Special advertising section by Tyler Allen
Traditional Western auctions were held around dusty pens filled with young cattle, an audience of working ranchers holding numbered paddles, and an auctioneer in a cowboy hat spurring top dollar for each animal in the pen. The cattle auction has been around as long as Americans have been raising beef.
Auctions have also been employed to sell large ranches and farms, often when the owners hit hard economic times.
In recent years, a new type of auction has been stirring up dust as it moves high-end residential properties in the northern Rockies and around the world. An industry leader since 2008, New York-based Concierge Auctions has traded the livestock pen for capacious estates, the denim and plaid for pressed shirts and slacks, and the anxious cows for homes worth millions.
For the well heeled, competitive bidding was long reserved for antiquities or world-class artwork.
Pablo Picasso’s “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust” set a record auction price in April 2010 when it sold to the highest bidder for more than $106 million. Two years later Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” fetched nearly $120 million, only to be outdone by Francis Bacon’s “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” at $142.5 million in November 2013.
These works all outpaced their projected gavel prices, and Concierge Auctions seized on that trend to sell the fine homes where these fine works may one day reside.
The firm sold $194 million in property last year. Concierge is headquartered in New York City, with additional offices in Austin, Texas, Boston, Massachusetts and London, England. It’s project sales managers are deployed to some of the most sought-after real estate markets nationally – and as of last year, internationally.
Founder and President Laura Brady, a native of Texas, got her start selling residential property in southwest Florida, where she quickly became one of the top-selling agents in the country. When the area’s real estate market took a hit in 2006, she began conducting auctions with immediate success.
“I left my brokerage business to start Concierge, and quickly began working with agents throughout Florida and elsewhere in the country,” said Brady, 35. “I always had the vision that when the market rebounded, the auction process would produce the highest value for unique high-end properties.”
Since then, Concierge has conducted $500 million in successful sales, building a Rolodex of high-profile clients along the way.
The firm sold a Hawaiian estate for music diva Cher in 2010, a property for retired NFL quarterback Kurt Warner near Scottsdale, Arizona, in 2013, and a home for three-time national championship Alabama football coach Nick Saban near Atlanta, Georgia in 2013.
The auction process allows a seller to monetize a property for the highest possible amount in a short period of time, while ensuring buyers are interested – and qualified – since they’ve been vetted through Concierge. Buyers can be confident the seller is sufficiently motivated, and be assured in the value of a property when they see an interested bidder sitting next to them.
Concierge wasn’t the first company to conduct luxury residential auctions, but at the time of its founding most sold distressed or foreclosed properties. In contrast to these quick sales to offload premium real estate, Concierge pioneered a unique, “white glove, hands-on approach,” Brady said.
When Brian Dolan hired Concierge in November 2012, the $26 million home he was representing in Big Sky’s exclusive Yellowstone Club – called 26 Obsidian Road – had been listed in the tepid real estate market for about a year before the owner removed it that May.
Dolan had used the auction house to sell other properties in the Yellowstone Club and adjacent Club at Spanish Peaks earlier in 2012. However, those sales had a sense of urgency, spurred by the club’s then-recent bankruptcy. The 26 Obsidian property was a different story.
At the time, other multi-million dollar homes throughout the mountain community were languishing on the market at the tail end of the recession. Moonlight Basin Ski Resort and The Club at Spanish Peaks were bankrupt. Listings were abundant around Big Sky, but interested buyers were nowhere to be seen.
“I looked around and said, ‘This could be on the market for years,’” Dolan recalled. So he brought up the idea of an auction to the owner. “I said, ‘You can give up a little bit of control in the price, but get a certainty in time when it sells.’” The property was re-listed in November, and within the month Concierge began a marketing blitz to generate potential buyers.
The Concierge process typically lasts six weeks from the time an owner agrees to an auction until the gavel strikes. In the first week, the firm’s sales manager will get familiar with the area, tour the property, and work in the listing broker’s office, going through leads and filtering local interest.
