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Dispelling some auction myths

Acquiring properties through an auction is not a taboo, says MARY SAI

WHEN one flips through the property classifieds these days, it not uncommon to see properties advertised for auction. It is also not uncommon for a prospective buyer to immediately get the impression that the property to be auctioned, or the owner, must have some problems, otherwise why auction?

This misconception stems mainly from the days when auctions were the main mode of sale for banks when they repossessed property from owners who defaulted in their loans. In the 1980s and 1990s, most of the property auctions were mortgagees’ auctions. So many people saw them as forced sales.

But today, in a bullish property market, auctioneers are seeing more owners choosing to auction their property. In this article, we try and dispel some of the misconceptions about auctioned property.

Myth No 1: Auctions are fire sales

Contrary to widespread belief, an auction can secure the best price through open competitive bidding. Even the courts recognise an auction sale as an appropriate way to sell a property under dispute. It is deemed that through competitive bidding, a fair open market value can be realised for the seller. An auction sale is not tantamount to a desperate sale. Although the auction sale can be organised within a fortnight, it does not mean that the vendor has to sell in a hurry at bargain basement prices! Similarly, in mortgagee auction sales the bank exercises due diligence and is guided by valuations when they sell repossessed properties. They are genuine sellers, not desperate sellers.

In a recent forced sale of a dilapidated two-storey building at 27 Onan Road, two auctions conducted failed to secure a buyer. However, instead of an expected fire sale in the third round of auction, the property went under the hammer for $610,000 – a whopping 36 per cent increase from the opening price of $450,000.

Another good example was a auction of a bungalow plot at 59 Goodman Road in January this year. Vigorous bidding from more than eight parties saw the property knocked down at a record price of $626 per sq ft while comparable sales then were transacted around $350-$400 psf. Similarly, the recent auction sale of bungalow plots at Sentosa Cove also saw benchmark prices established way above $1,000 psf for their 99-year leasehold titles.

Myth No 2: ‘Challenging’ properties are auctioned

Many people consider the auction route as the last resort for the sale of properties. It would be the mode of sale for ‘challenging’ properties – those with inauspicious numbers like 4, 14 or 44 or with irregularly-shaped sites.

Going through past auction data, we see no anecdotal evidence to show that auction properties carry more inauspicious house numbers or are of inferior quality. In the past year and a half, several investors have picked up gems like good class bungalows in Bukit Timah/Holland; heritage properties at Emerald Hill Road and shophouses fronting main roads like Serangoon Road, Geylang Road, South and North Bridge Roads. These properties have appreciated substantially, with some doubling from the time they were bought at auction.

Recently, there has been a trend of luxury properties put on the auction block, as well as those in developments with en bloc potential. Some of these include apartments in The Beaumont, Stevens Loft and Watten Estate Condo.

Hence, there is no lack of quality properties to buy in the auction market.

Myth No 3: Auctioned properties bring bad luck

This superstitious belief can be traced to the days when auctions were mainly for banks’ foreclosed properties.

People refrained from buying such properties as they feared they would suffer the same fate as the previous owners.

Today, this superstitious view is slowly disappearing with a younger generation of property buyers.

Again, not all auctioned properties are forced sales by banks as more owners are now choosing the auction route on their own accord. They see the many advantages of auction sale and want to leverage it in a bullish property market.

As a matter of fact, buyers who successfully bid for apartments at Leedon Heights, Tulip Gardens and Silver Towers are now laughing all the way to the bank as these developments have just been collectively sold. Good fortune was theirs as a result of their smart purchases at auctions.

Myth No 4: Hungry ghosts

The seventh lunar month has been traditionally the ‘Hungry Ghost Festival’ – an inauspicious period when buyers refrain from buying property. All the more so at auctions.

Generally, businessmen and property buyers who observe Chinese religious rituals during this period, would rather bid for goods that have been ceremoniously blessed by their gods which they believe will bring them good luck – items such as ‘black charcoal’, symbolic sculptures, etc.

However, in the past few years, many property buyers are breaking away from this trend and are buying properties during the Hungry Ghost month, even at auctions. In the latest auction on Aug 16, which fell on the third day of the Hungry Ghost month, a dilapidated two-storey conservation terrace house at Spottiswoode Park was aggressively bid for by six parties from an opening price of $680,00 to an eventual $1.36 million. That’s a 100 per cent increase!

Two other properties were also sold at the same auction and these transactions defy the myth that property auctions are a ‘no-no’ during the Hungry Ghost Festival.


Auctions will go on, be it bullish or bearish markets. With technological advances, improvements such as electronic biddings may complement conventional auctions. At the same time, myths and misconceptions relating to property auctions will be erased over time as people become more familiar with this mode of sale. Having cleared the suspicions and doubts concerning auctions, buyers can safely head to the weekly property auctions and pick up some good buys.

The writer is Knight Frank’s auctions director


Source: Business Times 27 Sept 07

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