It’s just a crumbling strip of asphalt barely big enough to fit two cars one behind the other — lined by weeds, hard against a brick wall, hemmed in by a utility pole. The closest thing it has to an amenity is straight white stripes.
For this, a crowd gathered for an auction in the rain Thursday, because it wasn’t just any piece of pavement, but a pair of tandem parking spaces in one of the most parking unfriendly sections of the city: the Back Bay.
Bidding began at $42,000. It shot up to six figures within seconds. When the auction ended 15 minutes later, the lucky winner agreed to pay $560,000 — nearly double the $313,000 median sales price of a single-family home in Massachusetts.
“This is just amazing,” said Ken Tutunjian of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, declaring the price a new parking space high. “God bless America.”
The spots behind 298 Commonwealth Ave. are in a neighborhood that already is home to the city's most expensive parking spots. A space at 48 Commonwealth Ave. set the record for a single spot at $300,000 in 2009. Two tandem spots a block from the Public Garden on Commonwealth Avenue sold for $200,000 last summer, and a spot on Marlborough Street went for $250,000 in December, according to the real estate firm Cabot & Co.
The rare opportunity to own a primo Back Bay parking spot came courtesy of the Internal Revenue Service, which seized the spaces from a man who owed nearly $600,000 in back taxes. He bought the spaces for $50,000 in 1993.
Real estate agents, business owners, lawyers, and local residents gathered in the alley behind the spots, clutching numbers on blue cards. One man brought his son, and a badminton racket; a women pushed a baby in a stroller. Several had cashier’s checks.
Mary Miele, who inherited two tandem spots attached to her property on Newbury Street, came to see how high the bidding went. “I’m curious what we have here,” she said.
She learned that what she has is a hot item.
Not even a light rain or an announcement from a lawyer that the soon-to-be-ex-wife of the man who owned the parking spaces had a legal interest in the spots cooled the bidding. After calling the property the “two prettiest parking spaces I’ve ever seen,” auctioneer Tim Smith, an IRS liquidation specialist, started the bidding, which raced to $100,000, then $200,000.
“Cheap, cheap, cheap,” called out Smith, who has auctioned off a boat in Fall River during a blizzard, but never a parking spot.
Soon only two bidders remained, a petite woman with short dark hair clutching an umbrella and a grinning man in jeans and tan sneakers and a short-sleeved checked shirt — residents of the block, it turned out, who live on opposite sides of the coveted spots.
The price shot up in rapid $10,000 increments. “330 looking for 340. . . . 410 looking for 420 — it won’t be here tomorrow. . . . 500 looking for 510.”
“This is just entertainment at this point,” said a woman in the crowd.
Finally, the man in the checked shirt gave in: “I’m done.”
“You’re all set? You’re all through?” Smith hollered. “Sold, 560, to bidder number nine.”
And the crowd broke out in polite applause. The two bidders shook hands.
“I was worried you were giving me a run for it,” said the winner, Lisa Blumenthal, who lives in a single-family home with three parking spots on Commonwealth Avenue valued at more than $5.8 million, according Cabot & Co.
“I really wanted them, but there was a limit,” said the man, who declined to give his name but said he owned the tandem spots beside the ones up for auction.
Blumenthal said the auction was a unique opportunity to get more parking places for guests and workers, although she admitted she didn’t expect the bidding to go so high.
“It was a little more heated than I thought it would have been,” she said.
Said Beth Dickerson of Gibson Sotheby’s International Realty: “The demand is not about value. It’s about wanting the parking spot at whatever cost.”Katie Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.