As a curious real estate investor, I wondered if the enormous Buena Vista home auction last weekend would have some great deals, or be the shadier side of Portland's real estate apocalypse.
I went to the Oregon Convention Center on Saturday, Dec. 15, to check out the auction by Buena Vista developer Roger Pollock (see "Rogue of the Week," WW , Dec. 5, 2007), who hoped to unload about 250 properties from his overbuilt subdivisions. He ended up selling 141 homes. Here's a diary from the day I attended, including my meet-up with Pollock.
The registration area is so crowded that it takes 10 minutes to get through the line. I display my $5,000 cashier's check in exchange for my bidder card, which I won't use because the volatile market has me spooked.
The crowd is mixed, ranging from families with kids in strollers to serious-looking types with clipboards and printouts.
Most of the 1,500 or so chairs are occupied. The announcer begins preaching the gospel of sales, intoning, "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
Auctioneer Mike Carr begins with a four-bedroom home in Sandy, "valued" at $392,950. Of course, bidders determine the real value. The house sells for $273,000—after adding the 5 percent buyer's premium, a 30 percent discount.
The crowd has thinned by about half, but the auctioneer hasn't let up. He's sold 59 homes—or about one every 2 1/2 minutes. That pace turns out to be leisurely, as he sells a house a minute for the next 10 minutes, then 43 houses in the next hour.
The last auction is a three-bedroom home in Happy Valley. Originally "valued" at $588,950, it sells for $415,000—a 30 percent discount.
I finally spot Pollock. Dressed in black, with stylish, shaggy blond hair, he looks more like an aging rock star. He is surprisingly upbeat, considering he's liquidating his company's entire inventory. The unpublished reserves—the secret prices below which Pollock was not obliged to sell his homes—generated much pre-auction concern. But Pollock claims the reserves were just the homes' break-even point and that they sold houses to the highest bidder, regardless of the reserve price. "The average home sold for between 60 and 70 thousand below our cost," he says, adding that it was better to get all the homes off the books quickly, rather than pay interest on the loans as they lingered on the market.
Conclusion: Although the houses went well below the builder's "valued" prices, I was surprised the bidding went so high, especially in grossly overbuilt Happy Valley. Overall, the auction was a plus for the local real estate market. But despite Pollock's claims that he was ignoring the reserves and selling all the houses, he only accepted bid prices for 141 of the 250 homes. Bidders were rightly concerned that the auction's secret pricing and format were designed to benefit Pollock's pockets rather than make it easy for a buyer to get a fair price.