Bidders Keep Hands in Pockets as Hilltop Villa Goes Begging : Real estate: In what is seen as another sign of a slumping market, eight view lots and the luxury Chatsworth house find no buyers--even at asking prices reduced by 40%.


For Sale: Mediterranean-style villa, 6,700 square feet, five bedrooms, five-car garage, 5 1/2 baths, spa and 2,000-bottle wine cellar. Original price $1.7 million. Now slashed to $975,000.

Who could pass up such a deal?

More than 200 bargain hunters who attended an auction of two luxury houses and 15 view lots in a gated Chatsworth neighborhood passed up the offer Sunday afternoon.

In what auctioneers and real estate investors said was yet another sign of a slumping housing market, no one raised a hand to bid on the Mediterranean villa or eight of 15 lots that had been discounted by 40%. Even the rich, it seems, snub cut-rate prices these days.


“The market’s tough,” said William R. Stevenson, president of Kennedy-Wilson Inc., the auction house that presided over Sunday’s sale. “Typically, we sell out.”

The crowd--some lured by newspaper ads, others by a glossy brochure--listened as auctioneers called for bids inside a billowy white tent erected at Summit Ridge, a private hilltop community overlooking the Chatsworth Reservoir.

The 70-lot community was developed by Ransbottom Corp., which built the two houses on the auction block. Many of the lots along Summit Ridge Circle were sold to custom home builders and offer commanding views of the San Fernando Valley and nearby Simi Hills.

Auctions have been part of the real estate scene for years, but experts say they are becoming increasingly popular as builders try to quickly clear out their inventories.

“This is not a distress sale,” said Theresa M. Camiling, project manager for Kennedy-Wilson.

But it was a reflection of the sagging market, said Jay Solomon, a real estate investor from Palmdale. Solomon and his wife, Wendy, toured the two houses for sale but had no intention of placing a bid.

“Lots of lookers, no buyers,” said John Spear, who also came to the auction just to watch.

The day began optimistically enough. A steady stream of people, most clutching their auction catalogues, walked through the two houses for sale--the villa and a ranch-style house reduced from $1.6 million to $875,000.


“This is kind of a ho-hum-looking bedroom,” complained one man in the ranch-style house. This ho-hum room had a fireplace, a vaulted ceiling with exposed beams, French windows leading to a balcony and a tiny refrigerator. And a steam room in the marble-tiled bathroom.

Despite the luxurious surroundings, the fashion plate of the day included jeans, sweat shirts and T-shirts. One woman sported bicycle pants with a black-and-white Holstein print. But cars, not clothes, appeared to be the wealth barometer.

“You sure can count the Mercedes up and down the street today,” said Muriel Lang, a loan consultant guiding buyers through a $1.9-million Tudor mansion that was for sale separately down the block.

Some people came just to gawk at carved oak, beveled glass and Italian marble. “I’m looking for something for $200,000,” a man confessed after touring a three-story house with its own elevator.


Back inside the tent, the auctioneer opened bidding on the 6,700-square-foot villa. “Your minimum bid today, and only today, is $975,000,” auctioneer Ken Cullum announced.


“Anyone want it?” Cullum asked. “Any interest at all?”

No one moved.


“Nine seventy-five,” Cullum said. “Nine seventy-five? Anybody? Last call if you want it.”

The call went unanswered.

The ranch house, the second item on the block, sold for the minimum bid of $875,000. The pace quickened when seven lots sold in a matter of minutes. Then Cullum called a parcel just under one acre that once sported a $598,000 price tag. On Sunday, the minimum bid was $275,000.

Again, silence.


“Any interest at all?” Cullum asked the crowd. “No interest? No interest at all?”