How to buy a repossessed property

Updated on 28 June 2016

A repossessed home can be a property bargain. However, be aware of the pitfalls too...

Get your finances sorted

Before you can buy any property, repossessed or otherwise, you need to get your finances in order.

That means getting an agreement in principle from your mortgage lender. That way you’ll know how much you can borrow, and more importantly, how much you can afford.

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Finding a repossessed property to buy

You can usually find repossessed properties on property portals like Rightmove and Zoopla, though they won’t always say that the property is repossessed.

Cheap sites with a ‘guide price’, no photos and vague descriptions usually give them away though. Alternatively, you could ask your agent about repossessed or distress sales.

But the most common place to pick up a repossessed property is at an auction.

You can find repossessed property going under the hammer at auction houses like Allsop, Savills and Barnard Marcus.

The buying process

So, obviously, once you've found a repossessed property you like, you should go and visit it. That way you'll be able to view any kinks, imperfections or potential disasters for yourself. This is also the point where you can fall in love with the property, and it's also when the rollercoaster ride of trying to seal the deal begins.

The process is a little complex. Unlike a conventional transaction, when an offer has been made and accepted on a repossessed property, the estate agent is legally obliged to place a 'Notice of offer' in the newspaper to announce this, and other bidders are invited in for a period of at least seven days from the date of the advert.

During this time, potential property hounds can swoop in to offer a better deal. In fact you may be scuppered even after this, right up until contracts are exchanged. Until that happens, you have no legal right to buy the property and the bank doesn't have any honourable or sentimental attachment to you as a buyer; it is only interested in cold, hard cash. Someone could bid £1,000 more than you at the last minute and the bank would in all likelihood accept.

However, you will be given a timeline to complete of 28 days. So, you could fork out money for surveys and solicitors, only to find the money goes down the drain on the 27th day.

You have been warned.

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Buying at an auction

The other place you will often find repossessed properties is at a property auction. They can be pretty daunting as they are likely to be crawling with investors with deeper pockets than you could ever imagine. So it's vital to know what you're doing.

Just bear in mind that if you are interested in buying at auction, properties will be advertised in a catalogue weeks in advance of the auction date. You'll be able to view the properties on offer before the day of the auction.

The process of buying a repossessed property at auctions is very different from buying a repossessed property through an agent, as once the gavel goes down, you have effectively exchanged contracts, so neither party can back out. As before, however, you must complete the transaction within 28 days.

This may make life simpler, but it also means you have to fork out a deposit on the day of the auction, which you will lose if you back out. So to be on the safe side, you'll need to be 100% sure you want to buy the property, and get the survey and legal work carried out before the auction - even though you won't know at this point whether or not your bid on the day will be successful.

In other words, whichever way you play it, there is a greater risk than usual that you will lose the money you fork out in legal and valuation fees. Then again, you may be prepared to take that risk if it means you end up bagging a bargain.

Stretching budgets

More often than not, repossessed properties are in need of some TLC. So factor in these costs to the total amount you are prepared to pay.

Extras, such as repairs and even having a telephone line reconnected, can quickly add up.

There is also the gamble you're taking with the survey and solicitors’ fees - and sometimes it can all turn into a game of poker.

You may be able to avoid valuation fees by getting a mortgage with a free survey, but this could push up the interest rate you'll pay on the mortgage, meaning you'd end up paying more over the lifetime of the mortgage anyway.

Similarly, you may be able to find a solicitor who will only charge you if the transaction completes - but the fees he or she charges may then be higher than normal.

And remember that you absolutely have to complete your purchase within 28 days. Normally the buying process can take much longer. So you may have to do a lot of chasing, and incur some hair-loss along the way.

The important thing is not to rest on your laurels and wait for everything to happen by itself. It may seem a bit much, but we've been told it's good to be chasing both the solicitors and lenders at least twice a week and asking them what's outstanding, and what's being done about it.

The plus side is that the quicker the transaction takes place, the quicker you can collect the keys to your new home.

Hopefully you can see now that buying a repossessed property involves a lot more than just spotting and picking up a bargain. 

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