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  • How to succeed in the auction room: After the most buoyant quarter of house sales since records began, a sense of realism is setting inD...read more


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How to succeed in the auction room

After the most buoyant quarter of house sales since records began, a sense of realism is setting in

Despite reports of a property market slowdown, the path to homeownership remains blocked for many by high prices and restrictions on lending. Increasing numbers of buyers are turning to auctions in the hope of finding a home priced to sell. So what will you find if you explore this option?

How’s the market? 
Essential Information Group (EIG), which tracks the results of UK property auctions, says that last month there was a 14.3 per cent year-on-year rise in the market with £2.9 billion spent on residential property. Total auction sales in the third quarter were at their highest number since records began in 1991. Despite this surge, however, the consensus among auctioneers is that prices are adjusting to a more realistic level.

David Sandeman, the managing director of EIG, says that while the rooms are as busy as ever there has been a change in sentiment over the past few months with regard to what things are worth. “The market was frenetic until May,” he says. “There was a lot of heat before that and people were chasing anything they could get. In today’s climate, if a vendor is overly optimistic, he will find that he still owns his property at the end of the auction.”

Christopher Coleman-Smith, the head of auctions at Savills, has also detected a more restrained market compared with the first five months of the year. “Things changed at the end of May,” he says. “There are buyers out there but they’re being more pragmatic in what they’re prepared to pay for a property. I think agents are still a little bit behind where the real market is. There’s a really good auction market there at the right price — it’s not like the feeding frenzy there was at the beginning of the year. There’s a bit of realism now.”

What about lending curbs? 
The restrictions of the Mortgage Market Review (MMR) came into effect at the end of April and they appear to have had an impact on auctions, which can give a barometer of sentiment more quickly than other indices. Sandeman says: “When the tightening of MMR came in, it meant that every hand didn’t shoot up as soon as the auctioneer started speaking. A sense of realism has come back to the market in that there is a ceiling on what something is worth.”

Despite this cooling effect, the new rules don’t appear to have caused problems for those buying at auction with a mortgage. Samantha Collett, the author of How to Buy Property at Auction, says: “I bought a property in July and I was a little worried about the effect of MMR and the reported shortage of surveyors, but I didn’t have any problems at all. I had a valuation within 48 hours and received my mortgage offer within ten days.”

The curbs on lending may have had less of an impact because the majority of people buying at auction are buying for investment purposes, using buy-to-let mortgages or bridging loans for quick turnaround refurbishments, neither of which fall under the new rules. Now buyers looking for a place to live are also turning to other forms of lending. Mark Harris, chief executive of mortgage broker SPF Private Clients, says: “For those buying a property to live in, we have seen an increase in bridging finance due to constraints on mainstream funding. This may partly be down to MMR but also the tightening of lending criteria for both residential and buy-to-let mortgages.”

One tangible effect that auctioneers are reporting is a reduction in the appetite of lenders to offer mortgages on “fixer-upper” properties. Will Kerton, who runs Knight Frank’s auctions, says: “If you’ve got a run-down property with no services, the high-street lenders are less keen than they were to offer finance.”

What else is new? 
Guide prices advertised by auctioneers are usually exceeded by thousands of pounds, and having received a complaint about the matter, the Advertising Standards Authority took action in July. It found that the prices stated were misleading because in most cases properties could not be purchased at the lowest figure stated. As a result, auctioneers have been told to make sure that guide prices are explained in their literature as being within 10 per cent of the minimum acceptable sale price. This may seem to offer greater clarity for buyers, but the figure can still be changed at any time before the sale so it will not necessarily reflect the final reserve.

“If there’s been a huge amount of interest, the auctioneer will raise the reserve the day before the auction — or even the morning that it takes place,” Sandeman says. “A guide price is only an indication of where the reserve is set at a point in time, not what it will be on the day. If you want to see what a property is likely to sell for, you’ll need to have a look at what similar properties have raised at auction.”