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A day in the life of an auctioneer

publication date: May 7, 2008
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author/source: Robert Marchant
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I guess like most auctioneers one of the real attractions of my job is the variety and never knowing what, from one day to the next, the job is likely to throw up. From time to time I remind myself how fortunate I am that I do not have a career which could ever be considered mundane or repetitive.

Over the years I have had the pleasure of selling all sorts of land and property, from some tiny strips of grass verge on the Isle of Wight, through to some very large and indeed prestigious homes and pretty much everything in between. All manner of investments, from freehold ground rents, sometimes worth just a few hundred pounds through to investments which have sold for many hundreds of thousands of pounds, have come under my eye and gavel.

The auctioneer who has seen it all? Having had my share of quirky lots over the years such as Nightclubs, Blocks of Public Toilets, Beach Huts and having once been asked to advise on the sale of a Nudist Colony I really did think I had seen it all, no pun intended! However, in the last 12 months I have seen 3 very unusual properties.

From watery housing plots…

Last summer I was called out to advise on the potential sale of sixhouse boat plots at Bembridge on the Isle of Wight. The owners of the plots, The Bembridge Harbour Company had originally owned close to 30 plots around the harbour edge which had been occupied for many years by the boats of tenants who then paid an annual rent, based on the length of their particular house boat.

The Harbour Company decided that they wanted to dispose of their interest and had initially offered all of the house boat owners the chance to buy their own plots on very reasonable terms to reflect their often lengthy occupancy, an offer which many were very pleased to take up.

We were then asked to advise on the disposal of the remaining plots, which for various reasons the occupying house boat owners had chosen not to purchase. The valuation process was an interesting and unusual exercise, which had the added bonus of involving a cruise around the harbour on the Bembridge Harbour water taxi to get my photographs on a particularly glorious summer afternoon. After a good deal of interest, the house boat plots were duly sold last July for between £40 and £45,000 each in our sale at the Rose Bowl.

…to a spooky nuclear bunker…

In November last year I was called out to the Hampshire Downs above the charming Hampshire village of Twyford to inspect a “building” which had started life as a covered water reservoir but which had been partially converted into a nuclear bunker as part of the UK’s nuclear protection plan, with the conversion having been completed in 1990, just in time for the end of the cold war!

The original reservoir was completed in 1905 and was a testament to the fine engineering skills of the late Victorian/early Edwardian period. Only around half of the original reservoir was used in the conversion leaving the remaining half as a large void area, in pretty much the same form as when it had been constructed, with the beautiful red brick vaulted ceiling being a particular feature.

The reservoir was closed and replaced with a much larger one constructed next door in 1960 and then lay dormant until the mid 1980s at which time Hampshire County Council and the MOD joined forces to convert around half (4,000 sq ft) of the reservoir into the bunker, though interestingly the ownership remained with Southern Water with the building held on a lease, though had it ever needed to be used as a bunker, I am not sure who would have collected the rent!

The bunker was decommissioned in 1997 and was then let out to various, mainly IT companies, who felt that having an eighteen inch thick steel front door and an almost subterranean environment was advantageous. Entering the structure was like walking onto a film set and although the layout had been adapted in some respects to office use, there was still much evidence of the bunker usage.

There was a quite eerie feel to the place and one couldn’t help but wonder when inside, what it would have been like to have been locked in there whilst the world was being quickly and violently destroyed outside!

…and into the world of JR Ewing

In our April ’08 sale catalogue we were able to offer another interesting and unusual property, being an eleven and a half acre site close to Winchester, which had been let for Oil Exploration, Extraction and Storage. Whilst I am sure such sites come under the hammer regularly in Texas, this was certainly the first time I had dealt with anything of this nature in Hampshire!

The site had been used as farmland until oil was found in the area around a dozen years ago and the lease allows that at the end of the term, which was 22 years with a 7 year break clause if oil extraction was no longer viable, that the land be returned as working farmland. The site is producing a very tidy annual rent of £51,000pa and when all is said and done, needed to be treated as a commercial investment, which I suspect was what potential buyers did. However, the local and national press and the local radio station got hold of the story and couldn’t resist all of the Oil Baron and JR Ewing puns.

On the subject of puns, my colleague Kevin Gilbert who, at my side and recording the bids on the rostrum, could not restrain himself and came out with a “well, well, well” as the gavel came down! Well, it was a job well done and we were all ‘well pleased’ with the £395,000 ticket.

I guess for me the last 12 months has proved that potentially, perhaps, the variety of the job of a Land & Property Auctioneer really is endless or that, possibly, you can teach an old dog new tricks!