Gordon Uhlmann collects oceanfront homes much like some people collect Van Gogh and Rembrandt pieces. After three years of unsuccessful attempts at selling two San Francisco Bay Area homes he decided to try selling them like artwork–through auction. And he has the entire local real estate community watching and waiting.

His two Pacific-front homes–one located in Mendocino, and the other in the Sea Cliff district of San Francisco–will be auctioned this week by the National Auction Group, a Gadsden, Ala.-based marketing company that specializes in high-end, one-of-a-kind real estate.

“We got in a situation where we had to sell the properties,” Uhlmann said. He and his wife Wendy Van Dyck, a former principle ballerina with the San Francisco Ballet, grew weary of the months and years that went by with no activity. At one point, the Mendocino home went an entire year under listing agreement without any showings.

The Mendocino home, an 8,000-square-foot estate situated on a private peninsula, is surrounded by ocean on three sides. The home was completely rebuilt in 1998 and completed in 2002. It features redwood decks, a 100-foot atrium with skylights and walls of glass that open to a pool, two living rooms, a pair of loft offices, a carpeted master suite and a guest cottage.

The auction for the Mendocino home will take place Monday, Dec. 13, at 3 p.m. PST. Bidders must arrive with a cashier’s check for $250,000 and be prepared to pay a deposit of 10 percent of the winning bid.

The auction for the San Francisco Sea Cliff home will take place on Tuesday, Dec. 14, at 3 p.m. PST. Bidders in that auction also must have a check for $250,000 and a 10 percent downpayment in case they secure the winning bid.

The Sea Cliff home also is surrounded by crashing Pacific waves, and is situated near actress Sharon Stone’s residence and actor/comedian Robin Williams’ home. Uhlmann and his wife lived next door to the home they are now auctioning for about 18 years. They lived in the house for five or six years, and also spent some time living in the Mendocino home.

The single-story Sea Cliff home includes about 4,000 square feet and has what Uhlmann considers the best view of the Golden Gate Bridge in all of San Francisco. Uhlmann, who earns a living importing candy bars, was born and raised in the city.

He said he is selling both properties “regardless of price” even if the highest bid is lower than what he’d anticipated. For the absolute auction process, the owners and auction company don’t set a value or lowest bid on the homes. Uhlmann said the Sea Cliff home at one point was listed on the market for about $9 million, and the Mendocino home was listed for around $13 million.

Uhlmann is counting on the curiosity factor of auctions to draw a large crowd to the two events.

“The auction process brings someone the lure of a great deal or a steal,” he said. Then because of the home’s unique beauty, once people arrive they start to feel excited about the possibility of buying it right then at any price, he added.

“The whole thing is to get a wealthy person to come and look at it,” he said.

Uhlmann hasn’t attended an auction like this before, and he’s not a frequent real estate investor. He started reading up on auctions after he felt like he’d spent too much time depending on the traditional real estate market to sell his two properties. He followed one particular lakefront property auction in Lake Tahoe and gauged the anticipated outcome of his auction on how that one went. The Tahoe auction was a success and the home sold for close to $10 million, he said.

Uhlmann thinks the auction process is breaking new ground in California. He suspects there are a lot of other high-end homeowners who are in a similar situation because there aren’t a lot of traditional buyers in the market for these homes.

The auctions have had a lot of marketing exposure, with large ads in the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. Uhlmann said he and his wife spent about $150,000 on advertising the properties through the auction company.

Uhlmann believes there’s an incredible opportunity for auctioning high-end properties in California, with not many companies doing it right now. He chose the National Auction Group because of its established reputation.

William Bone, owner of the National Auction Group also believes these events will gain more interest in California. The company markets properties for auctions nationwide, with a list of clients that includes billionaire Ross Perot, cosmetics giant Mary Kay Ash, entertainer Kenny Rogers, former U.S. Senator and Secretary of the Treasury Lloyd Bentsen, Reverend Son Myung Moon and Texas billionaire Walter Mischer, to name a few.

“When you get into these higher end properties, it takes a long time to sell them,” Bone said. “Sellers can’t understand why you have to wait two or three years. We can sell in 60 days. It’s the most efficient way of getting product to the market.”

Auctions can be an exciting way to sell real estate, Bone said. The events themselves often grow into parties for charity, with extravagant catering, champagne bottles stacked to the ceiling, Rolls Royce cars on display in the front lawn. “These things become a lot more than just selling real estate,” he said. Bone believes auctions are a modern way of selling properties.

Bidders often will bring along a real estate agent, and the auction company will pay a commission to agents who bring in buyers.

“It’s a lot of fun, and can really supplement (a real estate agent’s) income,” Bone said. “We do a lot of business with real estate agents.”


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