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Property Auctions

Your guide to buying property at auction

Here’s a beginner’s guide to helping you buy property at auction. It explains the auction process and what you need to know before you start bidding, and what happens if you’re successful.

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To arrange a bridging loan, you’ll need to get approval before the auction. Many banks and building societies can’t help with property auction purchases due to the time constraints, so make sure your lender can.

Why buy at auction?

Lenders regularly sell repossessed properties at auction along with developers, investors and owner-occupiers looking for a quick sale. Sellers are attracted to property auctions as they offer a sale on a specific date. Plus, the buyer or vendor can’t change their mind once the hammer falls - the sale is contractually binding.

Where’s my nearest property auction?

Most property auction houses don’t advertise publicly as they are aimed primarily at professional buyers. Have a look online or ask your local estate agent about property auctions near you. Many of the larger London-based property auctioneers offer properties throughout the country, while regional property auctioneers generally offer properties locally. Often, rural or unusual properties are sold at a one-off or specialist auction through a local estate agent.

How often do they happen?

Property auctions usually take place three or four weeks after the property auction catalogue is issued. If you’re successful at the property auction, you usually have 28 days to complete the purchase, although this can sometimes be as little as 14 days. See the special conditions of sale section below.

Selecting your property

What type of property are you looking for - and how much do you want to spend? Is it for you to live in? Is it an investment property? Or one you want to develop? Then you need to identify suitable property auctioneers and property auction houses. Once you’ve found the right auctioneer selling the type of property you’re after, register and they’ll send you a catalogue of future property auctions.

Firstly, mark the Lots that interest you and make sure you understand how the property is being offered. For example, some Lots are offered with vacant possession, while others may have sitting tenants (people who already rent the property and who have certain legal rights), making them unsuitable if you’re buying a property you want to live in.

Many people have bought property at auction, not realising it was occupied by a sitting tenant with the right to occupy until they die.

Secondly, having marked off the properties that interest you, call the auctioneers during office hours to register your interest. This way, the auctioneer can contact you if the property’s withdrawn, or it’s sold before the auction. They’ll also let you know of any major changes to your Lot.

Property auction guide prices

Guide prices are quoted in the auction catalogue. As the name implies, these are for guidance only and give you an idea of the price the seller is looking for.

Property auction reserve prices

The seller sets a reserve price with the auctioneer immediately before the property auction. Buyers are not told what this is, and the property won’t be sold if bids don’t reach it. However, if your bid is close to the reserve price, the auctioneer will make this clear and suggest you ‘come and speak to us’. As long as bidding exceeds the reserve price, the Lot will be sold.

Viewing the property before auction

It’s essential you view properties that interest you before the auction. You’ll find viewing arrangements for each Lot in the property auction catalogue. If you have any questions, call the auctioneers. It’s normal for auctioneers to arrange group viewings on popular Lots, so there may be many people at the viewing.

Legal enquiries

The seller’s solicitors will provide copies of all the legal papers you and your solicitors will need to make an informed decision about a Lot. It will include, where appropriate, copies of Title Deeds, Leases, office copy entries, planning permissions and answers to standard enquiries. These legal packs are available from the auctioneer or the seller’s solicitor and usually at the property auction itself. Auctioneers will often charge around £10 to £20 for a legal pack.

Special conditions of sale

Each Lot is sold subject to the Notices and General Conditions of Sale printed in the property auction catalogue. The seller’s solicitor will also draft additional terms that apply to an individual Lot, known as Special Conditions. These aren’t always printed in the auction catalogue, but are available on request from the auctioneer or the seller’s solicitor. They’re part of the Contract of Sale and it’s very important you and your legal advisors know about all conditions before you bid at auction.

Getting a surveyor’s report before the auction

It’s always wise to get a surveyor’s report and, where appropriate, a full structural survey. This can be expensive if you’re interested in more than one Lot, or if you’re outbid at auction. However, a survey will spot problems you weren’t aware of, plus you’ll have a better idea of a property’s value.

