The Baltimore real estate market spoke in small dollars yesterday.
More than 400 buyers showed up at the Stouffer Harborplace Hotel with certified checks and visions of deals as 45 luxury condominiums at the 11-story Colonnade on University Parkway went to the auction block at noon.
"It's obvious they weren't able to move them on the traditional market or they wouldn't be at auction now," said a 47-year-old Washington man who did not want to be identified. "I don't think anyone's going to steal anything but they may get a good buy. You won't know until the gavel comes down."
And when the last gavel landed with a cry of "Sold!" after three hours of bids, 23 vacant units had sold for $3.3 million.
One-bedroom studio units that originally listed for $141,000 went for less than $80,000, and the top-of-the-line three-bedroom penthouse that listed for $488,000 was bought for about $320,000.
"I'm disappointed," said Sheldon Good, founder of the Chicago-based company that ran the auction. "We would've liked to have gotten more money for them, but it was a bargain for buyers."
Buyers like pharmacist Lance Berkowitz, who with his wife, Fran, decided to give up the life they have led in Reisterstown raising their children to move into the city.
The Berkowitzes bought a two-bedroom unit for a little less than half its $440,000 list price.
"We absolutely got a deal at a premier address," said Mr. Berkowitz, who owns the Arcade pharmacy in Hamilton.
"We live in the suburbs and both of our children are out of the house; now I'm closer to my business and the cultural aspects of Baltimore. We go to all of the Oriole games and the [symphony] and the theater."
But Mr. Berkowitz said that if his children were younger he would not have considered moving to Baltimore, no matter how affordable the luxury condominium.
"We'll be paying a lot more in taxes to live in the city, but we wouldn't have done it if our children were still in school," he said.
"There are good schools in the suburbs. That should be a message to [Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke] -- that people will come back if their services are met."
The Good auctioneers, who recently auctioned 62 units in Palm Beach, Fla., for developer Donald Trump, developed a "quick close" incentive for prospective buyers in which they can save up to 3 percent of the amount they bid by closing within 10 days of the auction.
Good has conducted a number of Baltimore-area auctions involving high-priced properties, including Scarlett Place, the Deer Ridge Condominiums and Pavilion in the Park.
The auction was part of a new strategy by Baltimore developers Richard and Howard Rymland to accelerate slow sales of the condominiums. Sales at the Colonnade began in 1988 and the first residents moved in last summer.
Steven L. Good, president of the auction house, said auctions allow sellers to sell their units quicker and reduce carrying costs like interest, property taxes, insurance and maintenance.
"The unsold inventory will go back on the market at retail and it will be worth more now because there aren't that many available," Mr. Good said. "The vast majority of buyers today bought as owner-occupants and many of them settled with cash."