How Do Real Estate Auctions Work?

Real estate auctions occasionally include the sale of the owner's personal possessions.

Real estate auctions occasionally include the sale of the owner's personal possessions.

Real estate auctions provide one way to bring a number of buyers together at one time to bid for your property. Government agencies also auction properties taken for delinquent taxes, and offer a place to buy houses and land. Understanding the basic listing and bidding procedures helps you sell your home or come out as top bidder for an auction.

Auction Offerings

Sellers list properties with licensed auction firms rather than using traditional real-estate market listings for a variety of reasons. Foreclosure auctions force the owner to sell in order to pay past-due mortgages. State or county tax auctions offer government-confiscated properties. The proceeds from these auctions pay any taxes owed, with the remaining cash returned to the homeowner. Sellers contact an auction company directly, and sign the auction sales agreement, typically to avoid buyer negotiations. Some sellers hope the auction process increases the final sales price when bidders compete for the property. Most sellers set a minimum price for the sale, called a bid reserve. Some auctions, however, offer the house as an absolute auction, without any minimum sales price.

Buyer Registration

Buyers register to bid prior to the day of the auction at some sales. Auction companies occasionally require all potential bidders to deposit cash to participate in property auctions of high-priced properties. Auction firms also sometimes require buyers to bring loan-qualification or bank-guarantee letters.

Pre-Auction

The auction house handles the advertising and places a sign on the property announcing the sale date. Auction firms generally allow potential bidders time to inspect the property for damages or problems. These inspections, done by the bidder or the bidder's professional contractors, take place at open houses or by appointment with the auction company. The bidder hires and pays for all inspectors. Some auction companies and government foreclosure auctions offer homes "as-is" and refuse any advance inspections. Prior to the auction day, bidders arrange for financing or arrange for cash payments.

Auction Day

Buyers arrive at the auction and register to bid, when preregistration isn't required. Auctions typically take place at the sale house or at the county courthouse, in the case of foreclosure auctions. Bidders receive bidding numbers or numbered paddles to indicate an offer during the formal bidding process.

Post-Auction

The winning bidder signs the purchase agreement for the property. Buyers typically pay a sales commission above the purchase price to the auction firm. The amount matches the real estate commission in some states (a percentage of the final sales price), but other firms set a flat commission fee. Foreclosure auctions typically require the buyer to pay immediately, often in cash, or set a limited number of hours after the auction for payment. Some auction houses allow a period for loan processing. The sellers sign the property deed after the winning bidder completes the financing or makes cash payment for the property. Lender foreclosure auctions require court approval before the property transfers to the buyer.

About the Author

*I have written chapters and articles for Oxford and Harvard University Presses, ABC-CLIO, and others. Arcadia Press published two of my local history texts and I have also written for numerous "article sites," including Pagewise in 2002. My "How to become a...real estate agent" is available as an online text from a Canadian publisher. *I taught writing courses at a branch campus of Indiana University. *I held a California real estate license and have remodeled four of my own homes and advised others on financing homes, repairing credit to qualify for loans, and managing construction (including meeting local, state, and federal regulations for restoration and development grants). *I served as an AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteer and wrote nearly $75,000 in small education grants (under $1,000). *My travels include frequent road trips in Canada, Mexico, U.S., and Europe. I attended school at Cambridge University and used this as a base to explore the UK and Europe.

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