Rael Levitt, CEO of Auction Alliance, has put some notorious people under the hammer. His company has had the odd privilege of auctioning off the properties, luxury cars and designer jewellery of many of SA’s most crooked directors, including Arthur Brown (Fidentia); Freddie Steenkamp (Alan Boesak’s bookkeeper) and Brett Kebble (JCI).
“Sorry if I’m talking too fast,” says Levitt (35) as he rattles off the dodgy list. “It’s an occupational hazard.”
Dubbed the undertakers of the business world, auctioneers in SA have traditionally helped banks sell repossessed houses when their (mostly poor) owners defaulted on their mortgage payments.
“But auctioning is no longer a dirty word,” says Levitt. “It’s become the first-choice method of selling a much wider range of assets.”
Levitt figured out he had a knack for selling things when he started skipping university lectures in the early 1990s to sell houses in the poor Cape Flats on the outskirts of Cape Town. At the time, no sane estate agent would touch the vast area designated a “coloured” township, characterised by rows of matchbox houses. But Levitt, inspired by his estate agent mother, found convincing people to let him sell their properties and getting good prices a cinch, despite there being no existing secondary market.
“One day I bumped into the sheriff of the court and followed him to an auction of a repossessed house,” says Levitt. “I was hooked.” But the more auctions he attended, the more he saw how the banks were abusing home owners. They would auction off a house, buy it back for as little as R100 and demand the defaulters pay the balance on the outstanding amount. “Repossessions were having negative socio economic effects,” he says.
After he had completed his university thesis on how the repossessions were affecting low-income earners in the Cape Flats, Absa gave him his first real break – 31 repossessed properties. “The bank realised that if it could get more for these properties everyone would be better off,” says Levitt. “It worked.”
He says that on average, properties sell for about 10%-15% more than market value if they’re auctioned and not sold through traditional channels.
Levitt has built Auction Alliance into a multi billion-rand turnover a year company in the past 15 years.
Though he now has 10 auctioneers working full time, Levitt still puts his “chant” to work at multi million-rand auctions and charity events. The craziest things he’s ever had to auction are Trevor Manuel’s tie, and two sperm banks – both at a charity auction.