The land, owned by Appalachian Power Co. and separated into 37 plots, 29 of them waterfront, was auctioned off by real estate and auctioneer brokers, Woltz & Associates, to several different buyers at the Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center on Thursday evening.
Appalachian Power has owned large swaths of land at the lake since the 1920s when it began purchasing it for the project that ultimately created Smith Mountain Lake, and has owned the Smith Mountain Dam since it was built in the early 1960s.
The Franklin County property that was auctioned off has also been owned by the power company since the ’60s, according to company spokesman George Porter. It was first used as a retreat for administrators in the company, before being converted into a training facility that also served as a retreat of sorts for all employees.
The company has previously entertained the possibility of selling a portion of the hundreds of acres the company owns, but discussions really got serious as the pandemic progressed, when using the property that features a large seven bedroom, seven bathroom home called Penn Hall Manor was no longer a viable option due to COVID-19 restrictions, according to Porter.
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The company “came to the conclusion that now was a good time to let go of some of the property it owns at the lake,” he said.
Head auctioneer for Woltz, Russell Seneff, said the property being offered was land that is not likely, if ever, to be something that is available at this magnitude again, citing the 3.2 miles of undeveloped lake frontage as a rarity.
With more than three hours of bidding, the crowd that started in the hundreds dwindled as the bidding process began to escalate.
The auction began with each tract being auctioned off one at a time, with the highest bidder taking temporary claim over each piece of property.
The second round allowed participants to bid for any property at any time, with the option to bundle properties together. If the total price of the bundle exceeded the total of the individual prices for each property, then the single bundled bidder took control of all of the parcels.
That went on for almost two hours, driving the starting price of $5 million for all of the properties combined to just over $15 million.
A late surge by one interested party to purchase all 37 plots of land for $15.5 million seemed to visibly frustrate some, while also driving up the price for those bidding on individual parcels or smaller bundles.
The bid by many individuals had to be more than the one who offered to buy everything for the auction to continue, which led to individuals slowly upping the price in a joint effort to overtake the singular bidder. The process happened twice more after that, once by the same man, and then again by another who made a bid for all but one plot.
The unnamed high roller who made two of the attempts left before the end of the auction without any of the available plots of land. The other man ended up purchasing the two plots with homes on them, one of which being Penn Hall Manor.
After more time was spent adding $10,000 or more to a bid here and there, the auctioned ended with several new owners of lake property.
Tract sizes ranged from 4 acres to 26 acres, and sold for anywhere from $71,000 to more than $1 million a piece. All 356 acres that were available were sold to more than 20 bidders for a combined total of just over $16.2 million.
Porter said the power company still owns hundreds of acres around the property it sold that the company could use in the future.
It is not clear how exactly each buyer will use the land, as some bought multiple plots, while others just opted for one. There should be more clarity on that front in the coming months as the deals are finalized, and who bought what becomes public record.
One bidder, John Stokes from Pittsburgh, bought three waterfront plots for $1.7 million, some of which he said he will likely use to build a home for he and his wife to retire to some day.
When asked how he felt about the bidder who attempted to purchase all of the properties, while driving up the price, he just shrugged and laughed it off.
“That’s all part of the game,” he said. “It’s just part of the process sometimes.”