The Covid-19 crisis-plagued property industry was injected with a massive shot of confidence this month as real estate transactions worth tens of millions were concluded in an historic South African first virtual live-streamed auction in which all bidding was done via digital channels including mobile app input and Zoom, off the back of high-tech, detailed 3D virtual property tours ahead of the sale.

Some 100 bidders from three continents participated in High Street Auctions’ first fully digital multi-property virtual auction on Thursday (May 14), which was also remotely viewed by several thousand people on various devices, channelled via the company website, YouTube, the High Street mobile app, Zoom and streams on social media. 

Elated High Street Auctions Director and Lead Auctioneer Joff van Reenen says real estate transactions worth tens of millions of rands were successfully concluded in the 90-minute virtual sale, demonstrating local and international confidence in the South African property market, as well as that a seamless transition to live stream virtual sales was not only possible in this country, but worth the sizeable technology investments made by High Street Auctions to safeguard its client service offering.

One of the company’s digital investments and a South African auction first is showcasing every seller’s property – whether residential, commercial or industrial – in a full 3D, 360-degree virtual walkthrough format on, allowing potential buyers to examine walls, floors ceiling and fixtures at their leisure from the comfort of their homes or offices.

“Our website traffic numbers are through the roof with thousands of visitors taking virtual tours of the properties we’ve just auctioned, as well as those going under the hammer in the next live stream virtual sale on Tuesday the 9th June,” says Van Reenen. 

“In fact, we sold a lodge in the world famous Mabula Game Reserve in Bela-Bela to an American in the US, who after a round of fierce bidding, bought it for just over R2.5 million on the strength of his 3D property tour. He’s never been there and with the Covid-19 restrictions clearly couldn’t travel to view it in person when it came to market.”

Van Reenen says there was no difference in numbers between bidder registration and attendance at previous live auctions and for this first fully digital virtual auction, and numbers were high. Those bidding in this virtual sale hailed from the US, the UK and across South Africa from Cape Town to Gauteng, KZN to Limpopo. 

“As real estate specialists and auctioneers we recognise there are several significant take-aways from this sale that speak to the broader issues, and it’s crucial that industry players in both sectors, as well as financial institutions and property funds realise the magnitude of what’s just taken place at arguably our country’s lowest point since the Covid-19 lockdown began.

“From a real estate perspective there is clearly still national and international investment confidence in the market and in the broader economy if buyers are not only prepared but eager to invest millions in fixed assets in the current climate. 

“What it says is there will be a period of price correction and different trends will emerge in line with what is now being called ‘the new normal’, but that’s not necessarily a negative.

“Sellers and the property industry need to adjust their thinking to opportunities rather than immediate obstacles because change – good or bad and even in this admittedly weird world in which we currently exist – is merely a shift of the market scales, but history shows us that balance always returns.” 

Van Reenen says auctioneers also need to understand that sales as the industry understood them pre-Coronavirus have been consigned to the history books. 

“Auctions will not, cannot, ever be the same again. Covid-19 has forced all traditional and non-traditional buyers online and there’s no going back.

“When High Street took the decision to make such a substantial investment in technology to offer comprehensive 3D virtual tours of every property we auction, there were numerous naysayers telling us we were wasting money; that nobody would make a large investment unless they’d physically seen and been inside a property. 

“Our executive team looked at digital traffic and user statistics, did the analysis of how many of our previous buyers had purchased from abroad or in provinces where they did not reside, and looked at their decision-making processes prior to purchase.

“When site visits were suddenly impossible with the lockdown it became a no-brainer and we trusted our research. We knew that if we provided comprehensive property information coupled with 360-degree virtual walk throughs that potential investors could take 50 times if they wished, they would still bid and they would still buy.

“The live-streamed virtual auction we’ve just conducted proved us so right that since the sale more than 30 new clients have contacted us to put their properties on our next auction in June.”

Van Reenen says the virtual auction just completed was conducted in accordance with all auction compliance and lockdown regulations. Compliance was monitored remotely throughout the sale, and a minimal number of technical support staff were on site to facilitate the live stream – all in protective gear and practicing social distancing. 

Successful bidders will conclude their purchase agreements via online channels with High Street’s digital signature technology, which means both sellers and buyers can remotely and legally sign all necessary documents and submit them digitally to the auctioneers to speedily secure their transactions.

The High Street Auctions mobile app can be downloaded free of charge from IOS and Android app stores. The auction live stream is open to public viewing, but only compliant and registered bidders may participate and bid in sales. The next virtual auction will be streamed live from noon on June 9th.

3D touring a game lodge in the Mabula Reserve that sold to a US buyer at live-stream virtual auction this month for more than R2.5 million.