As most of you will know, Cal accidentally bought our house at auction.
If you haven’t heard this story, and are wondering HOW you accidentally buy a house at auction, you can read about the mishap by clicking HERE.
Admittedly, we are about the two least qualified people to solicit advise about buying property at auction. But, as first-time buyers and bidders, we learnt a lot from the experience, and my hope is that someone else can learn from our mistake!
So we’ll start with some important advice, and then let you know a bit about the process of buying a house at auction!
Firstly, and I can not stress this enough: DO YOUR RESEARCH ON THE PROPERTY YOU WANT TO BUY!
To be fair, Cal and I had done LOTS of research on the apartment we wanted to buy!
- We scoured the internet for information on the property.
- We attempted a site visit (which couldn’t be done because of a closing order on the unit.)
- We used a friends drone to check out the roof and upper floors of the building.
- And we spoke to people in the neighbourhood to find out as much as we could about the property.
From our experience, people love a good gossip, and you can learn some valuable information about a property just by asking around. But take what you have heard with a pinch of salt, because you are bound to come by some nonsense mixed between the useful information.
From speaking to people about Jameswood, we were convinced our building was sinking and needed costly underpinning (which was definitely not true: we had a structural engineer do a full investigation on the foundations, and they were solid!) We heard crazy rumours that a river ran underneath our house (also very much not true,) and even a woman from the council advised us that the gable end of the house could collapse any day now (This was the most confusing information we heard. The gables were over half a meter thick, dead straight and solid. It would take a catastrophic event to move those walls).
But we also learned some very useful information about the place: why and when it was abandoned. The need for a costly roof repair coincided with the American Navel troops leaving Sandbank – essentially halving the population overnight. Joint ownership complicated the matters, as one tenant had left for America, one had recently passed away, and another was elderly and chose to move in with family. The only tenants left in the building were a young couple who couldn’t afford to cover the cost of expensive common repairs that should have been a shared responsibility between all owners. The couple put a bathtub in the middle of the upstairs living room to catch leaks, but eventually gave in and abandoned the building.
From this information, we decided to look back at the sales history of the property. The units had never been sold at the same time, making joint ownership difficulties the main culprit for the property being left undeveloped.
My second piece of advice is implied by, and just as important as the first: DO NOT BLIND BID AT AN AUCTION!
You will be tempted to blind bid. Especially if the property you were hoping for is snatched up by someone else. But beware: auctioneers use VERY sneaky marketing tactics.
Take Jameswood for example. The photo of Jameswood that the auction house used was taken in 2010 – eight years before the auction. It was conveniently angled to hide the partially collapsed bay window and front wall that would have been an easy red flag to any buyers. The description of Jameswood said the building was perfect for development, needing “upgrades throughout”; which in our opinion, doesn’t accurately describe a building that is in partial collapse, needs seriously structural repairs, and requires a new roof and full gut due to extensive water damage. The council and our structural engineer both told us (repeatedly) to knock the building down and start over; the building was definitely not perfect for development.
If you’re wondering WHY we didn’t just knock the building down and start over, you can click HERE to find out!
We weren’t the only ones who thought Jameswood was improperly marketed! Rumour has it that the previous owners of the building had brought the Auction house to court, accusing them of false advertising. But auction houses are protected by the law and know all the loopholes available for them to legally advertise a property.
These cheap, cunningly marketed buildings become a cash cow for auctioneers. People buy a property on a whim, realise they’ve made a bad purchase, and quickly sell it on at the next auction. Each time this happens, an auction house collects a sellers fee, and a buyers fee, usually upwards of 2000 pounds each; and the cycle continues.
This happened with Jameswood. The property was passed on between buyers like a game of hot potato for at least 10 years. Each time, making the auction house upward of four grand.
At the auction Cal went to, another of the four apartments in the building was sold to a blind bidder from Glasgow. When he first did a site visit, he immediately called us, offering to sell his apartment – eventually giving it to us at a loss.
Once we had purchased the unit off the Glasgow man, we owned three of the four units in Jameswood Villa.
When the last apartment was advertised at the next auction, it was clear the auction house didn’t want us to buy the unit and end the hot potato unless they could swindle us for some extra cash. They offered to sell us the property before the auction at a crazy price, and when we said we would just wait for the auction, they told us there was another interested buyer. We called their bluff, so they lied to us and said the property had been sold – even putting a sold sign on their website so that we wouldn’t turn up for the auction!
We had no idea the property went to auction, but found out a month later that it had been bought by another blind bidder. The cycle continued!
The couple who won the bid only realised how bad the house was when their solicitor stumbled upon our blog! Having seen that we had a plan for the place, and not wanting the auction house to make any more money off their Jameswood scam, they sold their apartment to us at a loss.
I will clarify for Cal’s sake, that he didn’t purposely blind bid at auction. He had genuinely thought he was bidding on a different property. Whether on purpose, or bad luck, two extra apartments at Jameswood had been added to the auction last minute, and had not been included in the printed auction booklets. Having little experience with quick talking auctioneers or a Glaswegian accent, Cal chose to carefully follow the auction book, and had no idea he had bought the wrong house.
