By Angela Catterns

Buying property at auction is exciting at best … heart-attack inducing at worst.

My experience yesterday was somewhere in between.

With my eye on a big empty warehouse that’s got nothing much in it but a load of potential, I rock up to my first-ever commercial auction in the city.

It’s being held in an Auction Centre in a modern office block and 15 minutes before it’s due to start, the place is already packed.

The crowd is overwhelmingly male – mostly men in suits, plus a surprising number of Asian women and a bloke in a fluoro vest and workboots.

At the back of the room, maybe a dozen real estate agents wearing nipped-in suits and striped ties take up their standing positions.

The auctioneer welcomes us all. On a large screen beside him, slides of the properties are shown and the bids are helpfully displayed in the right hand corner. I’m grateful for this. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of seven figure sums in your head.

And these places are all selling for seven digit numbers.

The first property, a shop on a busy street on the edge of the city, takes a while to extract any bids. Suddenly, after a mysteriously long amount of time passes, someone up the back mumbles a number and they’re off and running. Out of the blocks with an opening bid.

And so the dance begins.

The real estate agents start working the room. Back and forth they go, walking silently from client to client, extracting increases of $50,000, then $25,000, then $10,000, then $5,000 and then $1,000 bids. It’s taken just a few seconds to reach a million dollars, then another 23 minutes to climb a hundred thousand more. After a long and agonising wait, the hammer finally falls.

A block of eight one-bedroom units in a salubrious suburb is next. The man beside me makes the opening bid - $5 million dollars, thankyou very much. I try to engage him in idle chat, tell him they look nice, wish him luck, but he’ll not have a bar of it. His steely gaze is focussed dead ahead and I find it hard to tell if he’s incredibly tense or simply blasé about the whole thing. I get the impression it’s all in a day’s work for him. Maybe it’s for his super fund, maybe he’s spending someone else’s money - even I can tell this is probably a good buy. The agent and auctioneer engage in intimate whispers, their heads bowed close together. Sharing secrets that none of us are allowed to know.

Stoic buyers refuse their exhortations and long minutes pass, filled by the auctioneer’s spiel. At $5.1 million, the bidding is suspended while some legal issues are clarified in one of the small anterooms off to the side and eventually my neighbour gets up and leaves. I presume the matter is settled to his satisfaction.

As we move down the list of properties, the crowd of people in the auction room thins out and the hubbub of men’s voices rises in the hallway outside. There’s a lot at stake. By my estimation, $25-30 million worth of property has changed hands this morning. And these sales take place once or twice a week.

It takes a long time to get to the property I’m interested in. In fact, it’s the last sale of the day. And it’s complicated. Two lots, side by side, will first be offered and if not sold in one line, they’ll be sold separately. I’m only interested in one of them. The warehouse that I’ve come to affectionately refer to as the big box of air.

It’s between me and the bloke in the fluoro vest and workboots. I am remarkably calm. Perhaps because it’s taken more than two hours to finally get the chance to bid, any nerves have evaporated and I’m ready to go for it. At the end of a long drawn out tussle, I am the winning bidder.

In the end, it was a bit more than I’d hoped to pay and a predictable 25% more than the agent had quoted. But when you hear that sound of hammer on gavel, you know the market has spoken.