Sunday, March 16, 2003

Erpenbeck home sold for $1.2 million

Insolvent builder's goods auctioned

By James McNair
and Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Brent Semple yells "Sold!'' during bidding for the Crestview Hills home formerly owned by Bill Erpenbeck on Saturday. With buyer's premium, it fetched $1.3 million.
(Tony Jones photos)
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CRESTVIEW HILLS - Payback time finally came Saturday for insolvent homebuilder Bill Erpenbeck.

It started with the court-ordered sale of his 9,000-square-foot house for $1.2 million to a retired West Chester business owner in an auction that lasted 41/2 minutes. It shifted to a hotel at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, where Erpenbeck's possessions were offered up to a crush of bidders.

The redistribution of wealth from the man who had been one of the Tristate's biggest homebuilders was as much a public spectacle as it was the orderly liquidation of an estate. Only 30 people registered to bid on the house in one of Northern Kentucky's toniest subdivisions, but hundreds turned out to marvel at it and nearly 1,000 to compete for the vestiges of his broken empire.

"I hope his bad karma doesn't come with his furniture," said Bridget Saunders of Independence after buying Erpenbeck's double-pedestal desk for $475.

The auctions, conducted by Semple & Associates, took more than four hours, but the total amount raised was not available Saturday. If the sale of the house goes through, the $1.2 million will pay down much - but not all - of Erpenbeck's mortgage debt to four banks. Proceeds from the contents sale will be distributed to Erpenbeck creditors in his bankruptcy case.

Taking the keys to the Erpenbeck home will be a retiree who said he bought the house for his daughter, son-in-law and their three children. The buyer granted an interview on the condition his name not be published. He said he was ready to bid up to $1.5 million.

[photo] The auction attracted a small crowd at the Crestview Hills home
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"It's a heck of a neat house," he said after the auction. "The amenities are fantastic. I don't think they missed a trick in what they put in here."

The man said he expects his daughter's family to occupy the house sometime this summer after moving from California. He said he has no qualms about owning a home formerly lived in by someone who federal authorities suspect defrauded consumers and banks of tens of millions of dollars.

"I hate that he had his plight, his difficulties," said the buyer, "because I know a lot of people lost a lot of money in the process."

Auction company president Brent Semple tried to open the bidding for the house at $1.5 million, then $1 million, but found no takers. Finally, someone made an offer of $500,000, starting the bidding. The West Chester man who won will also have to pay a 10 percent buyer's premium, pushing his total outlay to $1.32 million.

Some of the items sold at Saturday's Erpenbeck personal property auction:
Dining room set: $18,000
Wurlitzer baby grand piano with bench: $8,750.
Sixteen walnut carved dining chairs: $275 each (total of $4,440)..
30 NFL helmets: $5,250
Tanning bed: $1,200.
Billiards table: $5,500
Sega Daytona video arcade game: $3,200
Rick Pitino autographed basketball: $450
The 10-year-old house and former Homearama showcase, which has a private theater and swimming pool with a rock waterfall - is valued at $1.3 million by the Kenton County tax assessor's office. Many in the crowd Saturday thought the house would sell for much less.

"The $1.2 million was higher than I expected," said Mark Works of Independence. "I figured $880,000. Auctions usually go for about 20 to 30 percent under the retail market."

Among the mortgage-holders, there were winners and losers. Fifth Third Bank, which holds a $592,000 first mortgage, and Provident Bank, which holds a $500,000 second mortgage, will be paid in full. First National Bank of Northern Kentucky will receive about a fourth of the $410,000 it is owed through the third mortgage. And Peoples Bank of Northern Kentucky, the bank driven out of business by the Erpenbeck collapse, stands to receive nothing from its outstanding $233,000 fourth mortgage.

At the Radisson Inn by the airport, the auction's second phase drew a standing-room-only crowd for items from fake trees to fine china.

In all, more than 500 items were sold. Among the big-ticket goods were a Wurlitzer baby grand piano, a 101/2-foot-long dining table, a custom-made billiard table, a multistation weightlifting machine and a tanning bed. The list also included crystal, electronics, appliances, furniture, framed prints, Erpenbeck's sports collectibles and 195 bottles of various liquors and champagne.

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