As a crowd looked on, two Fair Haven families competed to rescue a boarded-up two-story house on Blatchley Avenue.
“One hundred dollars!” Bolivar Leonardo Carchipulla-Nugra kept calling out over the course of two hours of bidding.
Gerda Genece would wait until the auctioneer declared, “Going once ... going twice ...” then jump in with a triumphant “one dollar!”
The bidding took place at an unusual foreclosure auction Saturday at 409 Blatchley Ave. The house has been abandoned for at least five years, maybe longer. The windows and doors are boarded up; chunks of the aluminum roof and siding are missing. Squatters have stripped the interior of copper and everything else of value.
Despite the property’s blighted state, Gerda Genece and Carchipulla-Nugra were excited about the possibility of turning the property into a home.
Carchipulla-Nugra arrived at the Fair Haven auction with his wife Maria Velecela and their young daughter. They currently pay about $1,000 a month for rent — too much, in his opinion. He hoped to buy the property so that he could fix it up and live there himself, with his family.
Genece was accompanied by her adult daughter, Gerray Mead. Mead, who is in her late 20s, was looking for a house for herself — ideally a two-family home with a second floor she could rent out.
It was Genece who did the bidding, though. She embraced the role with exuberance.
The bidding began at noon, and the auction price started at $14,300.
About a dozen potential bidders and onlookers crowded around Jon Patrucco, the attorney appointed by the Superior Court to manage the auction. The City of New Haven initiated the foreclosure on the basis of $4,000 in unpaid taxes.
As the bids climbed above $19,000, everyone except Genece and Carchipulla-Nugra dropped out of contention. A pattern quickly emerged: Carchipulla-Nugra would up the bid by $100, and then Genece would outbid him — by one dollar.
“He’s Mr. $100. I’m Mrs. $1,” Genece joked after an hour of the back and forth, adding: “It’s a bit addictive.”
Public auctions of foreclosed properties are rarely jubilant or extended affairs. Often they forcibly displace an owner who has fallen behind on taxes or utility payments, or tenants. The bidding process itself is generally goes quickly, sometimes in a matter of minutes.
Saturday’s auction was on Blatchley Avenue was different. The owner who abandoned the property did not appear, and the bidding went on for nearly two hours.
Bids climbed in tiny increments of $100 and $1 to just over $30,000. The process was punctuated with laughter and good-natured overtures. Carchipulla-Nugra appreciated Genece’s tenacity and, as the bidding extended through lunchtime, offered to buy Genece and Mead a nice Ecuadorian meal, regardless of the outcome.
Between bids, the audience discussed the interior condition of the home — the vandalism, the feces on the wall — and the costs associated with fixing it up. Anthony Ortiz, a contractor who grew up in the neighborhood, watched the process with interest. He said he hopes to bid on a foreclosed house himself in a few years and then use his contracting skills to fix it up. Pointing to the damaged roof and other points of concern on the exterior, he estimated the house at 409 Blatchley might need tens of thousands in repairs, including material and labor costs.
Safa, who declined to share his last name, was initially interested in buying the house to reap the benefits of Yale University’s employee homeowner program. He was skeptical of spending much more than $25,000 on the house, though, given the repairs required.
Genece and Carchipulla-Nugra, on the other hand, were undeterred by the work required to make the home livable.
It wasn’t Genece’s first auction. Twenty years back, as a recent immigrant from Haiti, she bought a house just around the corner through a private auction. It took a while to renovate that home, she said. A single mother of four kids, she fixed the place up “a little bit at a time” with her brother’s help.
Mead grew up in that house, and Genece found a supportive and tight-knit community on her new block. Genece felt at home among neighbors who let her keep a rooster and chickens in her yard, and who were committed to creating a safe community.
Carchipulla-Nugra immigrated from Ecuador 15 years ago. He lives with his wife and their five-year old daughter in Fair Haven, not too far from the house on Blatchley Avenue. He works a commercial printing factory job, and is keen to become a homeowner — and perhaps a landlord to a second family who would live under the same roof.
In the end, Carchipulla-Nugra placed the final bid— $33,505, up from Genece’s $33,405. For the first time in nearly two hours, Genece declined to up the bid by a dollar.
But she and Mead didn’t walk away empty handed. After clapping and handshakes, Velecela (pictured) rushed to give the pair money for lunch at a local restaurant, insisting over their polite refusals. She hugged both mother and daughter before joining her husband to finalize paperwork with Patrucco.
Patrucco, for his part, seemed to enjoy the conviviality and occasional theatrics of Saturday’s auction. He administers about two auctions per year on behalf of the City of New Haven, at the behest of the Superior Court. They’re “not usually this exciting,” he said with a smile. Often, he explained, nobody even shows up.
Safa, who is from Sudan, and who has bought properties in Sudan, Kenya, and London, offered advice to Genece and Mead. Carchipulla-Nugra conferred with friends and onlookers in Spanish. And Ortiz, who was born in Mexico, responded to requests from various parties for his contracting services. At one point, a passerby from the neighborhood swung by to offer to help clean up the interior for $10 an hour.
Genece knows how important community can be from her own experience as an immigrant and a single mother. Despite being outbid, she seemed cheered by the outcome — a young family turning an abandoned and blighted property in her neighborhood into a home.