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Waiting for bids. (Lydia DePillis)

This past Saturday, a few hundred prospective homebuyers gathered in a subterranean room in the Grand Hyatt downtown for an old-fashioned property auction: 117 Washington-area properties were on the block, for starting bids ranging from $5,000 to $329,000. The Auction.com staff were in a festive mood, making the most of an economic catastrophe that had robbed many of their dwellings. “Today, we’re going to reverse those trends,” CEO Jeff Frieden told the crowd, jovially. “Turning houses back into homes, folks.” Then, he warned them, the market is about to turn back up—these houses are the cheapest they’ll ever get.

That may be true, but it didn’t mean the properties went like hotcakes. Auctioneers had to coax bids out of the crowd, and utimately, only 54 of the properties sold. The percentage was even worse in the District, where seven out of ten properties available—including several higher-end houses in Northwest—either didn’t draw a starting bid or failed in the financing stage. The options included several higher-end properties in Northwest D.C., which sold quickly at the Department of Housing and Community Development’s auction in June. Likely, buyers were holding out for lower prices online.

Anyhow, I love watching auctioneers, and this sing-songy patter is the best I’ve heard:

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