Seized homes keep the bargain hunters busy

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HUNDREDS of homes are now on offer at auction at knockdown prices, creating an opportunity for people prepared to buy them to rent out.

The sale of a four-bedroom house in Mayfair, London, last week for pounds 287,500 confirmed that even at auctions, the traditional haunt of the bargain hunter, prices are drifting ever lower.

Repossesions are becoming a bigger and bigger part of an auctioneer's catalogue, and this week 117 Halifax Building Society repossessions were sold in London.

The auctions are full of undesirable properties - homes that have been repossessed but have failed to sell through the estate agents.

Gary Murphy, a partner with the auctioneers Allsops, says: 'Most have been around for at least six months and a lot need work done on them.'

However, the days of the cheap- skate builder who bought a bargain basement at auction, papered over the cracks and sold for a quick profit have long gone.

The depressed property selling market has put the lid on any capital profit. Instead, the speculators are turning their eagle eyes to the rental market.

Potential owner-occupiers are having to compete at auction with a new breed of developer.

Graham Slyper, a spokesman for the auctioneers Strettons, says: 'The developers started to come back a few months ago. They are buying the properties, tidying them up and letting them out.

'They can get a reasonable income in the short term, and in the medium term they are looking at the market picking up. The majority of areas are still quite viable to buy for letting.'

Mr Murphy agrees that the rental market is 'very strong indeed' and a lot of people are buying to modernise and then let.

The rental market is buoyant because hundreds of potential homeowners are turning their back on homebuying. Even Mr Murphy, who spends his day trying to persuade people to purchase property at knockdown prices, goes home at night to his rented property.

However, it may pay a potential property speculator to hang on a bit longer if he or she is looking to pick up a bargain at auction.

Mr Murphy reckons that prices have not yet reached the bottom.

'Unlike the 1970s, when property prices crashed, we now have a very steady gruelling decline,' he says.

'The only thing that will restore confidence in the market is to restore confidence in the economy.'

He denies that the low prices of the repossessions are depressing the property market further.

'The repossessions have revived the market,' he claims. 'The property market is not dead by any means. Values are establishing themselves at new levels'.

(Photograph omitted)

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