The sun beat down hot and hard on more than 200 persons assembled at Alexandria Knolls yesterday, but it couldn't hold a candle to the high-intensity blast of words with which auctioneer Robert Rouse was scorching the crowd.
"All right, folks, now what am I bid. I heard $43,000, do I hear $43,500, 43-5, 43-5, do I hear 44, 44 going once, 44 going twice, now come on folks, this is your last chance:" Rouse came on like a piledriver, the hands shot up like gravel flying from its path.
"It wasn't candlesticks or musty memorabilia that Rouse was alternately coaxing and challenging his listeners to buy yesterday, but 20 luxury condominiums that were being sold off to the highest bidder. "Thirty seconds," said one woman in awe as the hands waved frantically around her. "Thirty seconds to make up your mind about a lifetime investment."
It was the area's first experience with Rouse's specialty, selling off homes to individual prospective owners at public auction. But financially troubled condominiums are nothing new to Northern Virginia, where "Condo Canyon," stretching out along Rte. 95, has seen dozens of the highrise giants fall into the hands of banks and lenders when the glut of condominiums on the market left many of them half empty and is financial quicksand.
Most of Alexandria Knolls' 190 units had been sold since the first tenants arrived in 1975, but the 20 units remaining were enough to make it difficult for the developer, Arpad Domyan, to keep up his loan payments to Union Bank. The bank then called in Rouse, who has managed 36 such auctions in the last two years, selling off over 2,000 condominiums.
Under the bemused eyes of current Alexandria Knolls tenants. Rouse managed to sell off all 20 condominiums in a little over an hour, raking in a total of $990,000 on the one and two bedroom units. This still meant a $750,000 loss for Domyan's corporation, but he was being philosophical about it. "If you consider what our losses could have been if we had waited to sell them off ourselves." Domyan said, "it could have been a lot worse."
Rouse, meanwhile, pronounced the auction a success, the accepted bids coming in at around 75 per cent of the most recent list prices for the units, which ranged from about $48,000 to $105,000.
"Everybody has the urge to steal somebody blind," Rouse said, when asked why people showed up to buy homes in this less than conventional manner. "We all have built-in larceny in our hearts."
For his part, Rouse earns a 10 per cent commission on the gross sales receipts, in addition to having all his costs covered in setting up the auction.
Those costs included a battalion of 46 Rouse employees who whirled successful bidders through several suites set up in the high-rise to draw up the contracts, sign on the dotted line, arrange the financing and fix the closing costs. At times, the entire process began to take on the look of a giant supermarket, as bidders found themselves with a new home, signed, sealed and delivered in about 40 minutes.
Rouse had also thoughtfully provided a paramedic unit in case either the heat or the excitement got to be too much for the participants, who at times, sounded like they might be imminently in need of it.
"I'm in a state of shock," said Dorothy Van Ess, a dental hygienist who suddenly found herself in possession of a two-bedroom condominium whose most recent list price was $66,750 and was hers for $51,000. Van Ess had been to look at all the condominiums that were up for grabs the week before, but it wasn't until the word "SOLD" thundered through the parking lot that she realized what she had done.
"I hadn't thought about buying a condominium much at all," said Van Ess, who gave her age as "39 and holding." But I saw the ad and called up my brother in Arizona and he said they were the wave of the future. I guess that's the way you have to do it sometimes. Even at my age, you have to have a little adventure."