Lingering Sadness At Saturday Afternoon Auctions

Attendance at auctions is an exercise in despair and surprise in equal parts. In Sydney it is anyway, although house prices are now quite absurd all over the country and have been for some little time. Leatitia and I have been to a couple of auctions over the last few weekends and it’s a strange yet rewarding experience, for all the unpalatable lessons it has to teach.
Basically, everything’s too expensive, and it’s quickly apparent where your resources and earning capacity can fit you into the suburban geography of the greater city, which isn’t in the salubrious bits.
The house is open for inspection from about half an hour before the auction and when you arrive there are people gathered out the front, talking, planning, joking, some looking rather intense, and you walk inside or round the back and there are more people also looking through, imagining how they could live in the space, making their assessments based on physical dimensions, age, setting within the neighbourhood, and condition of the property.
These people are only gathered in this space for this event: you wouldn’t be rubbing shoulders with them all at any other time, and thus they constitute a particular slice of the house buying public, and thus a cross section of society with a certain amount of money to spend. And people are people and you really don’t often find yourself repelled by the behaviour or attitudes you encounter at all. They aren’t like you, being strangers, but they are like you enough that you find yourself wondering where they will end up living and hoping they get a nice place eventually. This is probably not competitive enough, but the thought occurs. There was a little girl at the first place who was very interested in Laetitia’s pants and their shiny material, and she touched them and wanted to look closely at them, and then she decided she liked Laetitia when she spoke to the little girl’s mum. The girl was wearing a party dress and had cute little shoes with heart shaped details on them, and her mum was wearing a veil, and her dad was carefully inspecting the side of the house, as we stood under the Hills Hoist smiling at the girl while her mother told us that the girl was old enough to understand what we said to her.
But it is impersonal, somehow: when you think of what the place is worth and how much you have to spend you think only of yourself and your rival bidders are rendered into abstract entities despite being in front of you. And the way they look is devoid of fondness, as they are, in that situation, pure consumers, thinking about value for money and rental returns and bank regulations and what the property is worth in a purely financial sense. Of course people who have never visited a house ought not to be expected to have the same emotional connection with a house as those who have lived in it, but in this case it is not a visit, it is an inspection, and as such an assessment using the most rational part of the brain for its most logical possible ends. This is the way it has to be – it would be silly to have some kind of affectionate reaction and buy a house because of that while failing to notice the rising damp in almost every room.
I must say though that the experience leaves me a little bit drained. It’s a bit like I feel sorry for the house: so exposed and naked and alone, surrounded by strangers and people who don’t love it, making their judgments s if they never planned to form an emotional attachment at all. It’s hard to explain, and I haven’t done a very good job at all, but there it is. The house last weekend was a small place, not well cared for, and it was clear that whoever won the auction would be pulling the building down and building something big and shiny and soulless, with chrome and multiple stories and no sympathy at all for the streetscape. And that made me feel sorry for the house too.
The processes of the auction are fascinating, and although we are still learning about the market in this area and won’t be bidding for some time yet, it is a stimulating and informative way to spend an hour. There are so many people to observe and that’s always fun too.

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Published in: on April 9, 2014 at 8:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

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