How to Buy a Home at Auction

Going once… Going twice… Sold!

Here are a few pointers on buying a property at auction. Learn about the foreclosure auction process, how to get in on the foreclosure property opportunities down to taking ownership.

6 Steps to Buying a Home at Auction
Step 1: Find and file properties
Step 2: Confirm auction status
Step 3: Check potential bargain
Step 4: Determine bid amount
Step 5: Bid at the auction
Step 6: Take ownership

STEP #1 – Find and file properties

It’s important to get up-to-date auction information and act on it as quickly and on a regular basis . Develop a system to keep track of properties that interest you. A good tracking system is important since most successful auction buyers pursue several properties sometimes over a period of several months.

After you find a property online, it’s a good idea to drive by the property to get a better idea of the property’s condition and the type of neighborhood. For some buyers and investors, driving by the property has also facilitated a casual meeting with the owner (you may be able to still work out a last-minute deal before the auction) or yielded a wealth of unexpected information from a talkative neighbor.

STEP #2 – Confirm auction status, location and bidding procedure

After a property is scheduled for auction, the owner has a chance (typically less than a month) to stop the auction by paying the amount owed to the foreclosing lender. It’s also not uncommon for auctions to be postponed without a new date being published. Although cancellations and postponements are announced at the time and location of the originally scheduled auction, you can call the trustee to find out beforehand. .

Most auctions are at a public place in the same county where the property is located. In many states, all the auctions in each county are at the same location. If the auction location is not listed on RealtyTrac, you can typically get that information from the trustee or the county clerk. If you call the county clerk, make sure you clarify that you are looking for the location of mortgage foreclosure auctions, not tax foreclosure auctions.

The bidding procedure varies from state to state, so you should become familiar with the procedure in your area before bidding at an auction. In some states, bidders are required to bring the full amount they want to bid in the form of cash or cashier’s check to the auction. In other states, bidders are required to bring a certain percentage (10 percent is common) of the bid amount to the auction and pay the remainder of the amount within a certain timeframe if they are the highest bidder. If you get a friendly representative when you call the trustee, you might be able to get information about how the bidding works in your area, but in most cases you’ll need to educate yourself. You can get started by reading  state foreclosure laws. You could also contact a local real estate agent or attorney in your area. Of course, the best education will come from simply observing a local auction.

STEP #3 – Check potential bargain

You need to find out as much as you can about the estimated market value of the property, how much is owed on the property and if the owner has any other liens against the property. This is all public information and you can research on your own with the county recorder or you can use RealtyTrac’s property reports and tools to help.

The opening bid at the auction is based on the total amount owed to the foreclosing lender and may include fees incurred because of the foreclosure proceedings. If no one bids above that amount, the foreclosing lender will take possession of the property. It’s important to know this amount so you can determine if the auction represents a potential bargain purchase when the opening bid is compared to the property’s market value. RealtyTrac subscribers have access to the opening bid amount and the estimated market value for properties scheduled for auction.

If there are outstanding liens on the property, the winning bidder at the auction may be responsible to satisfy these liens in some cases, so it’s important to check for any liens and the priority of the liens before you bid at the auction.  A real estate attorney or title company can check for liens, or you can check directly with county records.

The priority of a lien is usually determined by the date it was placed on the property. So a first mortgage will usually have the first priority, and all other liens will be considered junior liens. In most states, the public auction clears out any junior liens, but there are exceptions such as tax liens, which typically will continue to be in effect after the auction.

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STEP #4 – Determine bid amount

Based on all the factors used to determine the potential bargain – and your financial capability – you’ll need to determine how much you can and should bid at the auction.

Determining your bid amount is more obviously important in states where bidders are required to bring the full amount in cash or cashier’s check to the auction. You won’t even be qualified to bid if you don’t meet that requirement. If you don’t have that type of cash lying around, you have a couple options. If you own a home, you might be able to take out a home equity line of credit, which is a cash loan. If you can’t secure a cash loan, you may consider trying to buy a pre-foreclosure or bank-owned property, both cases where you can usually obtain a regular mortgage loan secured by the property being purchased.

It’s also important to determine the bid amount even in states where you don’t need to bring the full amount to the auction. By setting a firm ceiling for your bid, you’ll avoid getting caught up in the heady auction atmosphere and overbidding, which can result in little or no bargain for you. Also, if you’re not able to pay the remainder of the bid within the time frame stipulated by state law, the deposit you paid at the auction is often nonrefundable.

A reasonable purchase amount at auction is at least 20 percent below full market value, and much better deals are often possible. Other factors to consider are the rate of real estate appreciation in the area and the potential for increasing the property’s value by making repairs and improvements.

STEP #5 – Bid at the auction

Call the trustee the day before or the day of the auction to check one last time if the auction has been canceled or postponed. If an auction is postponed, the trustee should provide the new auction date.
Arrive at the auction location early and locate the auctioneer as quickly as possible. Bidding at an auction can be intimidating, especially if you’ve never done it before. Take as many cues from the other participants as you can, but don’t let them dictate how much you bid. You may encounter investors who attend many auctions every month and who don’t necessarily appreciate new competition.

STEP #6 – Take ownership

If you are the winning bidder, make sure you get the necessary documents from the auctioneer to verify that you are the winning bidder. Clarify with the auctioneer and a real estate attorney what further steps need to be made before you take ownership and possession of the property. In some states, ownership can be transferred immediately or within a few days. In other states, you may need to wait a month or more for the sale to be confirmed by a court. Some states have redemption periods for the owner, in which case the owner can buy the property back from you if they pay the full amount paid at the auction, plus applicable fees. You should avoid spending money on repairs or improvements during the redemption period.

If the trustee does not evict the current owners, you may be responsible to do this. If eviction is necessary, you can contact a local real estate attorney or the county sheriff for the proper procedure.

For more information on the foreclosure laws in your state, visit RealtyTrac’s  State Foreclosure Laws.


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