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Here in the UK, the vast majority of property is bought using the traditional process of viewings with an estate agent, making an offer and then going through the conveyancing procedure with a solicitor. 

However, around 1.3% of all property sold in the UK is done so through auction. * But how does this process differ from regular residential conveyancing? One of our conveyancing solicitors explains the basics here.

How to Buy a House at Auction

Buying at auction can provide buyers with the opportunity to grab a potential bargain. However, for the uninitiated the process can be hazardous. Therefore, it is important to understand the auction process, including the potential additional costs and pitfalls that may await the unwary. 

Read the Legal Pack and Arrange a Survey 

With a traditional conveyancing transaction, once an offer has been accepted there is still no legal obligation to complete the purchase until contracts have been exchanged. 

However, when you attend an auction, your obligations to a seller are somewhat different. Prior to attending the auction we would always advise that you request a copy of the legal pack from the auctioneer or solicitor acting for the Seller. Such packs are generally available online at least two weeks before an auction and will include a plethora of information regarding a property.  

For example, a pack may include copies of the contract and transfer the seller’s solicitor intends using, a copy of the title documentation pertinent to that particular property, together with search results and replies to standard property enquiries. This information is usually sufficient to allow a solicitor to give you a summary of any significant issues that may be worthy of consideration.

By way of example, a legal pack may reveal that a property is subject to a restrictive covenant prohibiting development, which may mean you could not perhaps develop land or extend a dwelling house. Alternatively, there may be positive obligations, for example requiring you to maintain a septic tank shared by more than one property. 

There may also be hidden costs detailed within the legal pack, as auction contracts invariably pass on the costs incurred by a seller for the searches included within the auction pack (these may be between £200 and £400). 

Furthermore, certain auctioneers charge a ‘Buyer’s Premium’, which is a sum of money payable by a potential buyer to the auctioneer at the time any successful bid is accepted at the auction. This premium can be between £500 and £1,000. 

Where leasehold properties are involved, it is important to establish that there are no outstanding liabilities which could be transferable to you on completion, for example a liability to pay outstanding service charge arrears. 

For these reasons, we would recommend that you have a solicitor look at the legal pack before committing yourself at auction. 

Please also bear in mind that when you acquire a property at auction, you do so based on the condition of the property at that time. Therefore, should you have any concerns regarding its condition or structural integrity, or its suitability for conversion perhaps, it is  your responsibility to consider having a survey conducted prior to attending the auction and submitting an offer. You cannot withdraw after the auction due to a later adverse survey.

Ensure Finances Are in Place Before Attending 

If you are successful at the auction, you will immediately be required to deposit a cheque for 10% of the purchase price with the seller’s solicitor. If you intend on financing the purchase with a mortgage, it is imperative that you let a solicitor review the auction pack before committing yourself. 

Please remember, what is acceptable to you as a purchaser may not be acceptable to a mortgage lender or bank. Any solicitor you instruct will have a duty to inform a bank of any adverse title issue, prejudicial searches results or any other matters which may be considered detrimental to the bank’s security.

If you do purchase a property at auction, but are then unable to complete on the required completion date due to finance issues, then you may not only lose the opportunity to purchase the property, but most certainly your 10% deposit. Furthermore, there are legal avenues open to the seller to recover the cost of re-selling the property at a future auction from you. 

Therefore we would always recommend that you have the legal pack appraised by a solicitor before committing yourself at auction. Not only will this allow you to consider the legal issues affecting a property, but it may also have some bearing on your potential budget at the auction, as well as your ability to raise finance against the property.  

What if I am Successful? 

If you are the lucky bidder, you will then be required to sign the contract and commit yourself to the property. The auctioneer or solicitor acting for the seller will require you to provide them with a cheque for 10% of the purchase price and two forms of identification, such as your passport or photographic driving licence, as well as a bank statement or utility bill. 

Your solicitor’s details will be required so the seller’s solicitor can make contact the day after the auction. Given that you must complete within 28 days of the auction, it is imperative there are no delays in providing these details.

Need Help with Your Conveyancing? 

Whether you’re purchasing in the traditional manner or via auction, our friendly and knowledgeable residential conveyancing team are happy to help. Learn more about what we do here or get in touch on 0808 178 2773. 

*source: Bank of England, Residential property auction quarterly property 

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