Monday, August 28, 2006

Auctions still going, going

Crowds seeking land shrink, but bidding remains intense.

ANAHEIM - Going, going, sold!

The phrase repeatedly rang out in an Anaheim Convention Center ballroom Sunday as would-be buyers pitted their skills and their nerve against each other in search of an increasingly rare find these days – a bargain on land.

About 500 people packed the room for Sunday's draw – 200 parcels of land from throughout the West being auctioned off by Irvine-based

Jeff Frieden, company chief executive, said that, like the housing markets, crowds have thinned at the land auctions this year and selling prices are down. But bidding remains intense for those who attend.

Nearly half of the crowd Sunday said they had never attended an auction before. Others were veterans, knowing just what they wanted to buy and how much they would spend. Some just wanted to learn how it all worked for a future bid.

"Who doesn't want to be a landowner?" said Tom Williams of Long Beach, who came with his wife scouting property to buy for a sheep farm.

To get people in the proper spirit, pastoral scenes appeared on giant screens at the front of the room as the theme from "Rocky" blasted from four loudspeakers. Then, the tuxedo-clad auctioneer stepped to the podium and the game was on.

Bidding for the first parcel, five acres near Rome, Ore., opened at $500 and ended in less than a minute. Final price: $1,500. Sale of Parcel No. 2, a lot in Costilla County, Colo., was over in another minute. Price: $3,000.

And so it went with the auctioneer rattling off the bids in a rat-a-tat delivery as auction assistants button-holed bidders, often urging them higher. Each sale rarely took over three minutes.

Elva Garcia of Santa Ana was one who hung in during spirited bidding for a 2,500-square-foot parcel in the Arch Beach Heights section of Laguna Beach. She got the winning bid for $70,000 and won first rights to pay the same amount for an adjacent parcel, which she also purchased.

When asked if she got a good price, she just shrugged. Like many, she said she liked buying at auction rather than through a broker because of the potential for a better deal and avoiding commissions., which owns the parcels, charges a 10 percent buyer's premium.

The auction brochure admonishes would-be bidders to check out the property before bidding. Some of the potential obstacles are obvious.

Parcel No. 2 in Colorado "may not have road access," said the brochure.

That was a problem for Sue Lucas of Ladera Ranch, who said she went to look at another parcel that was listed.

"I looked everywhere, but there was no road to it," she said.

Still, there were buyers for everything –– even two other Laguna Beach parcels that went for $80,000 each, a price that had John Wilson of Costa Mesa shaking his head. He went to see the property and said they were on a very steep slope.

"I looked at them and they were so high, my ears were popping," he said. "They are totally unusable."