Auction by RTC raises enthusiasm and funds


He came to the auction on a whim and in the excitement wound up spending $88,000 on a vacation home in Ocean Pines that he'd never seen.

Warren Klawans of Pikesville proved to be just the sort of bidder the Resolution Trust Corp. (RTC) had in mind when it put 30 properties on the auction block before a crowd of about 500 last night.

"Obviously, I didn't get a bargain," said the 57-year-old Mr. Klawans, a retired real estate broker, after he emerged from the noisy auction room to learn more about the home from an agent. The four-bedroom property had been valued last year by an appraiser at between $89,900 and $93,000, the agent said, but was in need of renovation.

To generate enthusiasm and move properties at the best possible price, the RTC put on a show in Linthicum last night, complete with a brassy-sounding rock band that played after every property was sold. The auctioneers were turned out in tuxedos, with carnations in their lapels and slicked-back hair.

But the crowd for last night's event was not as large as expected or as large as the one that showed up at another such auction in Arlington Wednesday night, said Benly Fisher, president of Fisher Auction Co., which took the bids for the RTC.

Many of those attending last night's auctions were curiosity seekers or bargain hunters who vowed not to spend more than a predetermined amount for a property.

Some, however, apparently were swept away by the spirit of the evening.

"This is insanity. People don't know what they're doing here. They're buying the sizzle and not the steak," said David Ott, who heads his own Towson-based commercial brokerage firm.

Mr. Ott said some of the properties auctioned last night went cheaply but that others sold at more than their market value. Mr. Ott declined to bid on an office condominium in Waverly that he said sold for $14,500 more than he was willing to pay.

"Our goal is to get back the taxpayers' money as quickly as possible and auctions are a good way to do it," said Sharon Herron, the RTC auction coordinator overseeing last night's events.

Thirty properties, valued by appraisers at more than $4 million and including 15 properties deemed "affordable housing" by the RTC, were up for sale last night in two auctions at the Holiday Inn BWI Airport. The first auction, whose properties had a total appraised value of $2 million, raised $1.03 million, according to the RTC.

The auctions represent some of the assets the federal agency received after shutting the Baltimore Federal Financial, First Federal Savings Bank of Annapolis, Perpetual Savings Bank of Vienna, Va., and TrustBank Federal Savings Bank of Tysons Corner, Va.

Thirteen of the 15 affordable units, valued by appraisers at less than $100,000 each, were in the Hanlon Park Condominiums on Liberty Heights Avenue in Baltimore.

Other properties auctioned off included other residential condos, office condos, apartment buildings, a rowhouse in the Charles Village area and the luxury four-bedroom home in the Ocean Pines community of Berlin on the Eastern Shore.

In addition, nearly 3 acres of land in the Chatham Executive Park in Glen Burnie were on the block.

Prospective buyer interest in last night's two auctions -- as well as two public auctions being conducted by the RTC in the Washington area -- has been building for days, Ms. Herron said.

She said the widely advertised events have spurred more than 26,000 phone calls to the Fisher Auction Co., based in Pompano Beach, Fla.

Whether a bidder gets "a bargain" at an RTC auction is tough to measure, said Mary Alice Henning, an RTC affordable housing specialist from Atlanta who was here to help at the auctions.

Nationwide, properties have been selling at auction for an average of 60 percent to 80 percent of their appraised value, she said. But some of the appraisals were conducted as long as 18 months ago, she noted, adding that it is likely that values in the Baltimore area have fallen since.

The RTC is turning increasingly to public auctions as a way to unload its still-growing inventory, said Carolyn Janik, co-author of "How You Can Profit From The S&L; Bailout," a book published by Bantam Press.

"They want to move more property and, since they couldn't find many big investors who wanted to buy real estate in bulk, they're opening up the auctions to the average man and woman on the street," Ms. Janik said.

Ms. Henning said the RTC is willing to lend up to 97 percent of the value of a home purchased at one of its auctions, as long as the household buying the unit plans to live there and meets certain income limits. A four-person family can earn up to $50,050 and remain eligible to buy through the RTC's affordable housing program, she said.

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