Countywide : O.C. Auction Gets Off to Stop-and-Go Start

An auction Friday to sell six surplus county parcels produced mixed results and a little confusion as some bidders struggled to follow new rules designed to make the properties more attractive.

Four of the six parcels offered Friday produced bids. An additional 15 properties will go on the block this morning at the Anaheim Inn at the Park.

The items range from a vacant lot in Westminster to several homes in Santa Ana Heights. Some were left over from the county's first auction in June, which officials described as a disappointment. The June auction generated $9 million in sales--far less than the $30 million the county expected.

In an effort to spark interest at Friday's auction, the county allowed bidders to buy "options" on the properties. For a fraction of the purchase price, bidders reserved exclusive rights to a parcel for one year.

But the new system left some bidders confused. Investor Oki Baharun successfully bid $7,500 for a 3-acre vacant property in Santa Ana thinking he had paid the full purchase price, which the county estimated to be $750,000.

When Baharun discovered he had bought only the option, he politely backed out of the deal.

Baharun's confusion prompted auction organizers, LFC Real Estate Network of Newport Beach, to briefly halt the proceedings so they could provide a detailed explanation of the option system.

A $45,000 option was purchased for an 11-acre parcel of business property on Harbor Boulevard in Anaheim. The county said the parcel is worth $4.5 million. Options were also sold on a half-acre vacant site in Stanton and a seven-acre site in Anaheim.

Sheila Starnes, spokeswoman for the LFC Real Estate Network, said the public's response to the option system was encouraging. "Without a kind of due diligence period, bidders might be afraid to" buy a county property, Starnes said. "This gives them a chance to check out the zoning, environmental issues and other factors."

The two parcels that did not attract option bids were a three-acre site in Westminster and a .85-acre site in Santa Ana.

County properties represented only a few of the more than 50 items up for bid.

While Friday's auction dealt with commercial parcels, today's event will focus on residential properties.

Liquidating surplus county assets is one of the ways county officials hope to dig out of bankruptcy.

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