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Vacant houses can fulfill dreams after city auction


The sign on the door of 4 S. Frederick St. announces that an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting is held at this address.

Not so well marked in the same small office building just south of city Police Department headquarters is the Baltimore branch of the Atlanta auction company the city has hired to sell nearly 170 vacant houses this month.

This a very curious sale billed as the first annual Home Festival Auction. The sale is full of government rules, but it also promises to deliver some good deals for owner-occupant purchasers with a lot of faith.

It includes property from nearly every rank of neighborhood in the city -- beginning with a fancy condominium near the Guilford community and ending with modest two-story rowhouses.

The high bidders must promise to reside in their castles for a minimum of five years. Some buyers who live in their houses 10 years may have certain costs forgiven.

"By combining the financing, construction-rehabilitation and available financial assistance, we reach a sector of the buying public who probably didn't think they could afford a house," says Steve Slocumb, vice president of the Atlanta-based Hudson & Marshall auctioneers.

All the homes Slocumb is trying to sell are now empty. Some are in such poor condition that there will be no physical entry allowed before the auction sales set for April 23, 24 and 25 at the Convention Center. Some need only minimal repairs.

The trick is the city and auctioneer promise to deliver them to the buyers in a completely renovated state based upon the specifications of the city housing and building codes. That delivery date will depend upon a property's condition.

"I've been stressing to people they should not expect anything not on the repair list. People will be able to select wall paint colors and colors of carpeting and tiles, but we're not putting in Jacuzzis," says Jesse Wiles, president of Asset Property Disposition, an Atlanta-based consultant for affordable housing.

This is an auction wherein bidders will be asked to offer money for bathrooms they've never seen and kitchens they've never inspected -- and may not even exist at the day of the sale. And that takes some fortitude and trust on the part of the consumer.

The auction's inventory is surprising. Not every property has been taken from the rolls of the city's vacant house list, although all are currently unoccupied. Both the federal and state governments have title to some of the houses up for sale -- largely because their former owners defaulted on state or federal mortgage programs.

The auctioneers have issued a 32-page booklet printed with color photographs of many of the properties. One of the properties is a Charles Street condo overlooking the Johns Hopkins University tennis courts. Another listing is in the heart of the oldest part of Fells Point.

There are homes in Belair-Edison, Cedonia, Greenmount West, Oliver, Johnston Square, Govans, Hampden, Waverly, Yale Heights, Hollins Park, Union Square, Poppleton, Pratt-Monroe, Woodberry, Park Heights, Forest Park, Reservoir Hill, Rosemont, Walbrook North, Coppin Heights, Penn North, Druid Heights, Harlem Park and Upton.

In some sections, a number of homes are on the same street.

There are eight homes in the 100 block of W. Cross St. as well as three houses in the corresponding block of W. Hamburg St., locations technically in the Sharp-Leadenhall section of South Baltimore. But I'll bet somebody who buys one of these homes will wind up claiming a Federal Hill or Inner Harbor address.

There are six houses on Lakeview Avenue in the Reservoir Hill section. In Sandtown-Winchester, seven homes are up for bids in the 1800 block of Lorman Ave. near Monroe Street.

Bidders should not believe that just because they are the high bidder (say $7,000) for a livable three-story rowhouse in the 1300 block of Mosher St. that the property will be theirs. The city and other participating governments have established, but not published, minimum bids. Property will not be given away for a song.

The auction is full of rules and requirements, but also money-saving ways to help people live in the city and become homeowners. To bid, you must be prequalified through an application procedure. For information, call 752-8611.

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