Though this should go without saying, my last bit of advice is to be very careful and pay close attention to which plot is being sold at the auction!
We were first time buyers when won the bid for Jameswood Villa. The process for buying a property was completely foreign to us.
The biggest surprise for me was the hidden cost included in buying a property. We expected to pay auction fees, but I naively thought we could transfer our money to the Auction house and be handed over our keys! (I had no idea there wouldn’t be any keys to the house… there weren’t even locking doors left!)
I’m still not exactly sure what they do, why they’re needed, or why they are so expensive, but a solicitor is needed to buy a property. Then, if the price of your property is over a certain threshold, you'll have to pay taxes as well. Luckily, Jameswood’s apartments didn’t meet this threshold!
After one stressful month of compiling paperwork for our solicitor, we received a slightly anticlimactic email from the lawyer to confirm that Jameswood was now ours. We sat in our leaky, rotten house, with a bottle of beer and a deep determination to turn Jameswood into a beautiful home.
All in all, I think the outcome of an auction is what you make of it. On paper, and according to the professionals, Jameswood was a dud. But we think accidentally buying our Victorian Villa was one of the luckiest mistakes we’ve ever made!
Jameswood has given us a goal. It’s given us a challenge that Cal and I can work on and grow from together. We have learned so much about ourselves and each other. It’s been difficult, both emotionally and physically, but it’s made us stronger and we’ve had some of our best memories while restoring this building.
I hope our story has not only taught someone about the dangers of buying a property at auction, but also taught someone about the good that can come from taking a risk and determinedly following your dreams.
Thank you for joining us on our journey as we attempt to restore Jameswood Villa.
If you would like to help us get a little bit closer to reaching our goal, you can visit gofundme.com/f/whathavewedunoon
As we’ve mentioned, our adventure with Jameswood started when Claire declined her offer to medical school. Now we had a whole year ahead of us with no plans. We wanted a new challenge, and decided flipping a house together would be a fun and rewarding experience.
We decided to look at auction properties, and after doing LOTS of research and making a site visit, Cal attended an auction in early October to bid on a particular property (not Jameswood Villa.)
Jameswood Villa was being sold as 3 separate units in the prior lot to the property we were interested in. However, the auction booklet didn’t mention 3 seperate sales, so when Cal placed a bid, he thought it was for the Glasgow property we had wanted.
When Cal realised, the panic set in, and he left the auction house to call me and let me know what had happened.
Quickly looking up the property, Auction House Scotland had described Jameswood Villa, Sandbank, Dunoon, PA23 8PN as in need of "full upgrading throughout", and presented with a Google Streetview image that was last updated in 2010.
We could manage full upgrades, and the photo looked alright.
What could go wrong?
A foreword before continuing: Cal and I are extremely happy and excited to be taking on Jameswood. Take this as a warning about the risks of buying a property at auction, but NOT as a warning against pursuing your dreams or goals in life.
When Cal first went to visit our newly acquired property, he realised the house needed a LOT more than the upgrading than we were imagining.
The photo presented by Auction House Scotland was conveniently angled to exclude the cracked stone on the bay window, and the leaning, crumbling front wall that indicated serious structural problems we’ve now found out are due to subsidence. The roof had gaping holes, and having been left empty for 20 years, this had allowed most of the timbers in the building to rot.
We soon realised this project wouldn’t be financially feasible if we weren’t doing the project ourselves, or if we needed a steady income to pay for overhead costs like a mortgage or rent.
Upgrade, verb: Raise (something) to a higher standard, in particular improve (equipment or machinery) by adding or replacing components. – Oxford Dictionary.
When I think of upgrading throughout, what comes to my mind is a home in need of new electrics, plumbing, kitchens and bathrooms and energy efficient improvements. I’d even describe a roof replacement as an upgrade. Apparently, however, “upgrading throughout” is what Auction House Scotland sees as an honest way of describing a derelict house with serious, visible structural problems; ones that the council has described as dangerous.
Cal and I have often pointed out derelict buildings while driving through Europe, and saw the great potential they had to be turned into beautiful homes. Jameswood isn’t the quick flip we imagined our first building project to be together, but it is a challenge we are excited to undertake.
As was mentioned, we’d love our story to inspire others to go after their dreams, even if they are as grand as restoring a dilapidated old house. But it’s always wise to learn from your experiences, or better yet, the experiences of others! Cal and I have certainly learned to be very careful and attentive at auction, and ascertain that we are bidding on the correct property! We recommend that if you’re thinking of going to auction, always read the legal documents and make a site visit before bidding.
Like with many things that happen in life, our experience at auction was a classic example of the phrase sh*t happens. And now we’re attempting to turn that sh*t into a beautiful home. What have we Dunoon?
Join us on our journey.