Roughly 2.3% of properties that sell in the UK are sold via auction. Sellers choose auction because it can offer a faster, easier and more certain way to sell than going with an estate agent. It can be an especially good option for “problem properties” too.
But with so many auction houses to choose from, it can be difficult to know which to pick. So, which auction house is best?
There’s no single “best” property auction house. Different auction houses specialise in different types of property, different price brackets, and different regions. So don’t focus on finding the “best” property auction house, focus on finding the one that’s right for you and your property instead.
There’s a lot to consider, but fortunately we’re here to help.
1. How many auction houses are there to choose from?
First, let’s take a quick look at the landscape of the auction house market.
The property auction industry is different than the estate agent industry. According to data from Office for National Statistics, there were over 20,000 estate agent branches in the UK as of 2017.
Each estate agent generally only covers a small area, and lots of agents compete in each spot. So it takes thousands of branches to cover the whole country.
Auction houses cover much wider areas though, so there are far fewer of them.
In fact, according to our data around 80% of all auction properties are sold by just 25 auction houses.
Picking the best out of this bunch is still a tricky job though. So where do we start?
1.1. Data from our Auction House Comparison Tool
Earlier this year we built a piece of software to help sellers find the right auction house for their property sale.
Here’s how it works:
- We selected the biggest 80% of the auction houses in England and Wales.
- We track every single one of their auctions, then our software analyses the results.
- This means we can see how each auction house performs, and where they’re strongest: The locations, price ranges, and property types they specialise in.
- We also monitor all their reviews from numerous trusted platforms across the web, so we can see how satisfied their customers are.
- Finally, we mystery-shopped every auction house to find out how much they charge, how they work, and what they were like to deal with.
Doing this gives us a complete picture of the auction market in England & Wales. You can explore our auction tool here, to learn more about each of the 30+ biggest auction houses in the country.
In this article, I’ve distilled everything we’ve learned into one handy guide… so this really is the ultimate resource for finding the best auction house for your sale!
Ready to dive in?
2. Best auction houses by Market Share
Looking at the auction houses with the biggest market share seems like a good starting point when trying to choose the right one for your sale.
So who are the biggest property auction companies in England and Wales?
- SDL Auctions are the largest auction house in England & Wales, having sold 1,418 properties by auction in the last 12 months.
- Bond Wolfe are the next largest, having sold 1,233 properties.
- McHugh & Co are the 3rd largest, having sold 1,123 properties.
Here are the top 10 auction houses in the UK by size.
So we’ve seen who the biggest auction houses are… but is it a good idea to pick one with the biggest market share?
2.1. Should you sell with a big auction house?
Choosing to sell with a bigger property auction house can seem like a safe bet. After all, surely all those other sellers can’t be wrong?
But that’s not necessarily the case.
There can be lots of reasons not to choose a larger auction house:
- Coverage. Just biggest they’re one of the biggest in the country, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have a strong presence in your area. For example, SDL Auctions sell almost half of all the auction properties in the East Midlands, but less than 2% of the properties in London.
- Effectiveness. Just because they’re big, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to get you a sale. For example, one of the companies in our “top 10 biggest auction houses” list have one of the lowest success rates in the industry, at a measly 47%. (I’d love to name them for you, but I can’t handle the legal headaches. I can recommend an auction house for you here though).
- Your point of contact. Big companies have lots of staff; including lots of inexperienced staff. Do you want an inexperienced newbie handling the most important sale of your life?
- Big company woes. Put simply, large companies can sometimes be a nightmare to deal with. We all know what it’s like dealing with the bank or with your local council. Big organisations can be slow, inflexible, and may offer a less tailored service for you. It can slow your sale down, cause a load of stress, and cost you money.
As you can see, it’s important to consider the positives and negatives of going with the bigger players before you dive in.
When we've analysed the data, there’s very little relationship between how big an auction house is and how good they actually are.
So should you go the opposite way and choose a smaller, more bespoke auction house?
2.2. Is it ok to choose a smaller auction house?
By picking a smaller auction house you can avoid lots of the downsides associated with bigger companies. So is it a good idea?
