August 22, 2006

A Northern Virginia story – How a $1.1 million house sold for $530,000

This is a pretty interesting story – now granted, it’s in Northern Virginia which is not special like the Bay Area, but still… an interesting story: – Housing Slump Proves Painful For Some Owners and Builders
Joan Guth is one homeowner who was taken by surprise. Last September, she put her stately five-bedroom home in Herndon, Va., on the market for about $1.1 million. She was confident she would get something near that price, and planned to use the proceeds to buy a retirement home in Florida. But her home in the Washington suburbs attracted few serious lookers, and in March, she cut her asking price to $899,900. Still there were no takers. Finally, on the advice of her broker, she called in an auction firm, beginning a process that would eventually reveal to her just how weak the Northern Virginia market had become.


Ms. Guth, whose home in Herndon, Va., had failed to attract a buyer after months on the market, eventually turned to Tranzon Fox, an auction firm based in Burke, Va. Ms. Guth had based her initial $1.1 million asking price on a 2005 appraisal of her home, which now appeared far off the mark. She and her family decided they would accept the highest bid of at least $675,000.

Kristin Eddy, a 35-year-old pediatric occupational therapist living in a town home in Reston, Va., had noticed Ms. Guth’s dark-green turreted home with its wraparound verandas while riding her bike along a nearby trail. “I’ve had my eye on that house for a long time — as a dream,” Ms. Eddy says. When it first went on the market, it was far beyond her price range. Then she noticed the sign announcing the auction.


Ms. Eddy figured her chances of winning were near zero. When the auction began, it became clear that there were only two serious bidders. Although Mr. Karbelk tried to stir excitement, the bidding petered out within minutes. Ms. Eddy was the high bidder, at $475,000.

Looking stricken, Ms. Guth and one of her sons huddled with their broker for a few minutes. Then they told the auctioneer they wouldn’t accept the bid, which fell below the stipulated minimum that hadn’t been revealed to bidders. The auction was over.

Ms. Guth said she would move and leave the house empty until she could sell it at a reasonable price. Late that afternoon, Ms. Eddy raised her offer to $525,000. The Guths wavered for two days before agreeing to accept about $530,000. Ms. Eddy is getting a home with five bedrooms, four full bathrooms, a half-acre lot and a three-car garage for about what some people had been paying until recently for town houses in the area.

Ms. Guth has revised her retirement plan. The disappointing auction result made it difficult for her to afford the kind of home she wanted in Florida. She has decided to buy a home in South Hill, a rural area of south-central Virginia where home prices are cheaper than they are in either Florida or the Washington suburbs. She thinks she can find a home there for $175,000 or less.

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