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Buying a Property at Auction

There are a number of things to consider if you are looking to purchase a property at auction, and if you haven’t done so before, it can be difficult to know where to start. We have put together a guide with things to consider before auction, right through to what to expect on the day.

Finding Auctions

If it is an auction property you are after, the first thing you will need to do is find an auction.

The local phone directory may have a few entries for auction houses, however, you may often find that the directory contains auctions for art or furniture.

Another method of finding auctions is to take note of any “For Sale” signs that mention the sale will be by “Auction”. Following this you should:

  • Phone the number on the sign - it’ll either be an Estate Agent or the auctioneers themselves.
  • If it’s an Estate Agent, ask them who the auctioneers are so you can make contact with them. Ask the auctioneers to put you on their mailing list (there is often a charge for this)

Tip: it is worth bearing in mind that areas covered by auction houses are not necessarily local to them. For example, an auction house in Northern Ireland may well be selling a property in London.

When searching for a property at auction, time is of the essence. On average you will have 3-4 weeks from the catelogue release until the auction day, so it is vital that you find out what properties will be available at auction as soon as possible.

To get a head start with the competition, you need to be in contact with the auctioneers to ensure you have access to a catalogue as soon as it is released.

Preparing For Auction

The main attraction to purchasing properties at auction is the shortened timescales to completion. At auction, the process is condensed to a matter of minutes rather than a few months.

Once the hammer falls and your offer is accepted, you are contractually committed to purchase the property, with a fixed completion date. 

Sometimes, it may be possible to bring the date forward, if the seller agrees.

Tip: if you’re new to auctions, sit in on one first before you join in.

In the lead up to auction day, there are a number of things you should carefully consider, including:

  • Contact the relevant auction house to request their catalogue: Most auction houses hold regular auction sales with a catalogue printed some weeks in advance. You can also subscribe to catalogue mailing lists.
  • Thoroughly review the catalogue and identify any properties you are interested in. 
  • Check whether there is a buyers premium: This is payable by the buyer in addition to the purchase price. It is a fee payable towards the agents costs and can be 1-3% plus vat (You may need to reduce your proposed maximum bid if this is the case).
  • Arrange viewings: of any properties you are interested in, details of which will be found in the catalogue. Research the property thoroughly and ask local Estate Agents and neighbours for their opinions.
  • Read the conditions of sale: Each lot is sold subject to conditions of sale. These are in two parts (i) the General Conditions which are printed in the auctioneer’s catalogue and (ii) the Special Conditions which apply separately to each lot.
  • Instruct a solicitor: It is advisable that you instruct a solicitor to view the auction pack. They will report on any matters that could impact the future saleability of the property.
  • Carefully read the conditions printed in the catalogue: Always get legal or professional advice from a solicitor and, in appropriate cases, a chartered surveyor. Note it is normal practice for the buyer to pay the costs of the searches and the amount should be stated in the contract.
  • Consider having a full survey done: If you bid for a property, it is assumed that you have made all the necessary enquiries beforehand, having a survey done is a way to protect yourself from any potential financial loss.
  • Make financial arrangements: You need to ensure that you have a 10% deposit ready for payment on auction day. The remaining 90% balance will need to be paid within 28 days.
  • Plan ahead if you need mortgage assistance: It’s wise to arrange a mortgage in principle with a bank or building society before buying at auction. You could lose your 10% deposit if you fail to complete within the time given (normally within 20 working days).

Be aware that buying at auction is a binding commitment and carries the same legal implications as a signed contract by private treaty. In most cases, auction offices have copies of legal documentation provided by the seller’s solicitors which can be sent to you.

Auction Day

Tip: If you’re unable to attend the auction, you can make a bid by telephone or in writing. Contact the auction house for more information.

On the day of the auction, there are a number of things you need to remember, including:

  • Two forms of identification.
  • Cheque book and all of your banking details.
    On arrival, you may need to register with the auction house in order to bid prior to the start of the auction. Check with your auctioneer.
  • On arrival, get a copy of any addendum sheet. These are distributed around the auction room and contain late information or alterations. Don’t assume that all the properties included in the catalogue will be offered on the day of the auction. Some may be withdrawn or sold prior to the auction.

