Dear Consumer Ed:

Can a real estate auction company refuse to sell a property in an online "absolute auction" after the hammer falls, even though the contract was signed by the buyer and funds and contracts were sent by the specified time frame?

Consumer Ed says: 

Typically, an auction suggests that the seller is inviting bidders to make offers, which may be accepted or rejected.  Usually the seller has reserved the right to accept or reject the bid, or set a minimum price the bidder must meet.  Unless otherwise specified, all auctions are presumed to be like this. 

However, a seller can announce the sale is to be “without reserve”, which means the auction is an offer to sell to the highest bidder regardless of price.  This is also referred to as an “absolute auction.”  In this case, once the auction has opened to bids, the seller cannot withdraw the property nor reject the highest bid, because the seller is essentially promising to sell the property to the highest bidder once a bid has been made.  Unless there were special terms of acceptance that were clearly disclosed before the start of the auction, the seller cannot withdraw the property from the sale after a bid.

In any event, precise facts need to be nailed down, and you should contact an attorney to discuss your rights and options against the real estate auction company.

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