Market Watch

Q & A: Bidder’s Market

A real estate auctioneer talks deals, due diligence, and accidental transactions.

By Matthew Halverson January 14, 2009 Published in the February 2009 issue of Seattle Met

Hear that banging? It’s not a hammer driving nails; it’s a gavel punctuating sales. Seems you can’t go a week lately without hearing about deal-hungry home shoppers congregating in a ballroom to bid on bargain real estate, and chances are good that you’ll find Paul Thomas, licensed auctioneer and partner at Northwest Auctions, overseeing the bidding.

With hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake, I’d be terrified to jump in and try to keep up. The vast majority of people who come are exactly in that category. We always counsel people to find out the very most you can spend, write it on a piece of paper, and take it with you to the auction.

I bet it’s easy to lose your head at one of these things. There is a technique used in getting a bunch of people packed tightly together in a room and cranking up the music and getting the bid spotters to jump around like circus performers and to really try to get people to abandon their common sense and to make spontaneous decisions. In my experience, that’s an absolutely disastrous way to proceed.

Has anyone ever scratched their nose and accidentally bid on a house? No. Some bidders like to be anonymous, because they don’t want their competition to know who they are, but we just don’t accommodate that for that exact reason. And even if you decided to jump up in the air and wave your card, a bid spotter would come up to you and confirm your bid.

What are some common mistakes that bidders make? One is bidding more than they can afford. Another is that somebody will bid on a property that they haven’t inspected. You get what you’re bidding on. We don’t typically offer warranties, and there’s certainly no cooling off period where you get to think about it for three days. We did an auction late last spring in Tacoma, and after the auction, I didn’t know who this guy was, and he was trying to elbow into the house. He said, “I’m the high bidder. I want to see it.” I said, “With all due respect, surely you’ve seen it before.” And he said, “No. I’ve never seen it before.” And he bid like $300,000 on this house.

How good a deal can someone get? There’s not a percentage, but we don’t conduct auctions unless we feel like we’re going to be able to offer good deals to the bidders. We really do make sure that the seller is flexible and realistic and is willing to accept what the market tells them it’s worth. Bidders aren’t stupid. They’re generally quite sophisticated—even though some of them have never seen the house they’ve bid on.

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What you can get for… $300,000

Hard to believe that someone who makes her livelihood selling homes would trash a huge chunk of the existing housing stock, but that’s just what a local real estate agent did when she told The Seattle Times in December that “anything under $300,000 is basically junk.” Was she right? Based on what we found, you tell us.


Lynnwood $295,000

Details 4317 Stonebridge Way; 1,261 square feet, 2 bedrooms, 1¾ baths, built 1995.
Selling points This open floor plan rambler has hardwood floors, a gas fireplace, and a private deck, and it’s just blocks away from Meadowdale Park.
Listed by David Katt, Prudential Northwest Realty


Renton $299,900

Details 605 Jefferson Ave NE; 1,750 square feet, 3 bedrooms, 1 bath, built 1957.
Selling points Even with a recently updated kitchen and bathroom, new windows, an oversize living room, and two fireplaces, this ranch costs less than $175 per square foot.
Listed by Diane Tompkins, Coldwell Banker Bain


Snoqualmie $300,000

Details 9526 Hancock Ave SE; 1,365 square feet, 3 bedrooms, 1 bath, built 2007.
Selling points This detached condo has stainless steel appliances and is located in the Snoqualmie Ridge neighborhood but goes for nearly half the price of most nearby homes.
Listed by Laura Flodin, The Cascade Team