Hammer out a mortgage before the bidding starts: Ready buyers can find value at property auction, says Mary Wilson

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THERE are two ways of buying a house: through estate agents or in an auction.

The attraction of buying through auction is that you can get the house you want at a much better price. The disadvantage is that you don't have long to make a decision or to raise the finance.

Brochures are put out two weeks before an auction date, and to bid, you must have the deposit to hand as well as an offer of a mortgage. Very few lenders can meet such a tight deadline.

Suzie Bridges, an architect, has just bought her first flat through auction. She had been searching for a suitable property in Pimlico, south-west London, for some time but could not afford the flats offered by estate agents. So she started looking at auctions.

'Eventually I found a one-bedroom basement flat with a guide price which seemed right,' she said. I went to look at it and liked it.

'I had had a mortgage offer from Abbey National on another flat which I didn't buy. They told me they might be able to get the offer through, but couldn't guarantee it.

'That was no good to me - so I approached Andrew Wooldridge, who specialises in providing finance extremely quickly. His card was with the auction brochure.

'I saw the property on the Monday, went to see Andrew on Tuesday and by Friday he had got me a mortgage offer. The auction was the next Tuesday and I bought the flat for pounds 63,000. The guide price was pounds 60,000, but when Andrew had it valued, they reckoned it was worth pounds 79,000 in the open market. Andrew's fee was pounds 75.'

Mr Wooldridge also works as a financial adviser for Edwin Evans, the auctioneer, and three years ago he set up his independent company when he saw a gap in the market for auction finance.

'I can turn around a mortgage offer within five working days because I have good contacts and know both the property and financial market,' he says. 'I can push and push to get valuations and offers through at speed.

'I would say that most mortgage lenders are at best dilatory. Clients usually come to see me after they have approached a lender which cannot get an offer to them in time.

'After ascertaining that the client is creditworthy and the property is 'clean', I make enquiries as to whether the guide price is correct, fill in the mortgage application form, and deal with the references, searches and valuation.

'I see my job as offering a safety net, so that purchasers know they will not lose their deposit just because the finance fell through.'

The view from the auction houses is that a purchaser should be able to galvanise a building society into action himself. Ben Watchworth, senior auction assistant of Stickley & Kent, says: 'Building societies are invariably very lazy. But it is up to the purchaser to keep on at them. The societies can move fast if they have to.'

Jeffrey Selwyn, of Allsop & Co, agrees: 'The problem of getting finance is usually due to the inefficiency of the customer. They need to go into their building society and say, 'I'm here, this is what I want, fax a valuer now and tell them they have to get the valuation back within three days'.

'Then it is up to the customer to get a bank reference sent in and to sit on everybody.

'If you really want to buy a property at auction - which is good value, especially if you are prepared to renovate it yourself - then you have to work hard for it.'

Among the properties at Edwin Evans' last auction were two small flats in Camberwell, south London, with a guide price of pounds 27,000; these could be worth pounds 40,000 plus on the open market. Its next auction will be held at the Inn on the Park on 20 October.

Wolfruna Wooldridge, 253 Lavender Hill, London SW11 1JW. Tel: 071-924 3500.

(Photograph omitted)