Buying a house is intimidating for many people, and the idea of standing up at a public auction to bid on a property can be positively terrifying.

Nevertheless, some potential buyers are intrigued by auctions, especially by the prospect of getting a good deal.If you're interested in buying a house at an auction, do some homework first and try to attend at least one before you plan to actually bid. Real estate agents can keep you informed about what's coming up and help guide you through the process.

Here are some other tips from JBS & Associates, a Chicago auction firm:

- First get a brochure from the company sponsoring the auction. It will describe the properties available, tell you the square footage, the asking prices and the real estate taxes. Pictures may be included, but you should take a careful firsthand look at any property that interests you.

- Learn the auction language. Some auctions are ab-solute," meaning the buyer will accept the highest bid for the house - whatever it is. More common are reserve auctions," where the seller sets a minimum bid and reserves the right to withdraw the house if that price isn't met.

Joel Zegert, president of JBS & Associates, said a seller in a reserve auction whose house is appraised at $80,000 might set a minimum bid of $70,000. The seller would agree to accept the highest bid, whatever it might be, as long as it was $70,000 or more.

Zegert disapproves of auctions where the sellers have set reserve prices but won't say what they are before the bidding starts. He said buyers are reluctant to spend a lot of time finding out about a house that might be withdrawn at the auction if a mystery price" isn't reached.

- Find out how long the seller has to accept or reject the bid. Zegert said some auctions have a five-minute limit; others give the seller days or weeks to decide.

- Inspect the property. Attend open houses, or make an appointment to tour the house. If you're looking at a new house with model furniture, ask what will be included in the sale - carpets, appliances, light fixtures, furniture.

Some experts advise homebuyers who are really interested in buying at auction to pay a home inspector to go over the property first. Houses in auctions are sold as is," so any flaws you discover later will be your problem. If you don't want to pay a home inspector, tour the house several times with a real estate agent. Good agents are adept at spotting problems.

Find out from independent sources what the value of the house is on the open market. That way you won't find yourself bidding more than the house is worth.

- If the house you want is occupied, ask when it would be available for you to move in.

- See what financing is available. Developers of new houses may be willing to finance the purchase, and some sellers of resale houses also are willing to hold a mortgage. Otherwise, you'll probably have 45 to 60 days after your bid to get a mortgage.

Zegert said most auctions require you to register beforehand if you plan to bid. You'll also have to produce a cashier's check at the auction to get a bid card. This check becomes your earnest money" if you decide to buy a house. Only people with bid cards are permitted to actually bid," he said.

Auction representatives circulate to help bidders and will announce your bid if you don't want to do it yourself.

Since auctions are still fairly unusual in many parts of the country, not all of them succeed. Buyers, sellers and real estate agents are still learning about the process.