In an unfortunate turn for the downtown Austin condo market, the Detroit-based developers of Brazos Place — a 72 unit condo conversion project on 8th and Brazos — have posted the remaining 20 units for sale in a surprise auction on May 17.
Like most auctions, the starting bid price is very low — as little as $80,000 for a small 1/1 to $200K for a 1,400 SF 2/2. While low prices draw the crowds, the units likely have higher reserve prices making it unclear how good a deal awaits buyers. For the developers, the auction is a desperate move: they are clearly sacrificing profits for quick cash, signaling either an immediate cash crisis or, even worse, pessimism in the marketability of the project.
With an average starting bid of $154 / SF, the auction prices start with a 58% discount off the average sale price of $370 for the 12 units listed on MLS over the last year. As a result, current Brazos Place residents are furious. They are rightfully concerned that the fire sale disposal of comparable units will devalue the building and the units that they have invested heavily in.
In reality, it is very difficult to assess the impact of the auction on current residents. First, it’s a problem for residents that 20 units are currently on the market. Such a large new developer inventory makes the resale of existing units difficult. The sale of units and elimination of inventory could help by pulling inventory off the market. While the auction will be public record, the sales will likely not be recorded in MLS and will not appear in realtor comparables. The biggest worry for residents should be a failed auction: it would be bad if a large number of units went unsold, especially if some units sold at prices far below recent comparables.
The problem with auctions of this type is that they are really only likely to attract bargain hunters and investors. Unlike with single family homes and cars and furniture and other auctionable goods, condos are not a commodity. The problem is that condo buyers tend to pick the building they want to live in (based on a number of factors including price) and then look for the perfect unit. An auction like this diminishes the value of the primary asset — the building and its brand — at the same time it tries to lure 20 buyers to bid in a process that is very different than the normal buying process. The result is likely to attract bargain hunters who will walk when the prices rise towards market levels.
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