More Signs of the Times: At foreclosure auctions, broken dreams on sale

Great read on the Great American Tragedy of the new millennium.

At foreclosure auctions, broken dreams on sale

CHICAGO (Reuters) – The seven-bedroom, three-bath house in this city’s West Garfield Park neighborhood had once been someone’s American Dream.

But at a recent auction of about 100 foreclosed houses and condos, it was just Property No. 20 – and drawing no bids from a roomful of buyers despite its bargain-basement price.

“Any interest in this home at $7,000?” fast-talking auctioneer Renee Jones asked the crowd. “If not, we’ll move on.”

Saddled with swollen portfolios of foreclosed and unsold properties in the housing crisis, U.S. lenders and builders are turning to professional auctioneers to help them unload the unwanted real estate in a hurry.

It is an open question whether the auctions indicate that the U.S. real-estate market is recuperating or is still in intensive care.

But the rapid-fire, under-the-hammer sales – usually resorted to only after every other effort to market a property has failed – are on the rise across the United States, providing a colorful burst of activity in a corner of the weak economy that needs all the life it can get.

“Over the last two years, we’ve progressively seen more and more of these,” said Chris Longly, the deputy executive director of the National Auctioneers Association trade group. “It’s a sign of the times.”

Hard data on the number of foreclosed properties being sold at auction are hard to come by. “The foreclosure market is a moving target right now,” said Dave Webb of Hudson & Marshall, one of the biggest auctioneers in the market.

But Hudson & Marshall and its rivals say they are gearing up for more in the coming months, convinced that a moratorium on foreclosures earlier this year only postponed what they believe is an inevitable avalanche of new repossessions.

“The foreclosures are going to explode again,” said Webb.


The cadence and rhythm of the auctions, and the great deals that many buyers walk away with, make the events exciting to watch – and make it easy to forget the heartache that lies behind almost every forced property sale in a country where home ownership is often equated with “The American Dream.”

At the weekend Chicago event, Jones managed to race through the 100 properties up for bid in less than two hours.

When a home did not immediately attract interest or the minimum price, Jones, wielding her gavel in front of a giant tote board, wasted no time moving on.