What to do when the auction begins: 

  • Take a seat or stand somewhere in the room where the auctioneer will able to see you bidding clearly.
  • When placing a bid, make sure you gesture clearly at the auctioneer. Either raise your hand or nod/ shake your head clearly. The auctioneer will warn the room when he is concluding a sale.
  • If a property fails to reach its reserve price, don’t give up! The vendor may decide to accept your bid later at the end of the auction. Make sure you leave your details with the auctioneer.
  • Don’t forget that the property becomes the buyer’s insurable risk as soon as the hammer falls (i.e you should place buildings insurance in force on the day of the auction as soon as possible). The conditions assume that the buyer has acted like a prudent buyer. If you choose to buy a lot without taking these normal precautions, you do so at your own risk.

Remember: If your bid is successful, you are legally bound to buy the property and will need to put a down payment deposit there and then of 10% of the property’s price. 

You would sign the contract (which you’ve seen beforehand) in the sale room. The seller is legally bound to complete on the day. You would pay them the rest of the price (ie 90% and payment of any buyer’s premium and searches) on the completion date stipulated in the contract, unless you agree to complete earlier.

If necessary, you could use a bridging loan to pay this off. These are short-term loans which are often used for auction purchases. Please contact an IFA to discuss this.

The Role of the Auctioneer

Tip: decide on your maximum bid in advance and be strict with it.

The auctioneer acts as an agent for each seller. They prepare the catalogue from information supplied by, or on behalf of each seller. The catalogue will usually include photographs of the properties, brief descriptions, and guide prices.

During the auction, their decision on the conduct of the auction is final; they can cancel the auction, withdraw lots from sale, or alter the order in which lots are offered for sale.

The auctioneer looks for bids around the room, and will take bids until there are no more and, depending on whether the reserve price (i.e the lowest price for which the property will be sold) has been met, will sell the property to the highest bidder. This sale is confirmed when the auctioneer’s gavel (hammer) falls on the highest bid. At this point the successful bidder is immediately under a binding contract.

The auctioneer can also choose to refuse a bid and they don’t have to explain why.

If there is a dispute over bidding, they are entitled to resolve it and their decision is final.

If the reserve price is not met, the auctioneer may choose to withdraw the lot and not sell it. However, they are still acting as agents for the seller and bidders can put in offers for the lot after the auction, which may or may not be accepted by the seller.

Likewise, acting as agents, the auctioneers can take offers placed by bidders before the day of auction to the seller and the seller may decide to sell before the auction.

Drawbacks to Buying at Auction

There are a few drawbacks to purchasing a property at auction which are important to consider before you go ahead:

  • You need to have gotten your valuation/survey, conveyancing, and mortgage/finance sorted beforehand.
  • You have to move fast.
  • There is greater uncertainty than buying a home the normal way - until the auctioneer’s hammer falls on the highest bid.  
  • After you have bid at auction, your solicitor cannot clarify any matters relating to the property. You should satisfy yourself on all points prior to the auction.
  • Some properties are at auction for a reason i.e. they cannot sell , either due to the property area, or structural issues.

Auction Buying Tips

  • Don’t buy a property before you’ve sold yours i.e. before the completion has happened - assuming you are relying on that sale to buy at the auction.
  • Don’t buy a property without having had a survey done. Not only will you limit the potential nightmare of building problems, but you’ll also have a basis on which to bid, as well as knowing your mortgage limit and how much of a deposit you’ll need.
  • Always set a price limit on the property so you don’t get carried away and exceed it.


Our Solicitors are able to provide expert advice across the country with a network of offices based in: Chesterfield, Nottingham, Mansfield and Derby.

How to get in contact

Our team are on hand to help you and can assist wherever you are based. Please call us for a no-obligation, initial discussion on 0330 333 2613 or email and we will call or email you back.


Andrew Yates

LLP Member and Head of Department

Andrew joined Elliot Mather LLP in 2000 as a Legal Executive and subsequently qualified as a Solicitor.  He has been an LLP Member since 2008 and is now head of the Residential Property Department.  

His vision, experience, knowledge and IT skills have been key to the development of the Residential Property Departments across the practice over the last 15 years.   Andrew has a wealth of experience of all types of property transactions and specialises in:-

  • Residential sales and services and purchases.
  • Rights to buy
  • Transfer of equity
  • Re-mortgage/bank security
  • Equity release
  • Deed of Easements
  • New Builds
  • Complex Legal Charges
  • Declaration of Trust
  • Property Developments
  • Complex Property Transactions.

Andrew has a friendly, no nonsense approach to work which is appreciated by clients, Estate Agents, Developers and his staff alike.




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