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How To Buy a House at a Real Estate Auction In 6 Steps
Buying houses at auction is a fast process where undervalued properties are sold to the public through competitive bidding. Auctions are either in person or online and can be advantageous for a fix and flipper and a long-term investor. Most auctions require a 5%-10% deposit the remainder within 30-45 days (if you win).
If you’ve identified a house to buy at auction and need financing, contact Visio Lending. They offer hard money loans and permanent financing with competitive rates for prime borrowers. They can pre-qualify you online in as little as three minutes, letting you compete with all-cash buyers.
1. Understand How Real Estate Auctions Work
Real estate auctions offer a range of properties at different price points and include such things as single family homes, multi-family units, as well as some commercial properties and real estate notes. There are auctions for foreclosures, short-sales, and non-distressed REOs. Further, auctions can either be conducted online or in person.
Real estate auctions happen in real time or over a few weeks and start with a minimum price. From there, an auctioneer will allow competitive bidders to bid up the price of the property until a single bidder remains. At this point, the auctioneer will close the auction and award the property to the winning bidder. Depending on the auction, the bidder will either need to pay for the property immediately or pay a 5%-10% deposit and the remaining balance within 30-45 days. Check out our section on the different types of auctions below for more information.
A common misconception with buying houses at auction is that you can only purchase a house at auction all-cash, and this isn’t true. While the speed of auctions benefit all-cash buyers, you can still finance a house at auction through traditional loans. The downside, however, is that approval might take too long. Of course, always do your research before coming to a financing decision. For more information on financing houses at auction, jump down to our financing section.
2. Set Your Investment Parameters
The next step when buying houses at auction is to set your investment parameters. Specifically, know what you’re looking for in a house and what your constraints are. Each parameter limits your investment search to more specific opportunities and helps you find an auction in the next step.
Investment Objective and Timeline
You’ll want to establish your specific investment objective and associated timeline before you bid on a property at auction. These will affect your financing options as well as the size, location, price, and condition of the houses you bid on.
Fix and flippers and rehabbers, for example, look for properties that they can repair and sell quickly for a high after repair value (ARV), which is the price of a home after it’s been renovated. Generally, short-term investors want ARV to be 30% higher than the purchase price, and they want the timeline to be as short as possible. The longer your timeline, the higher your carrying costs, so it’s important to get the repairs done as quickly as possible.
A long-term investor focuses a less on ARV since they plan on keeping the property and renting it out. Instead, they’re more concerned with the loan to value (LTV) ratio. While their investment horizon is longer than a fix and flipper, long-term investors also want a fast timeline season the property quickly since they incur carrying costs as well. There isn’t an exact set timeline in weeks or months since different scopes of projects take different amounts of time to finish.
Financing Options for Real Estate Auctions
Your objective and investment timeline dictate the financing options available. All-cash offers are the preferred method of payment for an auction. All-cash offers aren’t subject to lender requirements and help facilitate quick transactions between the bidder and seller.
However, if you can’t purchase an auction property all-cash, you’ll need to obtain financing from a lender. This is where the investment objective and timeline are important. Short-term investors, such as fix and flippers, usually rely on hard money loans to finance their investment. Long-term investors, such as the buy-and-hold type, typically use conventional mortgages with longer terms. These financing options affect your maximum auction budget.
Your investment objective, timeline, and financing options help determine your overall budget. Fix and flippers, generally, use hard money loans that have an ARV limit. Many hard money lenders loan out between 65% to 80% of a home’s ARV. This means that they might have to put down as much as 35%, limiting their budget.
Conversely, long-term investors rely on traditional mortgages that usually require 20% down. This results in a maximum loan-to-value (LTV) ratio around 80% and sometimes also a loan-to-income (LTI) ratio around 50%, limiting a long-term investor’s budget. The LTV ratio dictates how much of the total price a bank can lend and the LTI ratio helps bank assess the ability for borrowers to pay back the loan. Some long-term investors, however, can obtain FHA loans with as little as 3.5% down.
It’s important to note that winning bidders are charged what’s called a “buyer’s premium.” This is an additional fee paid to the auctioneer to cover all administrative expenses. The buyer’s premium is typically around 10% of the winning bid and is disclosed at auction prior to the start. Make sure you leave yourself at least a 10% contingency to cover the buyer’s premium.
In general you should budget for the following:
- Financing costs – Down payment amount 20 – 35% of purchase price and 1-3 points plus any other lender fees
- Holding costs – The monthly costs to keep the property including mortgage, taxes, insurance, utilities etc.
