The auctioneer billed it as a slice of New Zealand history.

But when the curious crowds and television cameras melted away, the bidding war for Sir Ed's house looked like little more than a business deal.

Since it went on sale three weeks ago, more than 1000 people have viewed the Remuera home of Sir Edmund Hillary.

When it was time for bidding, just a handful of people raised their hands - all of them agents for would-be buyers who did not come to the auction.

After several stops and starts, the home Sir Ed shared with his family for more than 50 years sold to a mystery buyer for $1.9 million.

Real estate agent David Rainbow said he thought the 1773sq m property on Remuera Rd's "golden mile" might have sold for more.

The property had a rateable value of $1.93 million but he said interested buyers had had their own valuations made of the three bedroom home with large living areas, an open fire and the office where Sir Ed worked and was often photographed.

The main financial drawcard was likely to have been the land, a large sloping section in an exclusive area adjacent to prestigious King's primary school.

All that was known about the buyer last night was that they purchased the property through an agent - Graham Wall - and paid the deposit with a cheque from a solicitor's trust account.

A spokesman for Auckland Mayor John Banks said talk of buying the house as a heritage museum had not come to anything.

Sir Edmund's sister June Carlile, who watched the bidding with another relative, recalled her brother taking cuttings from her garden for his beautifully landscaped section. "We came along to remember old times," she said.

His daughter Sarah Hillary said when the house went on sale that the family was sad to see it go, but there were many beneficiaries to her father's will and it had to be sold.

The fitful but competitive bidding started just after 2pm yesterday, stalling at $1.5 million, when auctioneer Hayden Duncan conferred with family representatives who instructed him not to sell at that price.

After his successful $1.9 million bid, Mr Wall said he would love to be able to share the identity of the buyer, but his job was just to buy the house.

Asked if the the buyers knew the house's history, he said he imagined they did.