The best advice to give a novice auctioneer is to say that the audience will be more nervous than he is. However accustomed a buyer is to an antiques saleroom, the experience of a property auction can be daunting as the stakes are often much higher and failure to get that special house can lead to huge disappointment.

Does one start the bidding or wait until the last minute? Is the auctioneer taking genuine bids and is it wise to take a chance, do nothing and hope to pick up a bargain if the reserve is not met?

These decisions have to be made on the spot and it is very easy for the layman to get it wrong. Employing an experienced agent to bid and advise on value can thus be a wise precaution. But it is foolish not to accompany him to the sale as he must stop bidding once he has reached the limit of his authority. All too often it is that ‘extra bid’ that secures the prize?and he cannot make that on his own.

Although expensive and possibly abortive, thorough preparation beforehand is vital: the fall of the hammer commits the buyer to going through with the purchase. He must pay a deposit (normally 10%) and this will be forfeit if he fails to complete.

Most rural properties auctioned nowadays are derelict cottages or ones which have been repossessed. Very careful inspection and a full structural survey are thus essential and renovation plans should be discussed with the planning authority.

A solicitor needs to be instructed to do local searches, carefully check the title or any leases and, in the case of a repossession, be sure that there are no problems with the dispossessed owner.

Country house auctions are rare as competitive situations tend to be settled by best and final offers. But if they are resolved by a private auction, the preparatory work is no different: it just has to be done more quickly. The motto is the same whether the auction is private or public: be prepared.