Buyers from around the world flocked to a Northern Ireland property auction – with real estate selling for up to four times its reserve value in a bidding frenzy.
Around 700 bidders from across the UK and Ireland and remote bidders from as far as Hong Kong and Dubai took part in the Lambert Smith Hampton event at the Beflast's Europa Hotel, which saw almost 80 lots under the hammer.
Of the 78 properties on offer, 76 were sold and the total maximum reserve for all properties of £3.2m was exceeded by £1.8m, totalling £5.04m.
An apartment in Shaftesbury Court in Belfast, (reserve £40,000), sold for £151,000; an ex-police station in Keady, (reserve £95,000) sold for £230,000, and an 11-bedroom guesthouse in Fermanagh (reserve £195,000), sold for £311,000.
Along with a slow recovery of house prices, the recent sale by the Republic's bad bank Nama to American investor Cerberus of all its Northern Ireland loans, and the sale of big-money assets such as Obel Tower in Belfast city centre, the auction is evidence of renewed interest in the market.
Everyone with a stake in the property market, from homeowners to estate agents, was left bruised by the property boom and bust, in which typical house prices fell by 50% from their 2007 peak.
Surveyor Daphne Mahon from Lambert Smith Hampton (formerly BTW Shiells) said that the sales were an indication that confidence was returning to the property market in Northern Ireland.
"The level of bidding activity shown at this auction is an indicator that developers are willing to invest in Northern Irish property again, particularly given that these properties all require considerable development," she said.
"It was the busiest auction that we have seen for years. We have received very positive feedback – both from sellers, and attendees regarding the manner in which the auction was held. The performance as a whole was backed up by some very exciting lots and heated bidding through- out the day. We were delighted to surpass the maximum reserve by 57%."
Lawyer Ross Davidson, a principal at RW Davidson, which specialises in commercial property law, said: "We've heard much talk recently about American investors coming to Northern Ireland and purchasing the crown jewels, such as Marathon's acquisition of the Obel Building in Belfast.
"But the level of interest generated by this auction highlights that investor demand is strong across the spectrum including for properties that offer the potential for redevelopment.
"This will no doubt come as welcome news to Cerberus as they begin to take decisions on what to do with the hundreds of buildings and sites in their recently acquired Nama Northern Irish loan book."
Lot 83: 18 Shaftesbury Court, Belfast
This sixth-floor three-bedroom apartment is in a block just off Dublin Road in Belfast city centre. The bedrooms are double-sized, one with an ensuite shower and separate bathroom. But the kitchen and bathrooms have not been fitted and the apartment is described as "in need of extensive refurbishment". It had a £40,000 reserve and sold for £151,000.
Lot 68: 142 to 148 Killyman Road, Dungannon
This property includes a three-bedroom house, which needs refurbishment, sitting on a site of around 0.6 acres.
There is a rectangular plot of land next to the house. With a £30,000 reserve, it was sold for £110,000.
Lot 19: Cedars Guesthouse, Lisnarick, Co Fermanagh
This property had a reserve of £195,000 but sold for £311,000.
It's close to Castle Archdale Country Park, giving it direct access to the scenic area around Lough Erne. The Archdales, who were major property owners in the county, built the property in 1882 as a home for their minister.
It now boasts 11 ensuite bedrooms, two lounges, a breakfast room and also a one-bedroom apartment.
Lot 56: 11 Rushfield Avenue, Belfast
This is a mid-terrace three-storey building close to the Ormeau Road, which had a £50,000 reserve but sold for £121,000.
It is split to accommodate three apartments but does need refurbishment.
Lot 25: Keady Police Station, Co Armagh
The two-storey police station on Davis Street in the small border village is set on 1.37 acres. It had a reserve of £95,000 but sold for £230,000. The station witnessed many shootings and bomb attacks.
Lot 70: Sinton's Mill, Tandragee, Co Armagh
This property, a grade B2 listed former mill building, had a reserve price of £30,000 but sold for £110,000. The mill was used for the production of linen and was in operation until the 1990s. It was originally established as a corn mill in the 1860s.
Get a home at the click of a finger
By Ben Collins
Property auctions have become increasingly popular with both buyers and sellers.
For the buyer it is possible to get properties quickly. If you are well organised, properly advised and have the financial resources, you can exchange contracts in days. If the auctioneer is following Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) conditions, completion will be 20 working days after auction.
You may also find properties are on offer with attractive low guide prices, although the eventual price will be determined by the level of competition.
For sellers, auctions provide certainty – properties are not sold 'subject to contract' as through a traditional estate agency sale method.
The successful bidder is obliged to complete the sale once the gavel falls. Speed is another potential advantage for the seller – sale is quick and completion usually takes place 20 working days after auction.
If you're thinking of buying or selling at auction, it may be in your interests to ensure the auctioneer is an RICS member.
It offers peace of mind because we will give you clear, impartial and expert advice and we have codes of conduct to protect you – including protection of our complaints service.
- Ben Collins is director of the RICS in Northern Ireland