Ricky Roberts put his house in on the market last spring for $294,500, just as the housing market softened.
He waited, and waited, then dropped the price a couple of times to $279,000.
He threw out incentives, such as contributing toward closing costs. When the brick Cape Cod house still didn't sell, he took it off multiple listing.
In late January, he sold it at auction and closed on the deal in late February.
"We got what we wanted and maybe a little more," Roberts said.
Selling a house at auction is not just for distressed properties any more. Residential real estate auctions are the fastest growing sector of the auction industry, according to the National Auctioneers Association.
They grew 12.5 percent in 2006 from the previous year, generating $16 billion.
They are "increasingly being accepted as mainstream with the general public," the association reported.
These deals are not made on the courthouse steps, as they are for many tax delinquent or foreclosed properties. The auctions for private sellers are held at the properties or sold at off-site locations among other houses for sale.
Absolute auctions attract more bidders, Roberts was told, and they increase the chances of a bidding war.
"I couldn't bring myself to do it," Roberts said.
He wanted a minimum, or a reserve, of $250,000.
"I was very nervous, scared to death," he said.
Still, he approved a change during the auction, going the absolute route when bidding drew close to his reserve. The tactic re-energized the bidding.
"Four or five people were bidding, then just two women," he recalled. "They were hell bent on buying the house."
"Sold, for $266,000!" said Linda Staples, the auctioneer with Tranzon Fox Auctions.
No commissions were paid. However, the buyer paid a 10 percent premium above the sale price.
Roberts' take? The entire $266,000, minus whatever he owed on his mortgage. If he had sold his house for the list price of $279,000, he would have paid $16,740 in commissions and netted $262,260.
"I would recommend it, especially in this market, a buyer's market," Roberts said. "Nothing against my Realtor, but my house was competing with 50 other homes for sale in the area."
Staples, who sold the house, which is located in Richmond, Va., works mostly with private sellers. She sells $1 million-plus estate homes in resort communities in the coastal areas of Virginia and North Carolina.
The seller's situation typically involves a divorce, a move or an estate, where heirs need to sell a property that hasn't been updated in decades, Staples said.
She also auctioned three new houses in the Ironwood subdivision in Henrico County in November.
"The market had softened and we had excess inventory," said Jeffrey Kornblau, marketing manager for Eagle Construction.
"They all sold at the price we were hoping for."
Now that the market has picked back up, the construction company does not plan on auctioning any more houses, he said.
"Selling a house at auction is certainly an option for a highly motivated seller," Staples said. "If someone says they won't take a penny less than $400,000, then I can't help them."
Staples said she turns down six potential sellers for every one she takes. Her explanation: "A lot of people aren't realistic about what their house is worth."
Properties are sold "as is," meaning the buyer has little protection in these deals.