I wrote a whole article about this here: Should you choose a big property auction house or a small one?
In it, I argued that you shouldn’t rule out going with a smaller company.
Here’s a summary from the article:
We found a great example of this in our data:
Symonds and Sampson are one of the smaller auction houses, selling around 150 properties in and around Dorset in the last 12 months. But they’ve got the #1 highest success rate in the whole industry, at 91%!
So you definitely shouldn't rule out a smaller, more regional auction house for your sale.
3. Best auction houses by Success Rate
So we’ve covered that picking the biggest auction house isn’t necessarily the best bet.
Another approach is to look at how successful each auction house is at actually selling the properties they list.
This is measured with one handy little stat: the “Success Rate”.
In other words, the success rate tells you the chance of this auction house actually getting you a sale.
Over the last 12 months, the average success rate across the property auction industry has been 70.6%.
(Just to add some context, this is still pretty high. By comparison, a BBC article from 2018 reported on a study from financial services company Jefferies. They analysed sales data for over 7,000 estate agency brands, and found that estate agents sold only around 51% of the properties they took on. So at least auctions are doing much better than that).
3.1. Success rate varies between auction houses
The success rate varies a lot between auction houses.
The best companies float around a 90% success rate, whereas the poorest sell less than 50% of the properties they take on! (You’d have a better shot at selling if you just listed with an estate agent!)
So who are the best performing auction houses by success rate?
- Symonds & Sampson are the #1 most effective auction house in England & Wales, selling 92% of the properties they take on.
- Landwood have the 2nd highest success rate, selling 86% of the properties they list.
- Mark Jenkinson & Son are the 3rd most effective auction house, successfully selling 85% of their properties.
We’ve put a top-10 list together for you too. Here are the best performing auction house by success rate:
So having seen the top-performers, how much of an emphasis should you put on the Success Rate when trying to choose the best auction house?
3.2. Should high success rate be a priority?
In my opinion, I wouldn’t go with an auction house just because of a high success rate… but I would definitely avoid one with a low success rate.
They may overvalue your property.
Poor auction success rate is often caused by properties being overpriced, and therefore failing to get much interest.
This can be caused by auction houses overvaluing properties to try and win more business.
Many auction houses would rather have an overpriced listing than no listing at all. Over-inflating your expectations is an easy way to coax you into coming on board with them.
So what would I advise?
If you’re speaking with an auction house who have a success rate below the average of about 70%, be really careful when it comes to their valuation. I’d advise speaking with at least one other, and asking for a second opinion.
There are other causes of low success rate, but these can be avoided with proper preparations:
- Ensure the legal pack is available when the auction starts. Some properties are launched into auction before their legal pack is made available. This prevents buyers getting the information they really need in order to bid, and will restrict how many buyers you get.
- Ensure viewing arrangements are in place. Some sellers won’t allow buyers to view the property before the auction, or they fail to put access arrangements in place. Again, you’re just turning off buyers, and running a higher risk of failing to sell the property.
- Be realistic with your pricing. Listen to your auctioneers pricing advice, and be prepared to follow it. Furthermore, if your property fails to get interest in the first couple of weeks of the auction it could be a sign that it’s overpriced. Be prepared to be flexible, and consider reducing your reserve price at this point.
4. Best auction houses by Reviews
According to data from Trustpilot, nearly 9 out of 10 consumers worldwide will consult online reviews before buying from a company.
Given the high-stakes when you sell a property, I’d definitely recommend it here too. But it’s tricky.
Auction reviews can be really helpful, but you can’t rely on them entirely. I’ll outline some of the pitfalls with property auction reviews – and how to work around them.
4.1. My tips for using auction house reviews
There are three things you need to be conscious of when you look at auction house reviews.
Tip 1: Be aware that feedback may include estate and letting agent reviews
Many property companies have estate agency branches and letting agents as well as their auction service. A company may have hundreds of reviews about those other services, and very few about their auction service.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but it just makes it tricky to find what people are really saying about their auction service.
Take Butters John Bee for example. They’re a large property company around Stoke-on-Trent, with numerous estate and letting agent branches. They also offer an auction service.
