Auctions drive broker John Rosenthal’s company, Realty Marketing/

Auctions drive broker John Rosenthal’s company, Realty Marketing/

Tyler Graf

Placed in front of John Rosenthal on his already paper-stacked desk in his office is a property bidding packet that appears to be as thick as an unabridged copy of War and Peace.

The packet isn’t just thick; it’s heavy, too. The hundreds-of- pages, information-rich paper brick includes everything a real estate bidder might want to know about a specific tract of land, from its legal status to its ownership history.

Rosenthal’s real estate company, Realty Marketing/Northwest, specializes in real estate auctions, and he sends dozens of the property packages, for dozens of properties, to customers each day.

In his 20-plus years working within the real-estate auction industry, Rosenthal has sold it all — from the most expensive corporate land, at $150 million a pop, to small tracts, for personal use, at slightly more than $2,500.

And in that span of more than-two decades, Rosenthal reckons he’s sold about $1 billion in property – all by auction.

Today, Rosenthal’s company is among the oldest continually operational, by-auction real estate companies in the country. Primarily, he sells timber tracts and rural properties on a quarterly basis for investors that range from developers to pension fund managers.

“Because of my background in the corporate world, we tend to emphasize a lot of corporate real estate,” Rosenthal says.

When the levy broke

Rosenthal’s educational background isn’t in business or marketing, but rather city planning. He graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a degree in planning, and with experience wading through high-water challenges.

Literally.

In 1972, Hurricane Agnes surprised the Eastern seaboard by pummeling Florida before arching northward and hitting rural communities as far north as New York.

The village of Painted Post, N.Y., was turned into the equivalent of an aquarium. Black-and-white photos taken at the time show businesses, churches and residences submerged beneath flood waters.

An intern at the time for a state redevelopment agency, Rosenthal left school for six months to help with the reconstruction efforts.

“It was the Katrina of that time,” Rosenthal says.

The reconstruction efforts, which involved redesigning the village, received national recognition.

By the early 1980s – having recently moved to Oregon and away from planning, toward a new career in land acquisition and sales – Rosenthal saw an advertisement for real estate property by auction. Intrigued, Rosenthal called for a catalogue.

He got much more.

At the time, he was working with International Paper’s surplus property, determining what to purchase, sell and develop for the company.

But he struck up a partnership with Dick Thomas, then the owner of the auction company. By 1987, Rosenthal started working for the company full-time, and in 1989 it was re-branded as Realty Marketing/ Northwest.

The company’s model has remained unchanged: Use direct marketing techniques in a catalogue format to target potential buyers. Then, give these buyers as much information as they need to make an educated purchase decision about the land.

It’s not hard science, but it is serious business. When time is money

Lance Waugh has known Rosenthal for 14 years. For eight years, Waugh’s been Rosenthal’s auctioneer, dividing his time between Rosenthal’s quarterly real estate auctions and automobile auctions.

In the auction world, Waugh says, the numerical difference between cars and property is easy to differentiate: in dollars and seconds.

With an auto auction, a car is likely to sell every 60 seconds or so. With a real estate auction, a property takes about five minutes to sell.

Located within a hotel ballroom, 75 to a couple hundred people will show up for the property auctions. The bidding can get heated, too. Waugh has seen six or seven hands raised in the air at one time.

Pinpoint marketing

As Rosenthal is apt to say: “Real estate is a serious business.” So serious, in fact, that he shuns the concept of online bidding.

It’s not that he’s a technophobe. He simply prefers to rely either on Waugh’s in-person auctioneering expertise or on sealed bids because they present a more transparent process for selling real estate.

Besides that, Rosenthal says, too many mistakes can happen online, including people downloading documents incorrectly.

“Buying real estate isn’t like buying something on eBay,” he says.

Marketing is a different story, however. As a marketing tool, the Web works for Rosenthal because it both sends and collates tiny tendrils of information. Not only can Rosenthal immediately reach his audience, but he can also track the trends of his former and future clients. To achieve this, Rosenthal maintains a database of information for thousands of former clients.

“We can say, ‘Who was looking at this type of property five years ago,’ ” Rosenthal says, “and then we can target that person.”

As much as his marketing may seem like a clustered shotgun blast, however, it’s actually much more precise. For example, for a tract of land that includes a fishing lake, he sends out feelers to all fly fishing companies to gauge interest.

Still, he admits, he sometimes has no idea who might snap up a property. A former Tony Roma’s restaurant, for example, was grabbed by a “gentleman’s club,” Rosenthal said. “Still, it got the highest and best use,” he added.

After all, those brick-like property packages don’t accurately predict the future.

Copyright 2008 Dolan Media Newswires

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