When the hammer went down a few weeks ago, there were audible gasps at the packed auction house, although I think the biggest gasp of shock was from the new home owner himself.
My wife and I had decided that I should speculatively attend our first property auction, and sit this one out, observing how frivolous the great and the good are with their money. Under almost any circumstances we weren't going to buy. Buying at auction would be ridiculous, fraught with risk and pitfalls, something we didn't want to face, especially with a two-year old to look after and another child due in March.
Rewind a few weeks, and the English property system had just failed us for the third time. Our modest 3 bedroom semi had been sold back in august for a price we'd felt lucky to achieve in the current climate. On the day we were meant to Exchange contracts on our sale and the purchase of a delightful detached cottage, the chocolate in the chocolate box house started melting. The present owners had underpinned the property of our dreams themselves and not told the insurance company, meaning the deal could not go ahead. So, after committing over £2,000 of our hard earned cash into it, we had to walk away. Boxes were packed, removal men were booked and the post had already been re-directed. Worst of all, we had to move in with relatives, much to my wife's dismay.
After surveys on a further two properties had highlighted potentially show-stopping problems on these as well, the search was beginning to become really rather urgent. One of my wife's frequent flicks on her ex-favourite iPhone app found a glorious looking property for sale in a charming village we hadn't previously considered, at a price that was just outside of our budget. That excited (and slightly scared) feeling came on again, as I rushed to join her side and stare at the little digital screen. A stunning detached Georgian house stared back at me, unfortunately as did the price and the small print, 'for sale by auction'. Well that's that then.
We decided to attend one of the group viewings just to see how the other half lived. There were four sessions, and the one we were at had perhaps a dozen attendees. It was unsurprisingly a popular property. However how many were there to buy and how many were there to have a nose round his lordships house? Turns out a local multi-millionaire business man was the owner, who had long since relocated to Belgravia.
We retreated back to Rightmove and thought no more of it. When yet another property we wanted to buy fell through, my wife (the reliable, hard-working, organised one) decided that I (the creative, slightly dreamy yet courageous one) might as well go along to the auction just for the experience. We wouldn't bother getting a survey done as the property is bound to go for over half a million pounds. After all, it has a drive in/out driveway, an indoor pool and most exciting of all electric curtains! Silly money. No survey then.
Lot's 1-8 all went for 30-40% over the guide prices. Bidding was competitive and there was standing room only at the back of the packed hall. Each winner was taken away by an attractive young lady and made to sign papers in front of solicitors whilst the crowd looked on in awe and intrigue.
Lot 9 was next. The auctioneer took the price down from over £600,000, until someone bid in at £400,000. The price quickly rose, and then came to a sudden halt, at below our maximum price.
I had one of those slow-motion moments with the sudden realisation that the next couple of seconds could define my entire life, the realisation that this could be either the best or worst decision I ever make... and I bid.
Next followed silence, save for the palpitations of my thumping heartbeat as hundreds of pairs of eyes turned to see who the little upshot was that thinks he can pay that much for a house in this age of austerity. 'Going, going gone'. 'Sold, to the gentlemen on my left!' I honestly couldn't tell you what happened next, but evidently I'd just bought a dream house for about the price of an average London home.
The following few days were a blur of anxiety and sleepless nights penetrated by occasional rays of sunshine and feelings of exhilaration, especially when the survey came back OK.
Yes, I know it is supposed to be an age of austerity and yes inflation is over 5% and yes I know we're all doomed to economic permafrost (thanks for the cheery phrase, Paul Mason). My wife and I are of modest means, all our money is our own and we're not blessed with elitist academic backgrounds. However, I can confirm that the British version of the American capitalist dream is alive and well. If you want something enough and fate agrees, pretty much anything is possible. For whom the hammer falls, it falls for thee.