SDL Group ramps up bid to become nationwide chain

Property and auction network SDL Group is eyeing further acquisitions in its bid to become a nationwide chain.

In just 15 months, SDL’s workforce has grown from 200 people to 500 and its turnover has doubled. The firm is now the largest auction house outside London and the fourth biggest in the country on the back of its acquisitions of Birmingham-based auction house Bigwood and Nottingham’s Graham Penny last year.

Speaking to Property Week, SDL chief executive and co-founder Paul Gratton said that the company would be willing to acquire more auction houses in other parts of the country “at the right price”.

“We’re growing fast,” Gratton said. “The strategy is to create a nationwide auction chain for property, both with traditional room sales and online.”

As part of its digital expansion, SDL is also planning to launch a service called Auction Partners, which will enable estate agents to list properties for auction online in a similar way to the website IAmSold.

Gratton has experience in the tech sector to draw on, having founded the UK’s first online bank, Egg, which he left when it was acquired by Prudential in 2006.

He said he hoped the new service would push agents to offer more properties at auction.

“If you look at Australia or New Zealand, 50% of all residential property is sold at auctions,” he said. “In the UK, it’s maybe 2% or 3%. Auction has traditionally been viewed as a distressed saleroom.”

That was less the case these days thanks to the “democratisation” of the auction room, which he said had made auctions “less scary”.

Gratton also predicted strong growth in online auctions. People were becoming more confident doing large transactions online, he said.

“Very few people look now at estate agents’ windows and decide to buy a house,” he said. “Most people select and assess a property remotely, by looking at all the data available online. Consumers are increasingly being digitally trained. That’s the space in the market where we are looking to grow.”

SDL’s next auction, on 22 February in Chester, will feature lots in Cheshire and North Wales.

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