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Signature Place auctioneer: 'You are at or near the real estate bottom'

Don't mistake Jon Gollinger for any old auctioneer. He fancies himself more of a marketer and consumer advocate.

Hundreds of Tampa Bay residents saw Gollinger in action March 7 when he emceed the sale of more than 50 units at St. Petersburg's 36-story Signature Place condo tower.

The 62-year-old Boston resident formed Accelerated Marketing Partners 21/2 years ago to sell luxury condo buildings. It's his second foray into auctioneering. He's the former chief executive of publicly traded auction house Kennedy-Wilson.

With a slick sales staff of dozens, most of whom wear AMP pins on their well-pressed lapels, Gollinger isn't your typical distressed-property dumper.

As the name of the company suggests, AMP tries to fast track underperforming buildings to market. Fresh off of the St. Petersburg auction, Gollinger chatted with the Times before heading to a business meeting in New York City:

You've been holding dozens of auctions across the country. How did Signature Place rank in terms of sales and prices?

It was probably one of the strongest events we've had. It was truly comforting to see the activity. We ended up selling 62 units that day. One of the 51 people who won a condo canceled in the back of the room; then we sold 12 after the auction.

From what I understand, the sales are continuing. I imagine this will pretty quickly sell out. We allowed the market to set values transparently. Buyers can see the prices. They're no longer guessing. It's not that people don't want to buy. They don't want to look foolish. You are at or near the real estate bottom. If the rest of Tampa/St. Petersburg looks at the Signature Place sale, there's little reason for other auctions. People can look at the numbers from this building to learn what pricing should be.

So you view yourself more as real estate price setter?

There's been a price disconnect for a very long time between sellers and buyers. Our company is brought in to create a safe space for buyers and sellers to engage in a process that allows the building to capitulate to the consumer. Our company believes that the consumer rules. That's American. That's capitalism. The Signature Place developer would have liked to have seen a little more money out of it. But he can live with the results.

How do you compare to all those auction houses working the foreclosure market and selling off bank-confiscated homes?

We're not a clearance sale company or liquidation company or subprime-mess-oriented company. We really are true marketing professionals. I don't think we do what classical auction houses do very well. We're in the business of creating sophisticated programs for sophisticated buildings in lifestyle cities. We're operating in a finite space, so we don't have much competition. This is an acceleration business. You just don't find that in auction companies.

Ours is a hybrid company. We do not advertise. We do not cold call. It's word of mouth. On Signature Place, Fifth Third Bank (the building's financier) called us.

You ran a large operation in St. Petersburg with coordinated teams of well-dressed men and woman and slickly produced auction brochures. How do you make it work?

We concentrate on bringing in energetic, youthful folks dedicated to the real estate profession. We've taken some from Wall Street. They also tend to have an athletic background. One woman who works for us was a tennis player from Bradenton. It's a 24/7 job for them. It's very demanding and grueling, but it gives you an opportunity to see America and make good money. We also bring in temp staff.

The whole thing is designed to be efficient and businesslike. I don't make a fortune like Bill Gates. I've been selling condominiums since I got out of college. I personally have 35 years of experience.

I noticed you didn't charge a buyer's premium, that 10 percent surcharge auction winners usually pay.

We don't charge a buyer's premium. Why should they have to pay? We get money straight from the seller. If you can't afford to pay us a commission, you should go to another company. We're not going to charge the consumer. It doesn't make any sense. We also will not do nonpublished reserve prices. Absolutely not. The consumer knows that if they bid at auction, they own it.

The Signature Place auction drew something close to 500 people. What do you make of the bidders?

I think the consumer is smarter than I am. They know every nuance. They don't fool around. For example, if they give you a higher price for a unit on a lower floor, they've usually spotted something in the supposedly less desirable unit that we didn't notice. I'm impressed with the bidders, the time and effort and energy they put into Signature Place. So many people had been through the building three, four and five times. Eventually you'll run out of unit types in Signature Place. There's going to be a scarcity of choice. When that occurs, prices will go up.

Signature Place auctioneer: 'You are at or near the real estate bottom' 03/13/10 [Last modified: Friday, March 12, 2010 10:21pm]
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