From the outside, the Venice bungalow didn’t look like much. Faded white and blue paint peeled off its eaves. Overgrown palms shrouded its front porch. The only parking available was on the street and hard to find. At 500 square feet, it was, admittedly, a postage stamp of a house, on an only slightly bigger lot.
But to the 100 or so people who gathered Saturday on Rialto Avenue, the property represented an opportunity, at the least; the fulfillment of a dream at best. Here was a home, going through probate, that was being sold at auction. It is less than 10 minutes by foot to the beach, close to a hip shopping area on Abbot Kinney Boulevard.
For some, this was a last-ditch effort to buy into a hot housing market. Last month, the median sale price of a home in Venice was $565,000. Any less would be considered a bargain.
And so most of the crowd -- a mixture of curious locals, bargain-seeking real estate agents and house-hungry couples -- filled out paperwork to participate in the bidding.
“We’re here to see how much things go for,” said Jennifer Pau, who sat with her fiance on a low wall near the house, clasping a blue auction number. The couple, who will be married in August, have been looking for a home about three months.
At 4 p.m. auctioneer Dean Cullum stepped forward to speed-read a list of rules and regulations: Buyers were to accept the house in as-is condition. There was no information on whether the house had termites. The auction winner was to present a cashier’s check for $5,000, plus a personal check for the balance of a 10% deposit, to be cashed when banks opened Tuesday. That final bid could still be overturned if someone arrived at probate court on the day of its approval and offered 10% plus $500 more than the purchase price.
Although the house was listed on the tax rolls as a two-bedroom, it was really a one-bedroom, added broker Rhett Winchell, who oversaw the auction.
Winchell, who receives a typical broker’s fee, conducts house auctions “every six weeks or so.” He had 21 scheduled this weekend.
The bidding began at $250,000. As Cullum called out numbers, the price of the house moved skyward, pushed by about 20 people who held their blue numbers in the air: $300,000 ... $350,000 ... $438,000 ... $439,000.
Susan Swingle let out a breath. The price had climbed above her comfort level.
But dentist Larry Kozek lifted his number again and again. Cullum noticed his persistence. The auctioneer quipped that Kozek was “dying to bid again.”
The numbers continued their ascent: $450,000 ... $455,000 ... until reaching $466,000. “Going, going ... gone!” Cullum cried five minutes later, pointing to Kozek, who was leaning against the next-door neighbor’s fence.
Kozek walked over to a card table Winchell had set up on the sidewalk. The Los Angeles resident leaned down to sign pages and pages of documents as well as a personal check to guarantee the down payment. “I thought it would go for $600,000,” he admitted to Winchell.
A couple of would-be bidders hung around until the paperwork was complete before walking away disappointed. “Venice is not the place to buy if you just want a home,” said another bidder, who declined to give his name but described himself as a businessman.
Kozek, accompanied by his wife, said he bought the house because “it’s a popular area, and people want to live here. We want to own property here.”
Asked what he’d do with the 500-square-foot house, he said he didn’t know. “Maybe we’ll rent it out just like that,” he said.
But most people in the crowd thought the bungalow was destined to be torn down, replaced by a two- or three-story structure more in keeping with the rest of the neighborhood.
“In this market, if you buy it and put in another $100,000, you’ll make a profit,” said Swingle, an attorney who lives nearby. She’d been looking for either a new residence or an investment property. “That’s what’s happening all over Venice.
“I never thought something like this would go for close to half a million.”