It was some 20 years ago when Kelly Strauss found himself looking for a career change after moving here from the Christiansburg area where he grew up.
He was dove hunting with his father when he turned to his dad for advice, knowing that the door-to-door insurance sales he was doing wasn’t his forever job.
“My father, who at the time was coming here often to buy and sell cars at the Fredericksburg Auto Auction, said that if he had his life to do over again, he’d try being an auctioneer,” said Strauss.
Intrigued by that notion, Strauss took his father’s advice seriously, accepting his dad’s offer of an introduction to Charles Nicholls, a local auctioneer the elder Strauss knew from the car auctions.
“I met Charles and John Nicholls, who encouraged me to pursue my interest,” said Strauss. “And in November of 1998, I went and completed training at the Worldwide College of Auctioneering in Mason City, Iowa.”
Strauss said the 10-day class taught the basics, though it encouraged students to seek out an experienced auctioneer as a mentor to really learn the business.
“I was fortunate that the Nicholls did that for me, and allowed me to come to work with them,” said Strauss. “We’re independent contractors, but now we’re going into our 21st year together.”
Work Strauss has done at the Nicholls Auction Marketing Group—most recently as auction coordinator overseeing day-to-day management of auction projects for the company—helped him earn a unique honor.
He has just been named the “Auctioneer of the Year” by the Virginia Auctioneers Association. It’s an award given for an auctioneer’s body of work, which for Strauss extends from 20 years of real estate auctions with the Nicholls group to car auctions he does independently several times a week at the Fredericksburg Auto Auction.
“For many people, the thing they think about most when they hear the word auctioneer is the chant you use when you’re selling,” said Strauss, who learned the timing and content of the selling-patter when he was in auctioneer’s school. “But the chant is maybe 5 percent of the job. The other 95 percent in real estate auctioning comes in marketing, building relationships and doing everything our customers need to sell their homes and/or property.”
He noted that selling real estate through an auction is the predominant way it’s sold in Europe these days, and it’s growing in popularity across the U.S.
“Our Nicholls Auction Marketing Group is selling all over the state, from Arlington to Loudoun to Culpeper, Richmond and Bracey down on Lake Gaston,” he said. “Sellers like using us to sell real estate because we don’t charge a commission and they like it that in a 60- to 70-day period they can go from market-sold to closed. It provides a definite date and time.”
Strauss said that his group can provide auctions set up in many different ways, from sales that simply go to the highest bidder to others where the sales price must hit a certain minimum. They can also be structured to only include bidders who show up in person, online or a mix of the two.
He noted that for most simple house auctions, the bidding chant only lasts for 5 minutes or so, though complicated sales with multiple parcels could go on for quite a while. More time is often spent explaining the terms of a sale or registering folks to bid than on the bidding process itself.
Strauss loves his job, adding that auctioneers have to almost be “almost on their deathbed to miss a sale.” He said that the notion that people can end up buying a house at an auction by scratching their nose at the wrong time is just an old myth.
“While we’ll have one of our auctioneers doing the auctioneering, we will also have others of us out helping the bidders, making sure they understand where things stand and the bid they’re offering,” he said.
Other services companies like Nicholls offer range from marketing of the real estate to connecting clients with auctioneering companies who specialize in selling off personal items from a house or properties. They also can connect sellers with companies that handle yard services, interior cleaning or staging.
“To sell a house, we want to know all we can about it, from how old the roof or HVAC system is to whether it might have a leak somewhere,” he said. “It’s best to pass that information on, because a more informed buyer will pay more if they know what’s wrong, or know that nothing’s wrong.”
The father of two and husband of King George High School marketing teacher Dee Strauss was effusive about the debt he owes to Charles and John Nicholls and the way the company has a family feel to it.
“We enjoy what we do,” he said. “I don’t even look at it as a job. The charge is always: How can we help change somebody’s life in a positive way today?”