Lured by the prospect of bargains near Baltimore's "Gold Coast," hundreds of bidders and gawkers descended on Fells Point yesterday to vie for two dozen new town houses that went on the auction block after Maryland National Bank foreclosed on their builder.
Winning bids ranged from $75,000 to $98,500 for two- and three-story Washington Square town houses, which were originally priced from $135,000 to $145,000. All 24 were gone in less than an hour.
And judging by the mob scene, the auctioneers could have sold five times as many houses if they had them.
"We had 175 registered bidders, and more than 500 people went through the houses last weekend," said Ray Nichols, president of Atlantic Auctions, the company that handled the sale.
"It's very impressive," Mr. Nichols said after the sale, which brought in $2,030,500. "There was a wide range of bidders. I think it demonstrates a lot of strength in the entire Canton-Fells Point area."
During the auction, prospective buyers crowded beneath a large green-and-white-striped tent set up in the parking lot of the town house development, which occupies the 1900 and 2000 blocks of Aliceanna Street and the 2000 block of Fountain Street. Most appeared to be in their 20s and 30s, and many said they were in the market for a first home.
One of the first buyers was Tess Greenup, a regional sales manager for Newsweek magazine. She said she currently rents an apartment in Towson but has been interested in moving to Baltimore for some time because she likes "the excitement of the city." She ended up buying the sales model.
"I'm from the Southwest, so living near the water is appealing to me," Ms. Greenup said. "I think I got a fantastic price."
Several of the successful bidders said they were attracted to the project because they work nearby, while others have boats or friends with boats in marinas along the shore.
Kathy Jackson, a graphic designer from Washington, said the project's proximity to the Baltimore Yachting Center and the opportunity to get a good price appealed to her, but she isn't sure whether she would move into her unit or rent it out.
Also considering what to do with his purchase was Howard Hite, a 69-year-old retired engineer from Cecil County. Mr. Hite said he and his wife have been looking around the Baltimore waterfront for a while, learned about the auction, and decided to go.
"We saw this as a good investment opportunity," he said.
All 24 houses are substantially complete, although some need work ranging from carpet installation to plumbing hookups. They represent the bulk of a 26-unit development constructed by Washington Square Associates Limited Partnership, a group headed by Baltimore County-based developer Norman Rockwell. The other two town houses had already been sold.
Maryland National claimed in court documents filed in January that Washington Square Associates owed it almost $3.9 million as of Jan. 11, and interest has been accruing at the rate of $1,248.23 a day. In another foreclosure sale today, Atlantic is selling off four commercial properties controlled by another Rockwell group.