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Buying at auctions – expert tips to come out on top

Auction tips for buyers come direct from the experts, to help you bid smartly, check your emotions at the door and buy the property of your dreams.

Buying a home at auction can be a pretty stressful time. The money stakes are high and most people are well out of their comfort zone. But there's no reason to dive into an auction feeling out of your depth.

We spoke to property experts Chris Gray (Your Empire buyer's agent) and Adam Vernon (Vernon Partners) to get the real insider advice.

Chris Gray and Adam Vernon

1. Be prepared

Before you arrive at auction, make sure you have home loan pre-approval. This puts you in a better position to bid, as you'll already know your limit.

You also want to make sure you've completed any building and pest inspections, because when you bid at auction, the sale is final. There are no opportunities to do these inspections afterwards, and you don't want to get slugged with a nasty surprise (termites! Rot! Structural issues!) after the fact.

2. Visit other auctions before you bid

"Go and see 10, go and see 100 auctions," advises Chris Gray.

"See the language the people are using, and go and talk to buyer's agents, real estate agents or auctioneers."

3. Ask the selling agent for comparable sales

A selling agent should provide evidence as to why a property should sell at the asking price. "They can definitely help by providing you with past sales within a block or in a street. That's probably the best way in which they can help you," says Adam Vernon.

"The selling agent will try and help a buyer," says Vernon.

For buyers who are keen to increase the value of their investment through home renovations at some stage in the future, making enquiries before purchasing a target property is ideal.

"Ask the agents, 'Has anyone renovated in the block?' That will give you an idea of what you can and can't do, from a strata perspective. Sometimes, that agent might get you to go and see property that's been renovated. Then straight away, you can see what you can achieve if you just spent $20,000 on the apartment you're thinking of buying," says Vernon.

4. Don't give too much away

Don't share specifics with the selling agent or be drawn on the amount you're willing to pay. This doesn't mean you should be vague or too tight-lipped; you want to communicate that you're a serious buyer and you're ready to take action. Just don't show all of your hands, or you risk giving the other side too much information, which they can use to their advantage during negotiations.

5. Bid early, start low

If you bid early and low, you're far more in control of the situation than if you jump in late. By the time the property goes on the market and the serious bidding begins, nerves should settle slightly.

"The truth is if the market's there, it's going to find its value anyway. Start low and go slow," says Vernon.

6. Go slow

It's not a race. Drawing the process out allows time to put pressure on the seller to adjust the reserve price downwards. If they really want to sell their property, they will have to accept a fair market price for it.

Set yourself an upper price limit loosely based on a property valuer's valuation range.

7. Be confident

Call out your bids loudly and with confidence. State your bids in the whole dollar amount rather than the increments the auctioneer is calling out. In other words, say "$505,000" not "$5,000".

8. Set yourself a firm limit

It's not a good idea to bid more than your budget. Your absolute limit should be what the bank is willing to lend you plus your saved deposit. Getting pre-approval is probably a good idea before heading into auctions. Decide on a price ceiling for the property itself as well. Remember that there are some cashed-up buyers not concerned about your beliefs of what is a fair market price for a property.

9. Consider using a buyer's agent

A professional buyer's agent can help you navigate the complexities of an auction and even bid on your behalf. Learn more about buyer's agents here.

10. Remember - there will always be other properties

Even if you fall in love and believe you've found the ideal home of your dreams, remember: there will be other properties. Don't over-commit to a mortgage you can't afford, because you're emotionally attached and have your heart set on this particular home. Once you set your buying limit, don't go over it, no matter what.

What happens after the auction?

If you've won at auction, you'll need to pay your deposit. This will usually be at least 10% of the purchase price. This is why it's important to be ready with a form of payment when you attend auction.

There are a couple of ways you can pay:

Bank cheque or personal cheque: You will need to order a bank cheque in advance. Have the cheque made out for an amount that's 10% of your budget. If you end up winning at auction at a price lower than your limit, the deposit will be larger than 10%, but this just means a smaller home loan debt.

Bank transfer: You should be able to pay by bank transfer, but it can depend on the vendor and who you bank with. Banks usually have limits on the amount you can transfer each day. Although you can often increase those limits by speaking to your bank, some limits may still not cover the full cost. You may be able to discuss with the auctioneer whether you can pay over a couple of days. Note that it is a lot of money to transfer to the wrong place, so be aware of where you're sending the money.

DEFT Auction Pay: Created by Macquarie Bank, DEFT Auction Pay is an electronic funds transfer which allows the large transactions expected with a deposit, even without requesting a larger transfer limit. Confirmation emails are also sent when the funds have been transferred for peace of mind.

You'll also need to sign your contracts. Remember, until the contract has been signed the seller is under no legal obligation to follow through on the sale.

Last: be sure it's the property you truly want

There's no cooling off period when you buy at auction, so if you win the auction, you are obliged to purchase the property off the vendor.

You'd want to ensure that you have completed pest and building inspections before the auction if you intend to buy. And you can't make the contract subject to conditions, it's as it is at the day of sale. So be sure you have home loan pre approval before bidding at an auction.

Auction advice from former The Block auctioneer, Damien Cooley

Richard Whitten's headshot

Richard Whitten is a money editor at Finder, and has been covering home loans, property and personal finance for 6+ years. He has written for Yahoo Finance, Money Magazine and Homely; and has appeared on various radio shows nationwide. He holds a Certificate IV in mortgage broking and finance (RG 206), a Tier 1 Generic Knowledge certification and a Tier 2 General Advice Deposit Products (RG 146) certification. See full bio

Richard's expertise
Richard has written 526 Finder guides across topics including:
  • Home loans
  • Property
  • Personal finance
  • Money-saving tips

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6 Responses

    Default Gravatar
    rogerNovember 5, 2014

    We won an auction conducted by a real estate firm to purchase a house. However we refused to sign the contract and were threatened for breech of contract when we never sign anything at all. Can we forget the whole thing or are there repercussions. Our objection was that we didn’t think the auction was fair as the real estate agent who was selling the house was bidding on our behalf asd he thought he had an understanding that he could represent us

      ElizabethNovember 6, 2014Finder

      Hi Roger,

      Thanks for your question.

      You may want to get legal advice on this matter, but if you haven’t signed a contract then you really can’t breach anything. You might also want to take a look at cooling-off periods for more information, which may apply, and understanding property contracts.



      Default Gravatar
      rogerNovember 6, 2014

      Regarding not signing the contract after winning the auction to buy a house I found out that because it was an auction there is no cooling off period. The agent demanded that we sign the contract and we refused. That is when he said that under NSW law the auctioneer can sign on our behalf even though we refused to sign. We just walked away but I expect to hear more from him. We maintain the auction was unfair and we were pressured into buying with the estate agent selling the house actually bidding on our behalf as he said he thought we had given him authority to do so

      ElizabethNovember 6, 2014Finder

      Hi Roger,

      Thanks for clarifying that. As I mentioned, seeking legal advice may be the best course of action in this scenario especially if the agent is citing NSW law as a reason to hold you to the contract.



    Default Gravatar
    AngieApril 2, 2014

    Which bank has the cheapest interest rate?
    Thank you

      MarcApril 2, 2014Finder

      Hi Angie,

      Thanks for the question.

      There is an article that carries out a comparison of home loans which you can order by interest rate. Simply sort the table out on that page to show the lower interest rates first, to give you an idea of what rates are available.

      I hope this helps,

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