Clever home-hunters know that this is the ideal time to buy a property at auction: normally packed sale rooms thin out just before Christmas, reducing the competition. At the behest of auctioneers, "reserve" prices are being lowered — the undisclosed bottom-line figure that sellers are prepared to accept.
Among the keenest sellers this winter are councils and other public bodies forced to offload properties due to austerity cuts; often they will not even insist on a reserve and take the highest price achievable on the day.
While your savings are earning nothing in the bank it is a good time to invest in property. Rental demand is strong and capital growth prospects good.
Properties for auction this December include period houses and mansion flats, many being sold by housing associations, who are in a period of change and ditching older homes in order to focus on new developments. These homes are for young people happy to get stuck into the DIY.
Savills auctioneer Paul Mooney's advice is: "Try to find a property where you can add value by building an extension, reconfiguring the layout or improving the living space.
"It is a great way for first-time buyers to get on the ladder in up-and-coming inner London streets." Mooney says most properties going under the hammer are in SE and SW postcodes, with Wandsworth, Southwark, Lambeth and Hammersmith & Fulham councils selling homes. There is also a steady trickle of homes resulting from receiverships and executor sales.
Covent Garden freeholds, a rare commodity, are also being auctioned. A listed Georgian property at Goodwins Court, currently used as offices and storage accommodation, has a guide price of £275,000 (Savills). Tucked away from the hustle and bustle, with planning consent it could become a fabulous home. And a Georgian gem at Bedfordbury has ground floor retail premises, offices on the first floor and a two-bedroom apartment at the top. Guide price £950,000 (Savills).
Prime-address properties for sale include a three-storey home at North Row, Mayfair, with views of Hyde Park (guide price £1.75 million) and a blue plaque house in Hampstead where architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner lived (guide price £1.2 million). A mid-terrace house in the SE14 Telegraph Hill conservation area has a guide price of £300,000. All are being auctioned by Allsop.
Auctions are full of quirky property opportunities. Reserve prices are rarely disclosed but typically are 10 per cent lower than guide prices.
Normally, there is only a two- or three-week gap between the catalogue being sent out and the sale taking place. If you spot a property you want during this time, you have to have all your money ready, do a survey, appoint a solicitor to do all the legal checks — and above all, do your research. Never bid on the strength of a photograph or catalogue description. And remember, auction property can be blighted. It could have subsidence, a short lease or a sitting tenant.
Buyers can trace the recent sales history of properties appearing in auction catalogues. Call 01737 226150 or visit the Essential Information Group at eigroup.co.uk
Weekenders looking for a rural wreck to renovate or a seaside home could try Clive Emson auctions, covering Kent, Sussex and Hampshire.
* Andrews & Robertson: December 17, 2012
* Allsop: December 18, 2012
* Savills: February 11, 2013
* Clive Emson: February 4, 2013