Your surveyor may need to attend a group viewing. With tenanted properties, access isn’t always readily available, even after the auction. You’ll need to bear this in mind, as most long-term lenders require an internal inspection of the property.

Bidding before auction

You can make an offer for a property before the auction by contacting the auctioneer. It’s likely the seller will still go ahead with the auction, but there’s a chance you can agree a deal if your offer matches or beats the price the seller thinks they’ll get. If you agree to buy the property before auction, you’ll need to sign the Auction Contract before the auction starts. Your contractual obligations are the same as if you had successfully bid for the property at auction.

If you can’t attend the auction

If you can’t make the auction, you have three options:

  1. You can send a friend or a solicitor to bid for you. Write to the auctioneer about this, and give your representative a letter confirming they are bidding on your behalf.
  2. You can bid by phone by arrangement with the auctioneer. On the day, the auctioneer’s representative will relay other bids to you, and your bids to the auctioneer. If you’re bidding by phone, it’s normal to pay a 10% deposit to the auctioneer before the day of the auction. See ‘Deposit’ below.
  3. You can bid by proxy. To do this, you register your highest bid in writing with the auctioneer, with a 10% deposit of the figure quoted (usually subject to a minimum). A member of the auction staff will bid on your behalf and may buy the property for you for any figure up to the agreed bid limit.

Property auction deposit

When the hammer falls, a property auction deposit (10% of the sale price) is payable. If you’ve bought a fairly low value property, the auctioneer may require a minimum deposit - often as much as £2,000. You can pay with a banker’s draft or building society cheque. It’s unlikely the auctioneer will accept personal or company cheques unless you make arrangements at least 3 working days before the auction. Property auctioneers don’t accept cash.

If you’re not sure how much to get a draft for, go for 10% of your maximum bid price - bearing in mind the auctioneer’s minimum deposit - and take it to the auction. If you buy for less than your maximum, the difference is taken from your balance.

Bidding at auction

Bidding at auction is fairly straightforward if you’ve done your research and made all your enquiries before the auction begins. Set a maximum bid and stick to it - no matter what. If you have any doubts during the auction, or still have some unanswered questions, don’t bid.

Make sure you’re there at the start, so you can listen to the auctioneer’s opening remarks and follow the bidding in the early Lots. When the auctioneer announces your Lot, they’ll also tell you about any last-minute items you should know about. They’ll usually read the full address of the property, so double check this is the Lot you’re interested in. You bid by raising your hand or catalogue.

Make it clear you’re bidding, as it’s often quite difficult for the auctioneer to see who’s interested in a Lot if the room is busy. If you want to make a bid other than what the auctioneer calls, shout out your bid - the auctioneer will decide whether to accept it or not.

The property is sold to the highest bidder, as long as it achieves the reserve price. The auctioneer will warn they are about to sell the property by saying something like “Going once…” or “Going for the first time…” before the hammer goes down.

Successful bids

If you bid successfully, you’ve entered a contract with the seller. You’ll be given a bidding slip and asked to supply the name of the buyer and solicitor involved. You’ll then have to pay a deposit of 10% of the sale price, or the auctioneer’s minimum deposit, before the auctioneer’s clerk can prepare the contract.

You must sign the contract before leaving the auction room, and give a copy to your solicitor. The auctioneer will ensure the seller’s solicitor receives a copy of the contract. Completion usually takes 28 days, though sometimes special conditions require a faster completion.

Property insurance

As soon as you’ve exchanged contracts, you’re responsible for insuring the building, so make sure you arrange insurances immediately after the sale.

Unsold lots

If a Lot doesn’t reach its reserve price and you’re still interested in it, make sure you register your highest bid with the auctioneer before leaving the room. Or call the auctioneer after the auction to register your continued interest. The auctioneer will contact the seller and let you know if a deal is possible.