The accidental landlord: auctions

Victoria Whitlock fulfils a lifelong dream by attending an auction, bidding card in hand. It’s going once, going twice – then disaster
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Let me see, erm… I’m bidder 151, waiting for Lot 12. I’m so nervous I’ve already dropped my plastic bid card - twice. I always thought it would be thrilling to buy a property at an auction, so here I am at the Grand Connaught Rooms in Covent Garden waiting for my number to come up.

Lot 12 isn’t a property exactly, just a shed, but it’s in a good location right on the River Wandle, only a minute’s walk to a train station and in a part of London that is so up-and-coming the local pub has installed sofas - in the beer garden.

My plan is to demolish the shed and replace it with an über-modern two-storey one-bedroom house, which would make a great rental property, so I’m crossing my fingers no one else has spotted its potential. This seems unlikely, although the vast ballroom is starting to swell with bidders and there’s still 15 minutes to go before the auction starts.

On the way in I noticed there was a psychiatrists’ conference in an adjacent room and I’m wondering now if I ought to have popped in there instead. After all, I’m planning to buy a plot of land without a clue how to go about building a house. This is probably even worse than the time I went out to buy a T-shirt and put in an offer on a flat.

Two minutes to go and the auction is packed. There’s standing room only now and they’re five deep at the back. Some people are sitting on the floor. Everyone looks relaxed. Except me.

The auctioneer starts with a 15-minute lecture, a sort of idiot’s guide to bidding, in which he explains that you won’t accidentally buy a house if you scratch your head. There’s no winking or nose-tapping, he says, you just wave your bidding card. It’s that simple.

Less reassuring is his reminder that if your bid is successful, you must pay a 10 per cent deposit on the spot by cheque or debit card. No credit cards, cash or IOUs and you can’t change your mind and leg it because they know where you live. You can’t have a bidding card without providing two forms of ID, including one with your address.

The first lot, a one-bedroom flat in Islington, has a guide price of £175,000 but bidding is brisk and it sells for £324,000. Crikey. A couple of large redevelopment projects in Chelsea and Marylebone are withdrawn when the bids fall a little short of their reserve prices but a few smaller properties sell for twice their guide prices.

A garage with a guide price of £10,000 goes for £42,000. And then it’s my shed. The bidding starts at £50,000 and swiftly reaches £54,000. I shoot my bidding card in the air. The auctioneer points at me. “£55,000.” Then nothing. No further bids. My pulse is pounding in my throat.

The auctioneer says: “Going once” and raises the gavel. I fumble and drop my bid card (again). I bob down to pick it up and hear the auctioneer say: “£56,000, Sir?” My head snaps back up. Who said that? “£57,000, £58,000, £59,000…” The auctioneer points at me. “£60,000?” I shake my head. I maxed out at £55,000. A man next to me whispers: “Bad luck.”

The shed finally sells for £65,000, only £10,000 more than the reserve but £10,000 more than I could afford. I’m disappointed, but the day isn’t totally wasted. On the way back to the Tube I dip into Zara and buy a T-shirt, so I won’t go home empty-handed.

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