“The most important part is getting into the market and understanding the market you’re in,” said Daniele Smith, a Concierge sales manager who splits her time between southern California and Big Sky. “You’ve got to figure out where to go to see, and be seen.”
In the second or third week, Concierge hosts a VIP event at the property or another venue in the area, inviting locals, potential bidders, area brokers and anyone interested in the property, to showcase the home and describe the auction process.
Throughout the lead-up to auction day, Concierge taps its database of more than 100,000 prospective buyers, sellers and agents in 130 countries around the world. In 2013, the firm averaged 11,000 website visits per listing.
“Our process speaks well to opportunistic buyers,” Brady said. “They might not have been looking for a property in Big Sky, but when they hear about a property in Yellowstone Club or Bozeman, it piques their interest.”
The process can draw a lot of interest to an area.
“[Concierge] brought a positive message and a lot of heat and action,” Dolan said. “Big Sky didn’t have a lot of positive spin at that point. They brought things that were missing at that time in the marketplace.”
In the final weeks, Concierge prepares the seller and bidders for auction day, and potential buyers fill out terms and conditions, perform their due diligence, and pay a refundable deposit – anywhere from $100,000 to $250,000 depending on the list price.
Auction day is like a high-stakes poker game.
Anywhere from a handful to 15 qualified bidders or their representatives are on site or bidding over the phone.
“A bidder can see the value unfold in real time,” Brady said. “There are some bidders that would rather bid over the phone so people can’t see them, some that like to sit in the back of the room because that’s the strategy they prefer.”
But unlike a poker game, there’s no bluffing when a paddle goes into the air or a bid is entered by phone.
When a Concierge auctioneer calls out a bid, there’s no backing out unless a higher bid comes in. The six-week process can end in less than 10 minutes, when the gavel strikes to end the auction.
“It felt exactly like I thought it would,” Dolan said of the day 26 Obsidian sold. “You take a year’s worth of challenging emotions and pack it into ten minutes.”
After the auction, a buyer has 30 days to close on the home.
“It allows you to close a chapter and open other ones, and put the book on the shelf,” Dolan said.
As of May 2014, Concierge Auctions had three properties scheduled for auction in the American West, three properties in the Bahamas including a private island, and a Georgian manor in Princeton, New Jersey.
Some buyers follow listings in multiple locations simultaneously, said Concierge President Laura Brady, noting that Hawaii, Texas and the Rockies are among the firm’s best markets.
“Our platform works well for second or third homebuyers looking for a mountain or beach home,” Brady said.
There is no shortage of desirable properties in the Northern Rockies, she added, and Concierge Auctions is primed to move a number of them in 2014.
Yellowstone Club, Big Sky, Montana
PHOTO COURTESY OF L&K REAL ESTATE
Concierge auctioned 17 Travertine, a 4,505-square-foot property located in the Yellowstone Club, to the highest bidder on April 22, and closed the sale May 2014. The 3.15-acre lot sits on Andesite Ridge and overlooks the exclusive club’s Tom Weiskopf-designed championship golf course. With Yellowstone National Park out the back door, the five-bedroom, four-bath estate has spectacular views of Pioneer and Eglise mountains, and overlooks the Yellowstone Club.
Teton Canyon Ranch
Alta, Wyoming. Auction July 10
OUTLAW PARTNERS PHOTO
The 140-acre Teton Canyon Ranch sits on the western flank of its iconic namesake mountains in Alta, Wyoming. Set among aspen groves and flowing streams, the property is surrounded almost entirely by the Caribou-Targhee National Forest.
Fishing, hunting, hiking and horseback riding are just a handful of the recreational opportunities available out the backdoor, and Grand Targhee Ski Resort is only minutes away.
It has been divided into four 35-acre pieces, which will be sold by auction without reserve on June 10, either individually or together. With views of the high Tetons and Idaho’s sweeping Teton Valley, each parcel could be developed or used as a conservation opportunity.
This story was first published in the summer 2014 Mountain Outlaw magazine.
Find more at conciergeauctions.com.