State-by-state guide to auction laws
If you’re buying or selling a house at auction, make sure you’re aware of the auction laws that apply in your state or territory.
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Regardless of whether you’re a buyer or a seller, an auction can be an incredibly exciting time. But it can also be a daunting and even confusing time as you try to wrap your head around all the ins and outs of the auction process and stop yourself getting too caught up in the emotion and excitement.
However, auction laws vary substantially from one state to the next. What’s common practice in one state might actually be illegal in another, so it’s vital that you familiarise yourself with the auction laws where you live before the home you want to buy or sell goes under the hammer.
Know the basics
Before we take a look at the conditions and restrictions that apply in your local area, it’s important to point out that there are some laws which apply Australia-wide:
- Auction sales are unconditional. In other words, you have no right to make the contract subject to any further conditions.
- There is no cooling-off period. This means that if you’re the highest bidder when the hammer goes down, you will be required to go through with the purchase.
- If the vendor makes a bid, this must be announced to other bidders.
- As soon as the bidding level passes the vendor’s reserve price, the property is on the market and will be sold when the hammer falls.
- If bidding doesn’t reach the vendor’s reserve price, the highest bidder has the first right to negotiate with the vendor.
- Contracts are signed and a deposit is paid immediately after the auction is completed.
However, after this, laws and requirements differ between states and territories. Let’s take a closer look at the conditions that apply where you live.
New South Wales
As of 1 January 2016, agents cannot use open-ended guides like “offers over” when listing a house for sale at auction. Instead, they must offer an estimated selling price or price range where the higher figure does not exceed the figure at the lower end of the range by more than 10%. The selling agent must also provide evidence to back up their estimated property value.
If you wish to bid at an auction in NSW, you’ll need to register with the vendor’s real estate agent and be given a bidder’s number. You can either pre-register in advance of the auction day, or register your desire to bid on the day itself. If you’re bidding on behalf of someone else, you will need to show the agent a letter of authority allowing you to do so. It’s also worth pointing out that you have the option to make a pre-auction offer if the vendor is willing to consider it before the home goes under the hammer.
Before the auction begins, the auctioneer must give each potential bidder a copy of the Bidder’s Guide. This features a range of important information, such as how you can register to bid and what sort of ID you will need to provide.
By law, agents must also clearly display a range of other auction conditions, including:
- The buyer is the highest bidder (subject to the reserve price being reached).
- The auctioneer is entitled to make one bid only on behalf of the seller.
- The auctioneer can refuse any bids that are not in the interest of the seller.
- The auctioneer has no authority to accept late bids.
If you’re selling your house at auction in Victoria, there’s no requirement for you to advertise a reserve price or tell the agent your lowest acceptable offer. An unlimited number of vendor bids are allowed at auctions, but this type of bid can only be made by the auctioneer and must be announced as a vendor bid whenever they occur.
If a Victorian seller accepts pre-auction offers, you can put in your offer through their agent before auction day. However, if that offer is accepted less than three business days before the scheduled start of the auction, you waive your right to a cooling-off period.
Unlike in NSW, buyers do not need to register to be allowed to bid on auction day – you can simply turn up at the appointed time and start bidding.
Finally, it’s also important to point out that while auctioneers require separate auctioneer licences in other states, this is not the case in Victoria.
Consumer Affairs Victoria
It’s illegal for real estate agents in Queensland to offer a price guide to buyers. Although a property may appear on a real estate listings website in a price-based search, the listing must include a disclaimer explaining that this does not represent a price guide.
Vendors do not have to set a reserve price for their property, but if they do not set a reserve price then the house will be sold to the highest bidder. If the vendor does set a reserve price, this must be put in writing before the auction.
Anyone who wishes to bid at an auction will need to register with the selling agent before the auction begins. You’ll need to show a suitable form of ID (such as a driver’s licence) and receive an identifying marker (such as a numbered card or baton) that you can use to indicate a bid.
Vendor bids are also allowed in Queensland and must be announced to all bidders, but can only be received up to the reserve price. Above the reserve price, vendor bids are termed “false bids” and are against the law.
Finally, if you negotiate a private treaty sale with the vendor within two days of an unsuccessful auction at which you were a registered bidder, no cooling-off period applies.
Auctions in South Australia must be conducted by a registered auctioneer and the vendor must set a reserve price in writing before auction day.
Anyone who wishes to bid must register their interest to do so before the auction begins. You’ll need to provide proof of ID and, if bidding on behalf of a third party, written confirmation that you are bidding with their consent.
All bidders must be provided with copies of the following three documents:
- The Bidder’s Guide. This includes details on registering as a bidder and other important information.
- The Collusive Practices Statement. This document provides information about unlawful collusive practices in relation to an auction.
- The Buyer’s Information Notice. This document provides advice on the property issues you should consider before deciding whether or not to bid.
Vendors are entitled to make up to three vendor bids throughout the auction, provided that these are below the reserve price. The auctioneer must also announce any vendor bids when they are made.
No cooling-off period applies to any sales negotiated on auction day, even if they occur while the home is not under the hammer.
Over in Western Australia, the vendor will usually put a reserve price in writing before the auction begins. At the start of an auction, the auctioneer will kick things off by announcing the property’s attributes and the conditions surrounding the sale of freehold property.
Unlike in some other states, there is no need for potential buyers to register as a bidder before the auction begins. Up to 10 vendor bids via the auctioneer are allowed throughout the course of the auction.
Western Australia Department of Commerce
If you want to bid at a real estate auction in Tasmania, you’ll need to register prior to the auction. You also have the option to make pre-auction offers through the selling agent if the vendor has agreed to accept these types of offers.
Finally, there is no limit on the number of vendor bids that can be made.
Tasmanian Government Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading
Real estate auctions in the Northern Territory must be carried out by a registered auctioneer. Buyers are encouraged to set a reserve price before auction day and also have the freedom to consider pre-auction offers made through an agent.
However, buyers should be aware that there is no cooling-off period on pre-auction offers in the Territory. There is also no limit on the number of vendor bids that can be made, but as usual these bids must be announced to all bidders.
Northern Territory Government
In the ACT, all potential buyers are required to register as bidders before an auction begins and obtain a bidder number. The agent will need your name, address and proof of ID before your registration can be accepted.
Just like in NSW, only one vendor bid is allowed.
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