By Hedgie Gundry
For Leon Axford, Director of Axford Auctions, winning the Auctioneer category at the 2019 REINSW Awards for Excellence was a highlight of his career. A deserving recipient, Leon is one of the best in the business, conducting over 500 auctions a year covering residential, commercial, industrial and retail real estate.
Did you always want to work in the real estate industry?
Coming from a family of accountants, I was keen to follow in their footsteps. But, after a few years studying accountancy at university, I realised it wasn’t for me.
A friend of mine, who was a strata manager at the time, encouraged me to consider real estate. After attaining my Certificate of Registration, I received two job offers – one residential and one commercial. The commercial role allowed me to continue playing rugby and baseball on the weekends, which was important to me at that age, so I took the job.
I joined the industry in late 2010, a couple of years post-GFC, when the market was really tough. It was a hard time to cut my teeth and learn how to negotiate, but I really enjoyed it.
Why did you specialise in auctioneering?
In 2011, I attended an auction in a warehouse being sold in Wetherill Park. While I’d watched auctions on TV, I’d never actually attended one – and I just thought it was amazing. I wanted to work out how to do it, so I jumped online and found the REINSW Novice Auctioneers Competition, which I entered in 2012. I won the Parramatta & Hills Division Heat and went on to the State Final. Though I didn’t win, it was enough to secure my first role at an auctioneering firm.
“To be successful you need a really good framework. You need to understand the sales process and how to negotiate. You need to be able to read body language, understand buyer psychology and pull the right the emotional triggers. There's a lot to it.”
What are the key skills needed to be a successful auctioneer?
Anyone can become an auctioneer. Once you’ve completed your accreditation, you can call an auction.
But it’s not just a performance. To be successful you need a really good framework. You need to understand the sales process and how to negotiate. You need to be able to read body language, understand buyer psychology and pull the right emotional triggers. There's a lot to it.
For me, the best auctioneers are the ones who have a natural ability to react quickly and can effortlessly control a crowd.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love that no two auctions are the same. Obviously, there are similarities and the goal is to sell the property. But, even when you think you know what's going to happen, it doesn’t always work out that way – and that’s the exciting bit.
What’s the most interesting situation you’ve come across during an auction?
When I first started auctioneering in Western Sydney, I soon realised there were lots of the same developers at each auction. After a while, they started to get to know me and were beginning to work me out. At one particular auction, one of the bidders became particularly heated and threatened to shoot me. But as a young auctioneer, I refused to be bullied. I simply said the more you talk, the longer I’m going to take. And I slowed the auction right down to try and get the highest price I could for the seller.
In the end, the bidder who threatened me won the auction and, only a few weeks later, asked me to sell one of his properties. I had to laugh when he turned around and told me not to drop the hammer too quickly.
Who do you look up to in the real estate industry and why?
There are a number of people who I look up to.
Phil McGoldrick is an auctioneer over in Christchurch and he’s one of the very best. I could sit and listen to him talk about auctioneering all day.
Cathy Baker, from Belle Property on the Central Coast, is also one of my inspirations. She is so far ahead of the game, especially in the way she communicates with her clients. I really admire the way she conducts her business.
I also really respect one of my clients, Greg Windel, a Co-Director from Ray White Hornsby and Ray White Upper North Shore. Again, I just enjoy listening to his opinions on the industry and life in general. And the same is true of Phillip Starr, Principal of Starr Partners Merrylands.
I look up to a lot of different people in the industry and many of them are the quiet achievers who do epic things.
“If you think auctioneering is easy, it's not. It's a lot more in depth than many people realise and you need to work extremely hard.”
What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
Seeing my clients enjoy success – week in, week out – is an ongoing highlight, because that's my core business.
On a personal note, winning the Auctioneer category at the 2019 REINSW Awards for Excellence was a high point, as it had been a goal of mine as soon as I started my auctioneering career. Making the final of the 2019 Australasian Real Estate Institutes’ Auctioneering Championships was also a major achievement.
What are your goals for the next 12 months?
Naturally, I want to continue to deliver for my clients. That's my core focus. My secondary focus is a personal one, which is to get back to the Australasian Real Estate Institutes’ Auctioneering Championships and do everything I can to win.
When you’re not at work, how do you like to relax?
Relaxing is not really big on my list with a three-year-old son! We spend a lot of time together, which I really enjoy. When we get the chance, going out to lunch with my wife is always special. I used to be a big runner, and last year ran two marathons and a 50km bush trail. But I’ve now had enough of running. I’ve just bought a bike, so I’m going to give cycling a go.
Is there a phrase you live by?
There's one quote from Nick Saban, coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide college football team in the US, that has stayed with me for years: ‘Mediocre people don't like high achievers and high achievers don't like mediocre people.’
I think this is spot on, as I’m never satisfied with mediocre results. You see this play out in a lot of businesses, so it's also about building team chemistry. Everybody has to buy into a common goal or you'll never develop chemistry and deliver the best results.
What’s the best advice you would give to someone just starting out?
If you think auctioneering is easy, it's not. It's a lot more in depth than many people realise and you need to work extremely hard. You need the desire to be the best, but also the humility to ask people for help and advice. I still do this. I was talking to Justin Nickerson, the Australasian Auctioneering champion from Brisbane, only this morning about a few different things.
Never stop learning or be comfortable with the status quo. Always try to be better.