Reality TV taps Phoenix-area foreclosures

By Catherine Reagor

The Arizona Republic

Published: Monday, Sept. 19 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Cast members gather during a new Discovery Channel reality show about groups bidding on foreclosure homes at the Maricopa County Courthouse in Phoenix.

The Arizona Republic, Cheryl Evans, Associated Press

PHOENIX — Alaska has a reality show about ice truckers trying to survive deadly hauls. New York has Donald Trump's cutthroat competition to be his apprentice. And Georgia has Billy the Exterminator, who battles rodents and alligators.

Soon, Phoenix will be the setting for a new reality show about one of the region's most competitive and heart-racing activities — bidding on foreclosure homes.

Agents who work at Maricopa County's foreclosure auctions are in negotiations to appear on the show, which is planned to start airing on the Discovery Channel next year.

Filming for "Betting the House" is expected to begin in the next few weeks.

New York-based Sharp Entertainment, producer of the show, also created "Punkin Chunkin" for the Discovery Channel, "Man vs. Food" for the Travel Channel and "Extreme Couponing" for TLC.

Now, cameras will be filming outside the county courthouse in downtown Phoenix.

Although the company did not comment on the details of the show it is planning, the daily auction scene is one of colorful characters and sometimes intense bidding on the region's foreclosure homes.

As many as three auctioneers may be taking bids at once, and the agents and buyers who try to land good deals rush from auction to auction, placing offers, talking to their offices by cellphone and trying to make sure they don't miss a deal in the process.

At its heart, the attraction of the auction scene is the promise of a house - to be a home, a rental or just a quick investment — for an amazing deal.

Sharp picked three veteran bidders at Phoenix's foreclosure auctions to follow: Doug Hopkins of Posted Properties; John Ray of Bid AZ Foreclosures and Lou Amoroso of Easy Investments.

"It's a little nerve-racking to think about seeing yourself do your job on TV, but at least it's not summer and I won't be sweating," said Hopkins, president of Posted Properties. "The foreclosure-auction market is more competitive than it's ever been. It's definitely entertaining to watch."

He said that final contracts with the Discovery Channel are being negotiated this week and that filming is expected to start within four weeks.

Lenders have been selling a record number of Phoenix-area homes at the foreclosure auctions known as trustee sales. In August, 1,500 foreclosure homes sold at auction.

"I have been on the fence about this reality show," Amoroso said. "The producers want drama, and they will get it at foreclosure auctions now. But I don't want this to be one of those crappy shows everyone makes fun of and that draws too many more bidders to an already crazy market."

Sharp confirmed the show is in the works but didn't give any specifics.

The three main characters have worked together to bid on foreclosure homes in the past but now are "friendly competitors" at the auctions.

They work as agents, identifying properties their clients want to buy and bidding in an effort to get their clients the best prices.

Hopkins won't actually be at the courthouse. He works out of his office and has two to three bidders in the field.

At the courthouse, the TV cameras are likely to capture a scene of what has effectively become the trading floor for the region's hottest commodity: foreclosure houses.

There, bidders are ready to jump a fence or run to another table when another auction starts. The regulars act like co-workers, with nicknames for one another.

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