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Going, going, going, sold: All those vacant houses City sells nearly 1,700 properties


When the city's auction of nearly 1,700 abandoned an vacant houses ended yesterday, all but about 20 properties had been bid on, said a spokesman for the Baltimore Department of Housing Development.

"On first evaluation, we are classifying this as a success," said Zack Germroth, the spokesman. "When the new owners foreclose and put money or their expertise to work to refurbish the property, then we'll have a clearer sense of success."

More than 1,000 people filled a Baltimore Convention Center meeting room for the final day of the auction. Some of the buyers were first-time homeowners while others were polished real estate entrepreneurs looking to make the right financial moves.

"This is great!" declared Gail Venzke, who successfully bid $700 for the property at 710 N. Gilmor St.

"My husband and I have been house-hunting for three years," she said. "There was no money out there and no real understanding among the money lenders. My husband is a plumber so when we start to renovate the house, we'll have a good beginning."

James Pinckney, 36, a glass factory laborer, came away with a house at 2049 E. Hoffman St. in East Baltimore. The cost: $600.

"I heard about this auction last week and I thought I'd give it a try," Mr. Pinckney said. "I'm going to do my own work on the place, see how it goes and probably live there."

The first day of the city's bargain-basement house auction was held last week and "people were hanging off the rafters, it was so wild," said Mary E. Gardner, special counsel for the housing department.

Yesterday, the scene was more subdued. Most of the houses -- from Abbotston Street on the East Side to Wylie Avenue in Northwest Baltimore -- were sold in the $1,000 to $10,000 range. The house at 2813 Guilford Ave. went for $33,000.

"It's been more peaceful this second time," said R. Andrew Stafford, one of the auctioneers and senior vice president for Atlantic Auctions Inc., making a comparison to last week when more than 1,500 people jammed the third-floor meeting room.

"You still have two basic categories of bidders," Mr. Stafford said. "Contractors and the like bidding on specific blocks of contiguous properties and everyday folk who are looking to start a home."

To make the properties more appealing, bidders had to pay the city's administrative costs of $85 per house plus any unpaid state taxes. Bidders were not required to pay any city-held liens on the properties -- including tax liens. The prior owners are responsible for city back taxes.

The bidders did not get immediate title to their properties. They must file a foreclosure suit against the current owners in Baltimore Circuit Court.

Those legal steps cannot be taken before mid-July and will cost the bidders anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 in legal and filing fees. If the property is not redeemed by the prior owner, the court will then transfer title to the bidders.

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