PROPERTY / Tips for Would-be Bidders

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The Independent Culture
GETTING STARTED: Auction houses will send you their catalogues on request. These come out three to four weeks before each auction. The Incorporated Society of Valuers and Auctioneers (tel 071-235 2282) can put you in touch with auction houses specialising in residential properties.

You can attend an auction without bidding: do so at least once to get used to the procedure.

Auctions are fast and furious. Bidding for a property can be over in three minutes. Contracts are exchanged a mere 15 minutes later. A 10 per cent deposit is payable on the spot, followed by completion within three to four weeks. If you're the kind of person who likes to sleep on a big decision, auctions are probably not for you.

IF YOU SEE SOMETHING YOU LIKE: In the three to four weeks between spotting a property in a catalogue and the auction itself, you need to arrange: a viewing; finance; a survey and conveyancing. 'Both your building society and solicitor have to be prepared to move fast,' said Melissa Biro.

Lots are sometimes withdrawn just before auction. Ring the day before to check that yours is still in and that the contract details have not changed.

BIDDING: The nearest thing to gazumping in the auction world is pre-bidding. Vendors may accept a bid before the auction takes place if they don't think they will get any more on the day. You could try putting one in yourself to pre-empt this; though of course there is no guarantee that your pre-bid would be the highest or accepted. The gamble is that you might end up paying more this way than if you had waited until the auction itself.

If you can't attend, you can submit a written bid.

If the property you want fails to reach its reserve price and remains unsold, leave your highest bid and details of where you can be contacted. Vendors often accept the bid that came closest to the reserve price after an auction is over. Never bid over your intended ceiling. 'As I was bidding, I got the feeling it would be very easy to be driven over the top by the momentum. Luckily, it didn't come to that,' said Melissa Biro.

Don't worry about scratching your nose or running your fingers through your hair. It is an unfounded cliche that auctioneers misinterpret these movements as covert signals. A bid made in error is no disaster, anyway. At Barnard Marcus's pre-Christmas auction, a bid was mistakenly made and instantly recalled without disturbing the flow of the bidding.

COSTS: Mortgage and valuation fees plus survey and legal fees could total up to pounds 500 before the auction starts. This can be particularly galling if you are outbid.

Private vendors sometimes pay for their own surveys and make them available to anyone thinking of bidding, to make their lot more attractive. The successful bidder then reimburses the vendor for the survey. Unfortunately, most sellers at auction aren't private sellers.