- Repair costs – How much the repairs, supplies and labor cost which vary widely by area and property condition
- Marketing costs – The amount you need to spend to sell or rent out the property including advertising and open house costs and some people include realtor fees here too which are usually 6% and are paid out of your proceeds from the sale
Your investment objectives, timelines, financing, and maximum budget dictate the characteristics of the properties most suited for your needs. A property’s size, condition, geography, and type are all characteristics you’ll want to define when setting your investment parameters.
Long-term investors look for solid investments with rental potential, limiting the available options. For example, the size, condition, and geography of a house affect its occupancy rate and target tenants, as well as the size of the minimum down payment. A house’s condition also affects the upfront cost. It may need repairs and maintenance before it can be rented. Its geography affects long-term price appreciation, annual rental income, and the availability of tenants.
Short-term investors look for underpriced houses in poor condition, also limiting their searches. The desired size, condition, and geography of a house affect a short-term investor’s down payment and “skin in the game.” Since hard money lenders base their loan amounts on a percentage of ARV, the pricier a house the more money down it needs. A house’s size, condition, and geography also affect the potential short-term profit of a fix and flipper.
New investors may only consider certain types of properties, such as single family homes or condos, where more experienced investors may look for 1-4 unit multi family properties or apartment buildings. Certain types of properties are more prevalent in certain areas, so this may limit your options as well.
What’s more, the geography of a house dictates the contractors and/or property managers you’ll rely on. Fix and flippers need to ensure that there are reputable contractors available to do the work when needed, while long-term investors need to look for established property management companies. If you’re unfamiliar with an area, it can extend your overall investment timeline and cost you money. Better to stick to what you know.
3. Find & Register for a Real Estate Auction
Real estate auctions are held both live and virtually. Live auction listings can be found on leading auction websites as well as through real estate agents and other industry professionals. Virtual auction listings can also be found on leading auction websites and through industry professionals, as well as on virtual auction sites.
Where to Find a Real Estate Auction Listing
There are generally four ways to find a real estate auction listing. Different investors feel comfortable using different ways to find these properties. Each way has its own pros and cons to consider but it’s best to look for auction listings in multiple places so you have the highest chance of finding them.
Real Estate Auction Sites
There are many online real estate auction sites and some of them offer both in-person and virtual auctions, while others only offer virtual auctions. Check out the sites and browse around and see what types of auctions they offer, the auction requirements etc. and then start looking for houses to bid on.
Professionals within the real estate industry often know about upcoming auction listings. These professionals include real estate agents, brokers, and third-party foreclosure sales agents also known as “trustees.” Bankruptcy lawyers and bankruptcy accountants are also good people to engage when looking for opportunities.
You can find industry professionals by getting referrals from friends, family and other investors. You can also join a real estate investment group in your area or search for your local real estate agent and ask who at their office deals with real estate auctions; most major real estate companies have agents who specialize in auctions. You can also contact bankruptcy attorneys, divorce attorneys or foreclosure attorneys by doing an online search with a major search engine.
Your local county courthouse has a list of all upcoming real estate auctions in the area. This option, however, limits your search to the local county. You can obtain real estate auction listing information either online at your local courthouse website or in-person at the courthouse itself.
To contact your local courthouse, Google your county’s website address and visit the homepage which lists their contact information. From there, they will be able to direct you to their auction page and tell you what building auctions are held in and when they’re held.
Real Estate Classifieds
While somewhat archaic, real estate auctions still list properties in local newspapers. Some of these newspapers have online presences too. It’s best to combine using real estate classifieds with another method of finding auction property listings.
Live Real Estate Auctions vs. Virtual Real Estate Auctions
Live real estate auctions are held in-person and are probably the kind of auctions you’re most familiar with. Live auctions are free to attend and are open to the public. Virtual auctions are held virtually – or online – and can occur in live time or over a period of a few weeks.
Live Real Estate Auctions
Live real estate auctions require that all bidders register prior to attending the auction. You can register online by following the instructions found on the auction listing. As part of the registration process, you’ll be required to provide certified proof of sufficient funds.
This is typically a cashier’s check made out to yourself that’s equal to 5% of the opening bid price. The auctioneer usually verifies that you’re registered and have the correct deposit. If you win your live auction, you’ll be required to pay between 5% to 10% of the closing bid price within 24 hours.
Afterward, you’ll have 30 to 45 days to make payment in full and transfer the title. If you fail to make payment, the auction house keeps your down payment and re-auctions the house. Some live auctions also charge interest on the money owed until the full price is settled. We dive deeper into live auctions in the sections below.
