EBay for the rich: New auction site helps millionaires quietly offload pricey wares

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In another sign the economy has plumbed new depths, the rich (who, need it be said, aren't like you and me) have a new, high-tech way to unload their lavish wares -- the Internet. U.S. millionaires down on their luck and looking to offload those heirloom family jewels, or that underutilized limousine, can now turn to an online auction site exclusively for the jet set called BillionaireXchange.

The company says it already has helped sell some $180 million in assets during a 10-month test phase, and has noticed an increase in the number of distressed transactions in the U.S., Reuters reported. "I would say that in the United States market, that's probably the majority of the types of the transactions that we're seeing right now," Quintin Thompson, co-founder and executive partner of BillionaireXchange, told the news agency.
Thompson said the recession has created a need for the rich to sell off luxury items in a discreet way to avoid shame and embarrassment. BillionaireXchange, which launched Monday, acts as a unique conduit to do just that. The company is looking to exploit the void between mass-market online auction sites, such as eBay (EBAY), and traditional luxury auction houses such as Sotheby's and Christie's, which generally focus on fine art and collectibles.

BillionaireXchange's online business model allows it to conduct sales and trades of nearly any type of high-end item, including businesses and foreclosed homes. The Miami-based company's business is aimed at an exclusive clientele, members with at least $2 million in verifiable net worth, Reuters said.

The site, the slogan for which is "Untouched by compromise," will charge sellers a 5% fee on sales, and would have raked in nearly $9 million in revenue if it had charged such a fee during the test phase, it said.

Among BillionaireXchange clients are professional athletes and A-list actors, Reuters said. The five-member firm claims more than 26,000 multimillionaires as well as "nearly a dozen" billionaires as its members.

No word yet as to whether Robin Leach, famous for hosting TV's Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, has been nailed down as spokesman for the company. But stay tuned.
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