Auction Aims To Awaken Luxury Home Market

People bid for luxury homes in Baltimore. i i

hide captionBids at Monday night's auction in Baltimore started at $329,000 for townhomes that were listed for more than $1 million just two months ago.

Cathy Duchamp for NPR
People bid for luxury homes in Baltimore.

Bids at Monday night's auction in Baltimore started at $329,000 for townhomes that were listed for more than $1 million just two months ago.

Cathy Duchamp for NPR

Eighteen luxury townhomes on Baltimore's Inner Harbor were sold at auction Monday night. It wasn't a foreclosure sale or a sell-off to appease creditors. The auction's goal was to reset prices in the luxury real estate market.

Bids started at $329,000 for townhomes that were listed for more than $1 million just two months ago.

Tracy Feliciani couldn't resist the possibility of a home with an elevator and rooftop deck.

"I was already talking to my parents about next year Fourth of July and saying how perfect it would be to be on the rooftop deck watching the fireworks over the Harbor," Feliciani says. "You never know — it might be fate."

The home Feliciani came to bid on is part of a swank development of townhouses built on piers in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. But the neighborhood feels more like a ghost town than a luxury resort. Nearly half the homes stand empty.

It's a scenario playing out in cities across the country, and it's not just because the federal homebuyers credit is gone.

"You can never get in front of the consumer in a declining market," says Jon Gollinger of Accelerated Marketing Partners, the company behind the auction. "It's a constant chase. It's insidious."

He says the event dissolves the disconnect between what buyers are willing to pay and what sellers are willing to accept.

"When you make a critical mass of sales occur, driven by the consumer in a very competitive environment, it's going to free up the market. It's going to break the logjam that's occurring in this market," Gollinger adds.

His team sold $12 million worth of real estate in a little more than an hour. The highest price for a townhome: $956,000. The lowest: $516,000.

But are auctions a new trend?

"If you get to the point where the auction becomes a common occurrence, it loses a lot of its punch," says Lewis Goodkin, a real estate analyst based in Miami.

He says auctions can work in cities, where the supply of new homes is limited. But not in places like Miami, or Las Vegas, where there are thousands of available homes.

"The more distressed the market is, the more auctions that you have, the more bargain selling that you see going on conventionally, that makes a difficult environment for auctions," Goodkin says.

In any transaction, Goodkin says, there are winners and there are losers.

Coming out on the losing end in Baltimore was Tracy Feliciani. She got outbid by a father buying a townhouse for his 24-year-old daughter.

"There are a couple other units in the complex that I'm still interested in," Feliciana says. "So it will be good to go back and think about them, take a look at them and see what happens after that, but it was a good experience."

Proving there is a market for luxury homes in Baltimore — just at a lower price.

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