More than 50 people crowded into the Town Hall auditorium Wednesday, October 2, to bid—or watch the bidding—at a rare town-sponsored auction of two pieces of surplus property.
The auction seemed to go smoothly, with the two highest bidders winning title to the two properties, but by Thursday afternoon, both deals had hit a snag.
Ming Lee, the highest bidder for an eight-acre property on Asa Meiggs Road, said during a telephone interview Thursday, October 3, that he could not purchase the property.
“There is a right-of-way, a path through the land, that the neighbors have been using for more than 20 years,” Mr. Lee said. “I cannot legally take possession.”
Town Manager George H. (Bud) Dunham said neither Mr. Lee nor any representatives from Keller Williams Realty in Cambridge—the top bidder on an abandoned home at 198 Route 6A—had submitted the required $10,000 payments Thursday, October 3, to seal the deals.
“They have 30 days to work out the payment,” Mr. Dunham said. “We may just hold them in default and keep their deposits.”
Mr. Dunham was referring to a pre-auction requirement that interested bidders place a nonrefundable $10,000 deposit with the town.
“I don’t know if they got cold feet or what. We’ll see what happens,” Mr. Dunham told the selectmen Thursday, October 3, during a brief update on the matter. “I can assure you if they backed out, we will not return the money and we will go after them legally, if we have to.”
The Wednesday, October 2, auction, which was run by a professional auctioneer, was over in about 20 minutes. Some in the audience seemed dazed by the speed of the process and the $200,000 opening asking price.
“It was a bit out of our range,” said a man who stayed throughout the auction.
Only a handful of people bid on the first house, and a few on the second property.
Keller Williams Realty, a Boston-based real estate company, was the top bidder at $225,000 for the gray-shingled, two-bedroom house at 198 Route 6A.
“Yeah, it was good,” said Angela Cui of Keller Williams.
Ms. Cui said she was bidding on behalf of a limited liability company, but declined to say more.
An undeveloped, wooded, eight-acre parcel at 36 Asa Meiggs Road fetched a winning bid of $250,000 from Mr. Lee, who moved to Sandwich last year.
Mr. Lee said immediately after the auction that he would like to build a house on part of the property and maybe sell a subdivided parcel to someone else interested in living there.
“I have bid at other auctions before, but I have never won anything,” said Mr. Lee, who was beaming after the auction. “It’s exciting!”
But Thursday, October 3, Mr. Lee said he wanted to get his deposit back and intended to fight if the town if would not refund the money.
Ms. Cui could not be reached for comment.
Auctioneer Paul T. Zekos, president of Shrewsbury-based Zekos Group Auctioneers, made it clear before the auction that people had to do their own due diligence on the properties before bidding and that the deposits were nonrefundable.
Audience members held up numbered yellow placards when bidding. After the Route 6A house sold, about a third of the audience left the room.
Mr. Zekos said he opened the bidding at $200,000 because there was such a good turnout, he believed it would fly.
Mr. Dunham and Town Assessor William Jennings, as well as town tax attorney David Coppola, oversaw the event from a dais behind the auctioneer.
“It’s a fascinating process,” Mr. Dunham said. “We haven’t hosted one of these in years.”
The Route 6A property had been assessed at $336,600; and the six-acre property was assessed at $373,900, according to town records.
“We acquire these properties, generally, because no one has paid the taxes—sometimes for years” Mr. Jennings said recently. “Some properties we have to take, but we don’t want them.”
Bidders had to post a $10,000 deposit and be prepared to pay at least another $10,000 within 24 hours, Mr. Zekos told the crowd before starting the bidding.
He also said successful applicants must have a record free of arson convictions, insurance fraud and delinquent taxes.
The town does not like to be in the property-taking business, Mr. Jennings has said, because abandoned properties require too much time and effort by town staff.
The tax collector’s office works to track down family members through public records, persuade them to pay the back taxes, and, failing that, places liens on the properties.
The two-bedroom house—which sits on a 0.95-acre of land at 198 Route 6A—was particularly time consuming for Mr. Jennings.
The town took ownership of the abandoned property after the previous owner stopped paying the property taxes. The house’s weathered gray shingles and bright turquoise shutters belie the extensive water damage and mold within, Mr. Jennings has said.
“The delinquent taxes on this property have not been paid for years,” Mr. Jennings said earlier this year. “We took ownership of it last fall, which is unusual for us. We don’t usually get to that point and we don’t want to be in the real estate business.”
Mr. Jennings successfully sought a demolition permit from the Old Kings Highway Historic District Committee earlier this year, hoping the permit would sweeten the sale.
Mr. Zekos mentioned the demo permit in his opening description of the house at the auction.
The interior of the house was—and remains—in bad shape.
The mold and mildew were so overwhelming that town staff had to wear masks to investigate inside, Mr. Jennings told the historic committee.
The committee would always rather see old homes restored, but understood, in this case, that it would be an expensive undertaking.