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So. Now that you’ve seen my home in complete shambles, you’re probably wondering how we acquired the mess in the first place, yes? Lucky for you, I take really great notes.

Our search for the perfect home began in July 2009 when we had finally saved enough couch cushion pennies to bid on something that didn’t live on wheels. Because I’m married to a very unexpectedly burly man, we had decided early in the process that we would purchase a foreclosed home at auction and fix it up with a bit of elbow grease (and a ton of trash bags).

Husband and I studied the market for a good few months before making the trek to our first home auction, which happened to take place in Indy. We had our eye on a tiny little lake property in need of a lot of TLC. And because we had never attended an auction, we arrived two hours early and waited for the concierge to hand us those cute little bidding paddles.

You’re probably shaking your head at my naivete, because at a home auction, there are no paddles. In fact, there’s no concierge. In place of the white gloves and champagne are twenty-something frat boys downing Red Bull and making wild hand gestures while screaming “YIP! YIP!” In fact, it was much like this auction, only on speed.

Needless to say, we were totally out of our element and didn’t score the home of our dreams there. We traveled home empty-handed (with intense headaches). Yet my husband, being the expert researcher he is, landed on a foreclosed property a few weeks later…in our favorite neighborhood.

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We had to jump through a few hoops to find the auction date, but on a wintry November morning, we traveled to our local courthouse for a second auction — this time, for an abandoned, moldy ranch that we were insane to love. Expecting to re-visit the headache-induced “YIPS!” of yesteryear, I packed some Aleve and said a prayer.

Yet this time? This time, there was no Red Bull. After all, the sheriff’s sale was in a courthouse, so I suppose some level of professionalism was to be upheld.

At approximately 12PM, the secretary called us into a tiny room to read a list of homes for sale at auction. There were just a few men present, along with a sheriff and a few government employees sending various faxes in the foreground. After seeing a few properties being sold for wayyy under asking price, Husband and I started to fill our heads with dreams of turning 29 years old and having no mortgage.

Of course, when it came time to bid on our property, the few men present were ready to fight. Apparently, it was a gem (who knew?). Yet at the last second, when we were ready to throw in the towel, the sheriff asked if anyone was willing to go higher than $80K. We nodded, and the other men stepped back. And with that, it was our home.

A steal indeed, and we pinched ourselves after picking up the keys and title a few days later. And for 48 hours, we were on cloud nine. That is, until we started cleaning out the dump.

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We won’t talk about that part (unless you have an interest in hearing how many moldy ham sandwiches we recovered from under the entertainment center). What I will talk about? My tips for landing the home of your dreams at a sheriff’s sale or auction:

1. Do your homework. Get to know some key real estate jargon (this is a great video if you’re ready to learn!) before embarking on any sort of sale. Not only will you have a leg up on the competition, but you’re less likely to get flustered when the big wigs bring out the big words.
2. Be calm. Seriously, medicate yourself if necessary. During our first auction experience, I had to leave the room twice for fear of dehydration and/or a mild anxiety attack. Remind yourself that sure, this is a big purchase, but if you’ve done your homework, you’ll come out on top.
3. Run the numbers. If you know you’d like to tackle a renovation, come up with the highest number you’re willing to pay for the property itself, and don’t go over it. Easier said than done, as Husband and I made this mistake during our first auction (I blame it on the “YIP!”). A great way to do the math is to manage your expectations, be honest about how much house you need, and break down your budget from there. Keep in mind the property value and neighborhood comps, as you don’t want to get stuck upside down in a renovation.
4. Know the property. Husband and I had visited our home four times before bidding, and hired an attorney to ensure the title was clean. At a sheriff’s sale, there’s no luxury of escrow or inspection, so minimize the risk by finding out everything you know about the home. Hint: It also helps to bribe the neighbors with sweets to get the dirt!
5. Be friendly. You may feel anxious at the auction, but be as friendly and kind as possible. Prior to the sheriff’s sale, my husband and I chatted with a contractor who planned to bid on our same property. He learned that we had moved from Los Angeles and, rather than flipping the property, wanted to make it our forever home. I still think we melted his heart, which is why he bowed out at our highest number. (Maybe not, but I love a good fairy tale.)

And, of course, have fun. Purchasing a home is a huge step for anyone, but don’t forget to stop and smell the roses. Or in this case, moldy ham sandwiches. More on that later…

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