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Investors snap up big-ticket items

Aside from auctions attended by serious bargain hunters, there are also those for the well-heeled.

In Asia, auctions of modern art, rare whiskies and jewellery have been hitting new highs, with increasing numbers of rich investors hunting for posh assets to bolster their returns.

And Singaporeans have been jumping in. In 2013, a local kidney specialist, Dr Gordon Ku, netted $4.9 million from half of his fine wine collection. The Christie's auction was held in Hong Kong.

Property and car auctions are a little different. In Singapore, they sometimes signal a car or house owner who has trouble paying off his loan.

For investors, property auctions make good hunting ground.

There can be good quality homes at market rates, says Knight Frank auctions head Sharon Lee.

Last year, buyers flocked to bank sales of homes.

In 2014, the number of homes put up for sale at auctions by banks surged about seven times, compared to 2013's figure.

Mortgagee sale of these homes are due to over-committed borrowers defaulting on repayments.

"The buyers know that these sellers have a serious intention to sell," says Ms Grace Ng, deputy managing director at commercial real estate firm Colliers International.

Last year, there were 123 homes that were auctioned as mortgagee sales, which is about 77 per cent of a total of 159 forced sales listings. In 2013, there were only 17 homes listed.

SPIKE

The spike came on the back of a "stricter regulatory and financing environment", where borrowers in default find it harder to sell their properties on their own, Ms Ng says.

A high number of bankruptcies could also have contributed to the increase in the number of properties put up for mortgagee sale. According to the Insolvency and Public Trustee's Office, more than 1,661 bankruptcy orders were made from January to November 2014.

The four licensed real estate auctioneers in Singapore say they hold property auctions on a monthly basis, usually at Amara Hotel in Tanjong Pagar.