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55 condos at Natick mall sold at auction

By Megan McKee
Globe Correspondent / October 5, 2009

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Going. Going. Gone.

It was standing room only inside a balmy, excitement-filled Crowne Plaza Boston ballroom yesterday as 55 of Nouvelle at Natick’s remaining 178 luxury condos sold at auction.

Buyers walked away with units at 36 percent to 64 percent off the original asking prices for the condos, which are adjacent to the Natick Collection mall. One penthouse suite sold for $626,000, more than $1 million less than its original price.

Among the winners were people who weren’t in the housing market before the auction was announced in early September, like Michael Yee, a 33-year-old marketing professional.

“I was waiting until spring 2010,’’ said Yee, who got his 922-square-foot, one-bedroom condo for $281,000, far below its $514,900 original price. He plans to move out of his studio apartment in Brighton by the end of November. “Now I have to break it to my landlord.’’

Prior to yesterday’s event, which organizers estimate drew about 400 people, only 37 of the 215 units had been sold or were under agreement, despite all the hype surrounding one of New England’s few condo complexes connected to a mall.

Now, in addition to immediate Natick Collection access, yesterday’s winners will get a host of upscale amenities that accompany their new digs: an on-site gym that offers yoga and Pilates; valet dry cleaning; a 1.2-acre rooftop garden with putting greens; and 24-hour doormen.

The auction is the latest twist in a saga that started two years ago when the condos hit the market. In recent months, the developer, General Growth Properties, has declared bankruptcy and had been slapped with liens by contractors who are owed money for work at Nouvelle.

In a bid to push selling, General Growth hired the Boston office of Accelerated Marketing Partners to auction a portion of Nouvelle’s unsold units.

“In the current market, auctions have often been an effective means of jump-starting sales,’’ said Jim Graham, a spokesman for Nouvelle at Natick. “In the case of Nouvelle at Natick, we hope to spark new interest in what we believe is a great opportunity to own a wonderful home in a great location with five-star amenities.’’

Rather than selling units one by one, General Growth is trying a different tactic: sell a bunch at once, figure out how much people are willing to pay, then coordinate prices on the remaining 123 units accordingly.

After the auction, winners were ushered down a long hallway where they could relinquish their 10 percent deposits and sign purchase and sale agreements.

Overall, General Growth took a huge hit on what they were originally asking: Yesterday’s auctioned units sold for $249,900 to $626,000, down from asking prices of $479,900 to $1.7 million - but the payoff in millions was immediate.

New owners who got a great deal still have to contend with monthly condo fees, because the fees are assessed on the number of square feet: 61 cents for every foot or $1,082 for a 1,774-square-foot unit. And taxes are assessed on the property’s full value, not the selling price.

This wasn’t an issue for the Kaplans, a father-and-son team who purchase real estate investments through Kaplan Commercial Properties of Franklin. They bought two units and will try to find tenants immediately.

Bob Kaplan, 70, and his son, Rick, hope to attract renters who want a less expensive alternative to luxury condos in Boston but don’t want to sacrifice amenities.

Jon Gollinger, Accelerated Marketing Partners’ East Coast chief executive and cofounder, said he expects to see more developers auctioning in the future.

He said that although the auction prices might not be ideal for General Growth Properties, the discounted prices were necessary to get the condos sold.

“It may not be a number that the developer wants,’’ he said, “but it’s a number that he has to accept.’’

Megan McKee can be reached at megan.mckee@gmail.com.

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