5th & Madison, left, Downtown Library, right
  • ECityBlues on Flickr
  • 5th & Madison, left, Downtown Library, right
Condo auctions, a nascent trend in Seattle as the market slowed in 2008, continue for some new buildings that still have unsold units. Developers recently turned to auction companies to unload their stagnant stock. The latest is the 5th & Madison building, located across the street from the downtown Seattle Library, where King County tax records say 24 units remain vacant.

A California-based firm is auctioning 18 of them at bids starting at $195,000—considerably less than their listed prices, which reach a million dollars. But while the auctioneers ballyhoo the low starting prices as an indicator of huge saving, if past auctions serve to predict, most units will end up going to a top bidder who shells out much more. At one recent auction, the units sold for about 80 percent of their listing price—which is still a good deal. Most of the units at 5th & Madison have a taxable value of $400,000 to $600,000, according to King County tax records, which is likely a bit more than they will sell for.

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The events are quite the spectacle. From my description of one in 2008: “If a bidder raised his or her auction card, or nodded yes, or so much as blinked in a way that seemed approving, the floor men yelled, 'HUP!' and the auctioneer would increase the bidding. If the crowd stopped bidding, the floor men would gaze pathetically for another bid, like puppies begging for a walk.”

If you want to bid on a condo, you’ve got to pre-register and then show up at 1:00 p.m. on March 28 at the Grand Hyatt Seattle.