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From the wiki books on monopoly:

Occasionally, when there is a housing shortage, it can pay to tear down houses on one colour group to immediately build them on a different colour group. However, if another player declares an interest in buying the houses you have torn down, you will have to outbid that player for them, so this tactic pays off only when you are buying the torn down houses for expensive properties anyway, and you have much cash, and the other likely bidders are cash poor.

I have played monopoly since I was a kid and I have never heard of bidding for houses; I thought sold houses reverted to the bank, and can then be bought again by other players if there is a shortage. What's the deal?

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    I believe playing without bidding for houses is a common house rule similar to getting money when landing on Free Parking. I don't think I ever played with bidding for houses growing up either. – GendoIkari Aug 2 '15 at 18:36
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The rules for monopoly are pretty clear on this point (emphasis mine)

BUILDING SHORTAGES: When the Bank has no houses to sell, players wishing to build must wait for some player to return or sell histher houses to the Bank before building. If there are a limited number of houses and hotels available and two or more players wish to buy more than the Bank has, the houses or hotels must be sold at auction to the highest bidder.

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    Huh. Good point. I looked at the rules I pointed to before, and I didn't see any mention of "you can only build houses on your own turn." Which is odd, as I recall that as being a rule at one time. Perhaps there's a monopoly historian who can comment on this bit. – John Aug 2 '15 at 19:38
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    I remember this being discussed before, most likely on this site. Houses can be bought at any time. The rules are somewhat vague on this, so most people agree that you can't buy houses right after a person rolls but before they land on your space. But it definitely doesn't have to be only on your turn. – GendoIkari Aug 2 '15 at 20:39
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    "[...] you may buy and erect at any time as many houses as your judgement and financial standing will allow" (Hasbro). This is not vague, it's broad. – freekvd Aug 3 '15 at 6:54
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    @Albatrosspro, the way I would interpret it is exactly what you say in your edit. The very moment you have rolled, you now owe a particular amount, despite the fact that it takes real-world time to determine where you would have landed. But no in-game time passes between rolling and being on the property and owing money. – GendoIkari Aug 4 '15 at 17:08
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    @John - I know of no historical edition of Monopoly that disallowed "doing" things while another player is taking his/her turn. – warren Aug 5 '15 at 19:40
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TL;DR Only you can buy houses on your turn. All players can buy houses between the turns. So between turns, there could be a house auction.

The rules about building houses seems to be the subject of much debate. Everyone I know builds their houses on their own turn. If you do that, then there will never be two people trying to claim houses at the same time. Unfortunately, the rules don't say you can only build houses on your own turn. They explicitly state:

When you own all the properties in a color-group you may buy houses from the Bank and erect them on those properties.
[...]
Following the above rules, you may buy and erect at any time as many houses as your judgement and financial standing will allow.

Nothing about your own turn there. Looks as though you can just build whenever. Here's another one that implies that you can buy houses simultaneously:

When the Bank has no houses to sell, players wishing to build must wait for some player to return or sell histher houses to the Bank before building. If there are a limited number of houses and hotels available and two or more players wish to buy more than the Bank has, the houses or hotels must be sold at auction to the highest bidder.

This is backed up by some tournament rule pages:

The buying and selling of houses does not have to occur on your turn, but rather, can be done at any time during the game.

The largest concern here is that someone can buy a house between someone rolling the dice, and landing on a property. Wikipedia says the following (even though it doesn't have a citation for it):

When a player owns all of the properties in a color group and none of them are mortgaged, they may develop them during their turn or in between other player's turns.

I tried to find another source for this and found it here, though again this is not an official source:

The way the rule is applied in tournaments is that it means that you do not have to wait for your turn to buy houses. They allow you to buy houses between player’s turns. Once a person has started their turn by rolling the dice you must wait until the end of their turn before you can build. What we typically do is as the next player is reaching for the dice we call out “Hold the dice, I want to build”.

This means that between players' turns there can be an auction between various players that want to buy the same houses.

These auctions can proceed as you see fit, but are managed by the banker. This page is rather thorough in its explanation on these auctions:

The Banker runs auctions. Players must indicate the specific property to be improved if the house/hotel is won before bidding. Auction bids start at the value of houses/hotels for the lowest-priced property where it might be placed. The highest bidder, after giving his/her money to the Banker, places the house/hotel on the identified property. If houses/hotels remain and more than one person wishes to purchase the remaining houses/hotels, then another auction is held for the right to purchase these houses/hotels, one by one.This continues until no houses/hotels remain, until no one wishes to buy, or until only one person wishes to purchase houses/hotels. If only one person wishes to purchase, he/she may do so without an auction.

  • Thanks for that. Strange that one of the most popular and established board games in the world is so hazy about something so important. I'd love to know what the Parker Brothers said, or what controversies must have come up in the first few years... surely this would have confused certain people then as well as now. – Albatrosspro Aug 4 '15 at 8:21
  • @Albatrosspro I don't think you'll find records of the Parker Brothers explaining anything in relation to your question. Is that what you are looking for in an answer? – freekvd Aug 5 '15 at 15:34
  • Two downvoters, care to comment? – freekvd Aug 6 '15 at 20:55
  • "I'd love to know what the Parker Brothers said, or what controversies must have come up in the first few years"-- really that's all I meant, that I'm curious. Thanks for your help in this thread. – Albatrosspro Aug 11 '15 at 4:09

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