Yesterday I went to the Wake County, NC, Courthouse to observe the foreclosure auctions.Considering that the auction means that someone is likely losing the roof over their head, surreal is an apt description.
The casual-to-grungy setting is the well-worn lobby of the courthouse entrance on Salisbury Street in downtown Raleigh. On the south wall, there is a large bulletin board, in calendar days format, i.e., numbered from 1 through 31.
Each of the calendar “days” is a little larger than 8 1/2″ x 11″ as this allows posting of notices for that day’s auctions. The notices are all clamped into one large binder clip, and hung on the “day” on a common thumbtack. Obviously, the weekend day numbers are vacant. If it is mid-month, the first half of the days are next month’s notices. The binder clips are strained, thick with notices, reflective of current home foreclosure volume.
Since this arrangement is not actively moderated, and is wide open to the public, people wander in, pull off sheafs of notices and peruse them. When done, the sheaf is again hung on the designated thumb tack. Occasionally a notice will slip out of the binder clip, fall to the floor, and then be reinserted.
Meanwhile, the day to day operation of the courthouse is in full swing.
Twenty-five feet from the notice board, folks pass through metal detectors on their way to county offices and courtrooms. The notice board is outside the metal detectors and ergo, basically unsecured from those with weapons. People linger nearby waiting to meet up with others. Yesterday, it was a couple waiting for their attorney in a case where the man apparently had been violently assaulted. Clerical staff pass through another set of doors, and sometimes amend notices on the notice board.
The street level entry to Salisbury Street is only about 20 feet from the bulletin board. Street noise infiltrates, and regularly becomes significant when the doors are opened.
Foreclosure auctions are held right there, in front of the notice board. It is not exactly the legendary “Courthouse Steps,” but still is just as public. I guess the elements of weather pushed the auctions inside some time ago.
Onlookers and potential bidders hang out waiting for the Trustee to appear to start the auctions. Usually there are a few postponements or cancellations. Then the auctions commence.
The Trustee Representative reads the order allowing the foreclosure, and then proceeds to make the first bid, as authorized, by the lending institution. If an onlooker wishes to bid, they must bid in increments that are defined by the auctioneer. Typically that will be $200 to $400 increments.
Once the winning bid is entered, the property will enter an “Upset Period” of 10 days. Within 10 days, another bidder can “upset” the winning bid with an increased bid. That restarts the 10 day upset bid period clock. A property sale can be upset any number of times, without any statuatory limit in North Carolina.
Yesterday saw several postponements and no bids by anyone other than the lenders. No one saw enough value to raise the bank. Actually, for the 10:00AM auctions, if I had not been there to observe, I believe the Trustee Representative would have had to announce the terms of sale and auction the properties to a non-existent audience. She certainly did not acknowledge me, until I asked her a question.
In the afternoon auctions, I asked one Trustee if she ever got a bidder other than the bank. “Not like we used to. Not as many come out to the auction.” I believe she has auctioned off more than a few homes, as I observed her reciting the foreclosure order. It was a page and a half of legalisms, and she monotoned it without missing a stroke, while she looked around the courthouse foyer, observed the folks coming and going, and admired a lady’s infant when she started to cry a little. Definitely, she had the patter down pat.
All in all, I saw 13 properties auctioned. All went to the lenders. Several went for significant sums below the current Wake County Tax Values, for what that is worth.
Surreal, yes, but very real to those who will lose their homes.