Virtual Real Estate Auctions
Virtual real estate auctions, on the other hand, are real estate auctions that occur entirely online. They either happen in real-time like a live auction or span the course of days or even weeks. In these days-long auctions, participants have the opportunity to bid 24-hours a day, seven days a week, until the auction listing closes.
Real-time auctions operate on a bidding countdown clock that’s typically two to three minutes. If no one bids after the clock expires, the final bid is awarded the property. If someone bids within the time allotted, the clock resets. Participants in virtual real estate auctions can even set proxies to automatically place a bid if someone outbids them. Think of a virtual auction as eBay for real estate properties.
Just like with live auctions, virtual auctions require that all potential buyers register online through the virtual listing. The registration process requires that bidders place a 5% deposit before bidding on a piece of property, which limits the maximum budget in a virtual auction. The deposit can be paid by cash, certified check, or credit card.
However, unlike live auctions, virtual auctions require that the winning bidder make full payment within a 24 hour period. If the bidder fails to make payment, the virtual auction house keeps the 5% down payment and re-auctions the property. Again, we take a deep dive into the virtual auction process in the below sections.
3 Types of Real Estate Auctions
When looking at real estate auction listings, keep in mind that there are three different types of auctions. Each auction has its own requirements for bidding; this dictates the type of properties listed as well as the investors they attract.
An absolute auction is a standard real estate auction where the sale of a property is awarded to the highest bidder, regardless of its final price. These can be in-person or online auctions.There is no minimum bid amount; the property can sell for any price. Sellers in need of quick cash use an absolute auction.
Banks, for example, sometimes hold absolute auctions for foreclosures or non-distressed REOs to recoup some of their delinquent loans. People in financial distress also hold absolute auctions for short-sales. All-cash buyers and short-term investors typically frequent absolute auctions.
Minimum Bid Auction
A real estate auction where a seller can set a minimum reserve price on the property. If the winning bid doesn’t meet the reserve requirement, the property remains unsold. Minimum bid auctions typically occur during estate sales and sales of property where the owner isn’t distressed. They can be online and in-person.
Banks will also sometimes conduct a minimum bid auction if they don’t need to sell a foreclosure quickly and want to recoup a specific percentage of a delinquent loan. For these reasons, minimum bid auctions attract more long-term investors, although short-term investors also participate.
With this auction-type, the winning bid becomes an offer rather than the sale price. The seller reserves the right to accept or reject the winning offer. Again, this is most common when the seller isn’t distressed, such as with an estate or with a bank, so it can be unattractive to short-term investors. These auctions are usually done virtually.
Types of Sales You Will Find at an Auction
There are different types of sales at auctions and it’s important to research each type of sale before making a bid or an offer. You also want to find out if you can view the inside of the property before the sale and if you’re buying the property subject to any liens on it.
Types of sales include:
- Foreclosure – A legal process where a delinquent owner forfeits the rights to his or her property. A home can be considered “foreclosed” if it doesn’t sell in a short-sale and goes to a foreclosure auction. As of December 2017, 31.6% of foreclosed properties were up for auction.
- Non-Distressed REOs – A class of property owned by a lender. REOs occur when a foreclosure doesn’t sell at auction and the lending institution repossesses and sells it at an auction of their own.
- HUD – The Department of Housing and Urban Development auctions off homes that were foreclosed on by a federal agency, instead of a private lender. For example, a borrower defaults on an FHA loan and the home could end up at a HUD auction.
- Tax Lien- This type of sale is a little bit different than the others. A property goes to a tax lien sale when the property owner is delinquent on property taxes. As an investor, you’re buying the tax debt or the deed to the property. You can collect this tax debt plus interest or you can foreclose on the owner and then take possession of the property.
- FSBO – This type of sale isn’t as common as the other ones but it does exist. Some sellers don’t want to hire a realtor and don’t want to wait for the traditional offer to be made, so they list their home on an auction site as a FSBO. The homes are in varying conditions and the mortgages are usually up to date.
4. Line Up Your Real Estate Auction Financing
Hard money lenders and traditional lenders allow investors to pre-qualify for loans prior to bidding on a house at auction. The three most common loans available to investors at auction are hard money loans for short-term investors, conforming mortgages for long-term investors and non-conforming loans for both long and short-term investors.
All-cash is the preferred type of financing when it comes to real estate auctions. This is because listings at real estate auctions move fast, and cash, since it isn’t subject to lender requirements, provides maximum flexibility. However, many real estate auction investors will use one of the three financing options below.