Owners of pricey homes turn to auctions to sell fast

INCLINE VILLAGE - When it comes to real estate, finding a buyer can be just as time consuming and frustrating for sellers of multimillion dollar estates as it is for more typical homeowners.

But an increasing number of those with wads in their wallets and hefty investment portfolios are taking a new approach to unloading their unwanted mansions and property holdings - they're putting them on the auction block.

For Jules and Marsha Radow, next Thursday's auction of their home in the Chateau Acres neighborhood at Lake Tahoe will end a year of endless tire kickers and a parade of real estate agents that produced no serious buyers.

The 3,500 square-foot home with an appraised value of $2.2 million will be sold in what's known as an ''absolute auction.'' There is no minimum bid and once the bidding starts, owners cannot refuse the top offer - whatever it is.

An adjacent, 1.3-acre parcel will be sold separately.

When the auctioneer's gavel bangs, the Radows realize they may get less than they'd hoped for. So be it.

For them, time is worth more than dickering over a selling price.

''We've been trying to sell our house for over a year,'' Marsha Radow said. ''We want to get on with our lives. And we just don't want to wait around any longer.''

The auction is being conducted by National Auction Group Inc., based in Gadsden, Ala. It is one of about 100 auctions of high-end real estate the company will conduct this year, company president William Bone said.

The company did 60 auctions last year, including the sprawling estate of entertainer Kenny Rogers outside Athens, Ga. That spread, complete with a private, 18-hole golf course, 72,000-square-foot equestrian center, five-bedroom guest house and 10-bedroom, 12-bath mansion, sold for about $6.3 million.

''We are extremely busy,'' said Sue Levin, a National representative who's been showing the Radow home to potential buyers since the end of July.

''It's a new marketing effort that's become very popular with high-end properties.''

The process can be a gamble for sellers, Bone conceded. Another Incline Village home sold at auction last year for about $1 million less than the original asking price, he said.

But the lure of a potential bargain and swift closure of the deal makes the process attractive to buyers and sellers alike. For sellers in the upper echelon of tax brackets, a couple hundred thousand dollars or so below the asking price won't break the bank, he said.

Jules Radow called the upcoming auction ''a true capitalistic process.''

A former stockbroker, Radow, now 65, moved his family to Lake Tahoe after retiring from Wall Street nearly 20 years ago.

''I may get a little more, I may get a little less,'' he said of the final sale price. ''You pay for time. The time factor is such it benefits me to move out and do other things.''

Potential buyers need $100,000 in certified funds to be eligible to bid. On auction day, the winning bidder must put down 10 percent as earnest money. The final purchase price includes an auction fee of 7.5 percent of the winning bid.

The whole deal will close in 30 days. That's the most attractive part to Marsha Radow.

''We know that on auction day the house will be sold and we don't have to live in limbo anymore,'' she said.

Now that their three sons are grown, ''It's time for a lifestyle change,'' she said.

Avid sailors, the couple is building a condominium in South Florida and plan to sail the world on their 66-foot sailboat.

''We spend about four months a year sailing the eastern U.S. and Europe,'' Jules Radow said. ''We want to expand that to a six-to-eight-month process.

''That's phase three of our lives.''


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