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Home sales stalled? Auction that house!

Home sales may be headed lower. So sellers and even real estate agents are turning to auctions instead. Are home sales auctions for you?

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It can be hard to arbi­trarily price a home, luxury or otherwise, especially in a temperamental buyers' market. Auctions quickly gauge what the market will pay. Since launching a beta version of its service in May 2009, BidOnTheCity.com has expanded from Manhattan to the Hamptons on Long Island and Westchester County, N.Y., and sold franchises to major brokerage houses in Miami and Moscow.

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Even real estate agents are piling onto the auction bandwagon. At the Nashville Auction School in Tullahoma, Tenn., one of the nation's only full-time auction schools, at least 90 percent of the women attending and 75 percent of the men are already in the real estate business.

"For real estate professionals looking at how to best move real properties, the more opportunities they have to meet the needs of their client, the better they're able to serve their client," says Rhessa Orr, executive director of the school. "If they have a full-service approach to the marketing of real property, they can also have more presence in their market."

The main appeal of auctions is their speed and transparency. "Our sellers are typically real estate brokers or individuals [who] are looking to sell their property for top price within 30-45 days' time frame," writes Mr. Sapozhnikov in an e-mail.

For those considering putting their home on the block, research the company, check references, and visit a sale, auctioneers suggest.

On the day of auction, interested buyers must come with a cashier's check in hand to get a bid paddle, dissuading casual speculators. Sales are "as is" with no contingencies and can either have a reserve amount (the lowest for which an owner will sell) or be "absolute," where any price goes. Closing takes a standard 30 days after the auction.

Another auction advantage: action. Unlike a "For Sale "sign, an auction indicates a finite window of opportunity. Seacord notes that her family home sold to someone in the neighborhood who had wanted the house for years – and seized the chance before it was gone. Says Seacord, "I think she might have paid a little bit more because she loved it."

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