They have 1,000 Google reviews in the last year, with an average score of 4.8 – which is great! (I’ve dealt with them personally numerous times too, and always had a good experience).
But it’s difficult to work through their reviews and find any feedback on their auction service.
It may be fair to assume their auction feedback would be great too... But just be wary when you make that assumption.
Try and dig as deep as you can, and find what customers are really saying about their auction service.
Tip 2: Take notice even if reviews are from buyers rather than sellers
Some auction houses have mountains of awful reviews from buyers. They’ll often complain about high fees which weren’t disclosed, or shady practices in concluding the auction.
As a seller, should you care?
In my opinion, you absolutely should.
If a business is comfortable treating one set of their users very poorly, you can bet they’d have no qualms treating the rest of their users the same way.
Some auction houses operating today are downright unethical. Unfortunately, it’s generally the buyers who take the brunt of it. You can see this in the outpouring of miserable reviews for some of these companies. Don’t ignore these reviews.
They’re a huge red flag, and a sign you should probably stay away.
In short, even if bad reviews are from buyers, stay away.
Tip 3: Look at the number of bad reviews, not just the overall score
As I mentioned before, must of us now rely on reviews when we make purchases. But unfortunately, reviews can be easily scammed.
Imagine you’re a shady business and you’ve got 10 bad reviews. What’s the quickest way back to a 5-star rating? Just write 100 good reviews for yourself!
Sadly, there’s a whole “fake review industry” that’s sprung up to help business owners do just that, and manipulate their online reputation. This article on Which.co.uk writes about Amazon review scams, but this happens on all websites and in all industries.
Fortunately, there are plans to make fake reviews illegal. (The proposal even suggests that businesses be fined up to 10% of their annual revenue for commissioning fake reviews). But these rules could take a long time to come into effect, and it’ll still be hard to catch offenders.
Not much help for you and your upcoming property sale!
So what can you do?
Here’s my advice: Look beneath the surface.
With most review platforms you can filter the results and see only the negative feedback. Have a read through all the bad reviews and the company’s response to them, and make your own mind up whether or not you’d trust the company.
5. Property Auction fees
We can’t write an article about the best property auction houses without talking about how much they cost.
The fees charged by auction houses range widely. You can pay as little as 1%+vat, or as much as 4%+vat.
On a £250,000 house, that’s almost a £10,000 difference from the cheapest to the most expensive!
I’ve got a full, detailed breakdown of property auction fees coming soon, but in the mean time, I’ll make one key point:
Cheaper isn’t necessarily what you want.
5.1. Why "cheaper" can be very, very costly
Imagine one auction house charges 1%, and another charges 3%. What if the more expensive one was so much better at what they do that they’d get you an extra 5% on your sale price...
Suddenly, it's obvious that going with the cheaper option would be very costly in the grand scheme of things.
That’s the way I approach property auction fees, and fees in general. Look at the bigger picture, rather than just the fee you'll have to pay.
I’ve written more about this here:
My in-depth guide on property auction fees will be coming soon. I'll add a link in here when it's done!
6. How to choose the best overall property auction house
As I’ve highlighted throughout this article, there’s no easy way to define who the “best” auction house is.
- Are you looking for the one with the highest market share?
- Or the best success rate?
- How about the best value for money?
- Or the best reviews?
It’s impossible to balance all of these. And even if one auction house was a clear winner across all categories, they still might not be right for your property.
This is because different auction houses specialise in different areas, price brackets, and property types.
So what’s the answer? How do you find the best property auction house?
6.1. Find the best auction house now
This is where we love to help. With the tool we’ve built, we’re able to break down each local area and find the best auction house for your sale.
It’s a totally free service, and I’m in the office from about 8am-6pm most days.
Call me now on 0330 223 5568 for a free consultation. We’ll work through a fact find so I can learn about your situation, and I can put you in touch with the best auction house for your sale.
I hope you've found this article helpful. Give me a call now, and I can help with your next steps too.
I’ll leave you with a review from a reader, Ingrid, who did just that:
By Matthew Cooper, Founder of Home Selling Expert