You can take the boy out of the inner north...
Updated: May 25, 2021
Auctioneer Arch Staver lives in ‘East Abbotsford’ but wields the gavel in North Fitzroy
By Charlie Gill
In an era in which the term “iconic” tends to be overused, Arch Staver, the head mover and shaker at Fitzroy’s Nelson Alexander real estate, could be a deserving recipient. There are few locals who don’t know him by name and Arch says he has racked up over 7000 auctions.
Growing up in Abbotsford created a lifetime fixation on the inner-north, where he continues to trumpet the Wow Factor of grand terraces right through to fixer-uppers for the hordes of hungry buyers anxious to secure a little piece of our most eminent neighbourhood.
In 2002, however, he defected, buying a house on the other side of the river in what the rest of us call Kew, but which Arch calls “East Abbotsford” – it suggests, at least to this writer, a certain nostalgia for the old times of living in the heartland.
“It's Kew, but it's the part of Kew where people who don't want to live in Kew go to. Quite literally, I've got a footbridge at the end of my street and once I cross it, I’m in Abbotsford, Richmond, where Victoria Gardens is. So, I'm still very near to the inner north.”
Near. But not quite. As any real estate professional knows, a few metres can make the difference.
While his residency in what many consider the world’s least interesting suburb may be unexpected, his energy in spruiking the charms of property in the inner north is not. Arch is an indefatigable, effervescent champion of the area. He began working in property in the early 1980s.
“I started with all the mundane duties including making coffee and emptying the ashtrays of the estate agents. I got into sales in about 1986… My first sale was a property in Nicholson Street North Carlton, which I sold for a princely sum of $48,000”.
“I admired period architecture, I loved walking through the inner city streets and just looking at the variations of the streetscapes.”
“I quickly learned that it's an extraordinary privilege to be invited into somebody's home, for those people to share their story about their home with you.”
“Of course, people don't hire you because they need a friend, they hire you because they need an expert. But they want one that has the appropriate sensitivity around how to handle the transaction.”
Pressed on what he misses about the old ‘hood, Arch admits he yearns for North Fitzroy’s “sense of community”, lamenting that “once you move out, particularly to the eastern suburbs or some of the southeastern suburbs...the blocks are bigger and everyone’s got a garage, they drive their car into their garage and come straight into their house and never see their neighbours”.
This spirit of “connectivity” that comes with high density living means “you encounter your neighbours, and that might start in a conversation which may then lead to a dinner arrangement”.
“I think a suburb like Fitzroy North, what's so wonderful about it is that it has that intimacy but you don't feel closed in.”
“With the exception of along Queens Parade with the proposed very large development, it's really missed the wrath of developers who have built some very, very high-density apartment blocks in neighbouring parts of Fitzroy and certainly in Collingwood. What I like about Fitzroy North is it has less cranes hovering over it than other inner-city suburbs.” The Piedimonte’s development, of course, threatens to compromise this.
In a post-Covid world, that connection to neighbours, local stores and parks is especially important; the forging of new relationships with your own neighbourhood. That new appreciation has inevitably driven up house prices.
"It's an extraordinary privilege to be invited into somebody's home, for those people to share their story about their home with you.”
So what about the great divide of Alexander Parade, that once upon a time signalled the end of hipster life and the start of middle-age but which now marks the boundary to one of the world’s greatest bakery headquarters (Ovens, Loafer, Dench, Natural Tucker)? Which side of the Parade is more desirable to current buyers?
Arch says it depends where you are: “Fitzroy, not unlike North Fitzroy, behaves differently in certain pockets.”
Arch is at a loss to think of anything that North Fitzroy lacks, deeming it “one of those flawless suburbs”.
“My biggest criticism is affordability. It's getting harder and harder for people to buy in the precinct, and that is an area of concern.”
So what makes a good agent?
“Ultimately trust is the very foundation of what you should be looking for in an estate agent and being a good listener is really, really important.”
Anyone who has seen Arch wield a hammer in front a crowd of cashed up punters will appreciate that the auction is all about theatre.
“I sometimes might get carried away at an auction and that's sometimes for entertainment value, but it's always steered towards trying to keep the crowd engaged, the bidders engaged.”
So after so many years at it, and over 7000 auctions and counting, is the experience still nerve-wracking?
“I always get a nervous feeling at the base of my belly just before I start an auction. I think that the day I no longer feel that means I probably don't care as much, which means I shouldn't be doing what I'm doing.”