The Housing Chronicles Blog: Do home auctions always reveal the true market price?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Do home auctions always reveal the true market price?

Over the weekend there was an auction at a mid-rise condo project in the Bay Area's Oakland called Eight Orchid. According to a report by the San Francisco Chronicle, accepted bids were 25 to 34 percent below the original list prices, leading many market watchers to conclude that this simply determines the actual market value for not only these condos, but implies that similar discounts should be applied to all properties in the area. But is it really that simple? From the story:

The coordinators of Sunday's auction of 41 units at the new Eight Orchids condominium midrise in Oakland billed the event as a means of finding the actual market value for such homes. If true, the results may be bad news for developers and great for buyers.

Among the dozen transactions recorded by The Chronicle, sales prices ranged between 25.3 and 34 percent off the original asking price. That's well below the 16.9 annual percent drop in median resale condo values or the 21.2 percent decline for all new homes in Alameda County, according to a February report from DataQuick Information Systems.

"The market has definitely humbled us," said Stuart Gruendl, chief executive officer of project developer BayRock Residential of Oakland. "But at the same time, our heads are above water and the property is succeeding."

He said the total sales amount was within 5 percent of what he expected to receive for all of the properties, adding that they moved at least a year's worth of inventory in a few hours...

All 41 of the homes put up for auction received bids above the minimum. Escrow is scheduled to close in five to 35 days. Winning bidders were contractually obligated to complete the purchase, but if they find a means of backing out, other participants may be contacted.

Ken Stevens, chief executive officer of the West Coast division of Accelerated Marketing, said the auction would be used to establish the price for remaining homes at Eight Orchids...

More difficult to evaluate is what the auction will mean for the broader Oakland or East Bay market, experts say. People evaluating the market will certainly note the comparables - or sales prices of recently traded nearby properties - and buyers or their brokers could use them when making offers, providing additional negotiating leverage.

"All those auctions will end up in some appraiser's book," said Christopher Thornberg, an economist with Beacon Economics of Los Angeles...

Still, developers and sellers aren't likely to drastically mark down their units based on one afternoon auction for a single building. The perception - or at least explanation - could be that Eight Orchids might have set its prices too high to begin with or that it may have limited appeal because it is near Interstate 880 and the Alameda County and Oakland city jails.

"That kind of discount could be attributed to their location, as much as to the overall market and credit situation," said Patrick Duffy, principal with MetroIntelligence Real Estate Advisors in Los Angeles...

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