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Bidders sing praises of sold-for-song town homes


Tom Greenbaum bought his dream house in Homeland Saturday -- the end-of-group with the sun room -- for $129,000 and proclaimed it "a deal and a half."

"This is a prime unit. This is the one I wanted," he said. But then in a passing moment of post-auction reflection, he asked, "What have I done? I don't believe I did this."

The 30-year-old architect was among about 75 people -- 40 of them registered bidders -- who gathered under a large green-and-white striped marquee for the auction of 16 mostly completed town houses and 66 building lots in the East Village at Homeland development, off Homeland Avenue in North Baltimore. Mr. Greenbaum described the stucco-and-brick-faced town houses as "West Coast-inspired style" unique in the Baltimore area.

His professional eye was busy as he toured his new three-bedroom house.

"I'm thinking about knocking out this wall here and making it one big room. I've got some things to do in here. Oh, oh, there's a leak coming through," he said, pointing to the water stain blotching the white ceiling.

For Mr. Greenbaum, who grew up in Towson's Hampton area and now lives in North Baltimore, the successful bid meant the end of a year-long search, which included tours of all the houses auctioned yesterday.

"I was so tired of it; I'm exhausted now," he said. But his excitement was palpable.

"This is so great; I'm so tickled," he said. "I slept last night, but I'm not going to sleep tonight. When I wrote that $10,000 [deposit] check, I thought, what have I done? The only other time I felt like this was when I bought my car."

"I think I'll put my BMW in the driveway now," he said.

The foreclosure sale was ordered by Loyola Federal Savings and Loan Association when Homeland Acres Limited Partnership, the developer, went belly-up.

Although the total auction price was announced as $3.38 million, only about half of the town houses were actually sold.

Greg Manuel, of Loyola Federal's construction division, bought 66 building lots and nearly half of the houses back for the bank for $1.5 million, because the bids did not reach the bank's minimum levels. The bids crept barely above $100,000 despite auctioneer Andrew Stafford's coaxing and cajoling, with sometimes only a $500 raise at a time.

Before the auction, they were priced between $155,000 and $180,000.

The top bid was $137,000. Of the houses that sold, Mr. Stafford said, "The prices were slightly higher than I expected."

He attributed that to the Homeland location and the quality of the houses rather than to either the spring-like day or an end to the economic recession.

"When you have a product that is substantially completed, and the bank is willing to let it go at a discount, people will buy it," the auctioneer said.

Mr. Manuel also called the auction a success. He said the bank will negotiate with developers and contractors about the building lots and about finishing the houses so they can be offered for sale.

Edward J. Levin, a lawyer with Piper & Marbury representing the bank, said, "We got a good crowd. People were interested in buying an individual house."

Kevin Tisdale and Lisa Clark were among them. The couple, who work with the retarded and rent a town house in Woodlawn, bid $110,000 for a three-bedroom house and it was accepted.

Only three houses were left when they bid, and they were worried they wouldn't get one. "They were beginning to run out," Kevin said, "but we did it. Lisa wanted a three-bedroom house."

Were they nervous?

"She's been nervous for a week," Kevin said. Was he? "Naw, not me," he declared, laughing at his own joke.

For Bob and Pam Gates, who own a four-floor town house in Bolton Hill, the auction was a potential opportunity to pick up a bargain, either as a home or for investment.

In the end, however, the Gateses didn't buy. "They went higher than I wanted to pay," Mr. Gates said.

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