Can you alter harsh terms of sale agreed at auction? The Practice Advice Service explains what is involved in contracts made at auction. 

I have been consulted by a client who entered into a contract to purchase a property at auction yesterday. He has provided me with the signed contract which appears to include the auctioneers’ general conditions of sale, some of which are rather onerous to my client. My client is seeking advice on whether he can now change the terms?

The terms of an auction contract are generally non-negotiable and often more strict on the buyer than at a private transaction. The terms should be examined carefully before the auction to make sure the buyer is fully aware of any onerous terms and understands what it will mean to accept them – once the gavel falls, the contract is made.

When a property is sold at auction, the contract usually includes:

  • details of the land to be sold (particulars)
  • conditions stating the terms of sale, and
  • a memorandum of sale signed by the buyer (or on their behalf) at the auction.

The special conditions of the contract are normally prepared by the seller’s solicitor together with the auctioneer who will prepare the particulars of sale. The contract will often use the standard conditions of sale, although many auctioneers have their own general conditions or have adopted the common auction conditions from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (3rd edition).

For further information, please see the Law Society’s Conveyancing Handbook (25th edition) which is available from the Law Society’s online bookshop.

While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information in this article, it does not constitute legal advice and cannot be relied upon as such. The Law Society does not accept any responsibility for liabilities arising as a result of reliance upon the information given.

Have you got a practice question? Call the Practice Advice Service on 020 7320 5675 or email practiceadvice@lawsociety.org.uk.