The economic downturn has caused pain for countless American homeowners and wreaked havoc on businesses small and large. But there's one segment of the population that just continues to do better and better: real estate investors. For proof, look no further than the latest real-estate reality programming, "Flip Men," in which two tough guys buy foreclosed properties at auction, sight unseen, in the hope of finding a gem among the crystal (crystal meth, that is).
But you don't have to be a TV star to pick up property for pennies on the dollar. Consider Tuesday's tax foreclosure auction in Ann Arbor, Mich. According to Washtenaw County Treasurer Catherine McClary, as little as $350 -- the minimum opening bid -- could land you a choice parcel worth about $1 million. "I don't know where you can buy acres and acres of land for single family homes for $350," McClary told Ann Arbor.com. (That's one of the 21 available parcels pictured above.)
While bidders in Michigan have to show up in person if they want to take advantage of the "last chance" prices, most municipal foreclosure auctions have moved off the courthouse steps and onto the Web. Last year, foreclosure-plagued Florida, for instance, became the first state to to turn to cyber-auctions to process distressed property sales, making it possible for potential buyers anywhere to get a piece of the action. That may be one reason why foreign buyers accounted for 31 percent of all Florida home sales through March of this year, according to a Fox Business report.
McClary's auction is for properties foreclosed on for back taxes, but with so many homeowners in distress, property auctions of all kinds are enjoying a spike in popularity these days. Take a gander at these luxury homes, for instance, all upward of $1 million (in some cases way upwards) and all soon to be or recently on the block:
Sited in a gated community nestled in "The Estates," a posh spot in The Oaks of Calabasas, this home, once listed at $10.8 million, offers a picturesque tree-lined driveway with stunning landscaping. Special features inside its finely finished walls include a soundproof theater, climate-controlled wine cellar, elevator and expansive guest quarters. Oh, and don't forget the "subterranean storage with an auto lift" -- for your car.
Location: New Canaan, Conn.
Listing Price: $10.9 million
Sq. Ft.: 9,244
Auction date: Oct. 20 (absolute auction)
Beyond its stately 16-room colonial, this compound also has a giant 14-room entertainment complex that cost $7 million to build. The veritable athletic club includes a basketball court, bowling alley, full-swing golf center, production stage and movie theater. The property also includes a guest house, pool, spa and trout pond.
Offering astounding panoramas of the Vineyard Sound and Elizabeth Islands, this home is ideal for entertaining: it has ample space, open ceilings and an expansive deck accessible through many rooms of the house. Stone walls and meadows add further to the idyllic feel of the residence. Hop in the outdoor shower to get really close to nature.
Once whistling at the treetops with a $10 million asking price, this home has had to climb down a few branches. Starting bid for this property will be $1.9 million. The long and the short of it is you get 12,000 square feet, 1,100 feet of shoreline and 4,000 square feet of outdoor terraces. Yee haa!
We've hardly ever seen so much space for so little. Often, homes that are this expansive cost easily 10 times as much. But that's the nature of auctions, right? The bet -- and it's a risky one -- is that bidders, lured by the prospect of a bargain, will drive up the price. This home, heavily influenced by French Normandy architecture, brims with antique furniture and fine finishes. Special features include a 3,000-square-foot master suite, a separate media room and a, er, "hunt room."
How's that for symmetry? Not bad, but apparently that eye-pleasing vista -- plus all the other luxury features of this chateau -- wasn't enough to spur bidders at a May auction this year to meet the event's reserve price.
Location: Malibu, Calif.
Listing Price: $22 million
Sq. Ft.: 10,480
Auction Date: N/A (reserve price was not met at auction on Sept. 18)
There was a lot of buzz surrounding the highly-promoted auction of this jaw-dropper in Malibu, once listed for $65 million. The bidding started at $22 million last week, but it did not reach the reserve price, a minimum amount sometimes set by the owner to ensure that the home doesn't sell too low. The failure of this home to sell on the block reveals how auctions sometimes are more marketing ploy than bona fide bidding-war.
Only 35 minutes from New York, N.Y., this enormous house sitting on eight acres of posh Purchase, N.Y., real estate brims with mahogany and a wide array of decorative touches. The property includes a gazebo, manicured gardens and two cottages. We haven't heard back on whether the property sold on the 22nd.
Location: Paradise Valley, Ariz.
Listing Price: $6 million
Sq. Ft.: 9,523
Auction Date: Oct. 20 (Absolute Auction)
When this home hits the auction block, real theater is in store: The home will sell at an absolute auction -- the highest bidder, no matter how low his bid, takes home the, er, home. With cascading walls of glass, this Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired contemporary offers unparalleled luxury for your wealthy desert-dwelling aesthete.
Location: Charles Town, W.Va.
Price: $1.2 million
Sq. Ft.: 7,037
Auction Date: Ongoing (Current bid is $950,000)
The Perkins House, which occupies the property where radical abolitionist John Brown was executed, was built in 1891 and retains the Queen Anne style exemplified in the turret at its front, along with other trappings of the era. The 7,000-square-foot home boasts five bedrooms, 6 and 1/2 bathrooms and four porches, along with a two-story barn (the home's original), a preserved outhouse and outdoor pool.
The home, built in 1994, is 4,162 square feet of pure gorgeous. Just minutes from the Sunset Strip, it also has location going for it. There are four bedrooms, four baths, a three-car garage, hardwood flooring, a marble fireplace, formal dining room, kitchen, a spiral staircase, custom media room with a wet bar, and wall-to-wall windows offering scenic views.