topped the first bidder with small rises until the price crept to just over two million.  It seemed like a landmark had been arrived at, and the calm new bidder gave the impression that he was there to win at all costs.  His dispassionate style was enough to psychologically scare off the first bidder and after a few further exchanges the house was finally knocked down to the newcomer for a bit over two million.  

The crowd quickly evaporated and he also set off and was halfway along the street when he met the wife hurrying along the street towards him.  'We got it' she said with a grin, and he realised that it had been planned all along to have the smooth confident bidder come in at the last minute and that it had been her on the other end of the phone.  And he hadn't suspected anything; you have to get up early in inner Melbourne, he thought!

Don Gazzard
May 2014