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House Auctions in the UK explained for non-residents and foreigners

An overview of house, land and commercial property auctions in the UK with explanations on how auctions work and key terminology you will need to know and understand.

Written on 31 August 2023

Over the years, house auctions have primarily been for people residing in the UK due to their offline nature. While they have increased in popularity due to the speed of transactions and possibility of securing a bargain, until recently they have remained a traditionally offline process.

As a result of Covid forcing house auctions to adapt and deliver through online platforms, the technological advances have opened up house and property auctions for people not living in the UK.

UK house auctions provide a great opportunity for people to buy UK properties quickly and potentially, owing to this fast Completion schedule, at better price than open market values. As with any purchase, always do your research and due diligence here though.

This article provides guidance around house auctions in the UK, including the general process and legal requirements faced.

How does a house auction different from the open market?

With a normal open market transaction (e.g. through an estate agent), neither the buyer nor seller is committed to the sale until written contracts are exchanged. So there is a period following the acceptance of the buyer’s offer when investigations will be made as to the seller’s title and making various searches and enquiries about the property. Only when all this has been done, and the buyers are willing and able (in funds) to purchase, will contracts be exchanged and both parties committed to completing the transaction at some indeterminate point in the future.

With an auction however, the fall of the auctioneer’s hammer signifies the legal acceptance of the offer to purchase the property. If it is you who has made the last bid, this therefore means that you have entered into a legally binding agreement that carries the same legal implications as formal exchange of signed contracts within a normal open market sale and purchase transaction.

You are then legally required to complete the purchase, usually within 20 working days of the date of the auction (although sometimes the completion date differs, and this will be set out in the Special Conditions). If you fail to do so, your deposit is at risk.

Equally, for anyone wishing to sell their house quickly, the speed and legally binding nature of an auction transaction also makes the process appealing. Whereas a standard property sale can often take months, with some deals falling through at the last minute, an auction allows for a swift and decisive transaction. However again it is critical to note that, once the hammer falls, the property is sold for the final bid price, there is no pulling out or opportunity for further negotiation.

Our partners, Auction Conveyancing, have created a breakdown of the legal process to buy and sell a property at auction:

What is in an Auction Legal Pack?

A Legal Pack is the documentation that provides potential buyers with information on the legal standing of the asset and Special Conditions of the transaction. It is usually prepared by the seller’s lawyers or solicitors but is occasionally by the seller themselves.

An auction Legal Pack normally includes:

  • Official Copy of Register of Title (Office Copy Entry) - in a nutshell, who has owned it and now owns it. Sometimes including the existence of a compulsory purchase order.
  • Land Registry and Local Searches - Any outstanding statutory notices, planning decisions, breaches of planning or building regulations and highways, proposals for new road rail schemes.
  • Special Conditions of Sale – Legal information outside the Standard Auction Terms and Conditions pertaining to that particular Lot (very important, please see below).
  • Property Information Form – Important information provided by the sellers to the buyers, including boundaries, planning and works to the property, guarantees and neighbour disputes.
  • Fixtures and Fittings Form – what is going to be left behind when the seller vacates makes it completely clear on what is and isn't included in the sale. Or indeed what the buyer may have to pay extra for.
  • There may also be other documentation pertaining to the asset, e.g. Lease Agreement, Tenancy Agreement, Planning Permission Documentation & Management Information Pack.

The Packs are available to download and a hard copy will usually be available in the auction room too. Prior to the auction, it is also worth checking if there has been an Addendum, which is information that may have changed to the Lot/Pack since the time of original distribution.

What to look out for in the Auction Special Conditions of Sale

The auction Special Conditions of Sale detail those conditions that are supplementary to the standard auction Terms and Conditions for that particular Lot. These include the decisive Completion schedule or date, specific clauses or costs you may incur upon Completion, e.g. vendor’s legal costs, or during the course of your ownership, e.g. overage rights.

Two key considerations for potential auction buyers when reviewing the Special Conditions of Sale should be:

  1. When is the Completion date?
    1. Can I meet the schedule?
    2. Can my solicitor/lawyer work to the schedule?
    3. Will my finance be in place in time?
    4. Does it work to work to my advantage or disadvantage?
  2. Are there any extra costs or charges?
    1. Now and in the future?
    2. Are these included in my overall calculations?
    3. Will it impact on future value or saleability?

Auction Special Conditions used to be somewhat dressed up with unnecessary complex ‘legal terminology’ but these days most Special Conditions are drawn up clearly to help potential buyers understand what they are buying.

When to speak to an auction specialist conveyancing solicitor

Any UK property purchase requires both buyer and seller to work with a conveyancing solicitor and auctions are no different.

However, not all conveyancing firms are specialists when it comes to buying or selling properties at auctions due to the rather unique situation and short timelines.

Before making any decision about buying or selling a property through a property auction, you should speak to a trusted specialist who will be able to explain any terminology, key elements to look out for and ultimately completing your purchase or sale.

Our free introduction service will connect you to one of our trusted partners who will have extensive experience and expertise assisting people with UK property auctions.

As part of our service, they will offer you a free, introductory consultation to answer any general questions you have and provide more information about their services and skills. Once you consultation is complete, if you need further assistance, our partner will provide you with a no obligation proposal which will detail any services and fees.

Request your free introduction to one of our trusted partners >