Developer Robert Toussie sat at a small table in the back of a large hotel conference room in Hauppauge Tuesday morning as an auctioneer began selling 236 Suffolk County properties from Toussie's extensive portfolio.
About 50 people had gathered for the first day of the two-day auction by Toussie, 78, considered one of the largest private land owners on Long Island.
Smithtown resident Oneyda Gallardo, 41, made the $50,000 winning bid on a 19,200-square-foot lot in Wheatley Heights.
Gallardo, who owns Empire Home Realty in Hauppauge, said she and her business partner, Jesus Rios of Central Islip, specialize in “investing and fixing and flipping” properties.
“I buy properties at the town halls almost every week,” she said. “This auction, however, is way better ... The prices ... are almost 50 percent off.”
Gallardo’s Wheatley Heights parcel is big enough to build “not only one but two beautiful homes,” she said.
But many of the parcels, about 75 percent zoned for residential use and 25 percent for commercial purposes, garnered no bids.
When the initial bidding ended, some unsold parcels were re-auctioned at lower starting bids.
A 4,000-square-foot property in Mastic sold for $25,000, down from $40,000, and a parcel in Holtsville went for $50,000, down from $80,000.
Gallardo nabbed a second property, a 3,280-square-foot, two-bedroom condominium in Manorville, for $30,000; "at more than half-price," she said.
In the end, more than two thirds of the 124 properties went unsold. Another 112 will be auctioned Wednesday.
"I didn't mind lowering the starting bids at all," Toussie said. "I just want to give people an opportunity to buy and get construction going again."
He said he was "surprised there weren’t many more people here,” speculating it may have been because some of the land auctioned Tuesday was in lower-income neighborhoods.
Land developer Tom Boglino, 59, of Brookhaven Hamlet, sat alone in an otherwise empty row of chairs, listening as auctioneer Richard Maltz called out properties. His bid card stayed down.
“It’s a shame. Many of these properties won’t sell,” he said. “They’re priced too high, just too expensive.”
Maltz lightheartedly encouraged reluctant attendees to bid.
“Come on, who can turn down a piece of land on Long Island for $70,000?” he said with a laugh.
For many years Toussie was habitually the highest bidder at surplus land auctions held by Suffolk County.
Being the seller is “kind of the same exciting feeling but different at the same time," he said. "As a buyer, you’re desperately wanting that gavel to go down and waiting to hear the auctioneer yell ‘sold,’ but today I’m on the other side of this...I want to continue to hear the bids going.”
Accompanied by his wife of more than 50 years, Laura, and his lawyer, the controversial developer sported his signature look, a dark suit and bright red tie with matching pocket square.
Margarito Baños, 40, of Medford, his brother, Xavier Rivera, 41, and sister-in-law, Emma Rivera, 44, bought a parcel adjacent to the family's home in Medford for $31,000; they intend to add an extension to their house.
The price was "buenísimo,” Baños said. "We lucked out because there’s not a lot of people here.”
Toussie said he hoped Wednesday's auction will be different.
“We'll have some real premium properties... and more people will come.”
Starting bids on the properties go up to $6.5 million. If every property sold at the minimum bid, Toussie had said he would make more than $33 million. He declined to say how much Tuesday's sales brought in.
During his years as a buyer, Toussie was embroiled in several legal disputes.
Suffolk officials in 2001 and 2002 prohibited Toussie from buying property at county land auctions, after a dispute about the value of a property Toussie had sold to the county. In 2004, county officials had police officers escort him out of an auction after they had barred him from bidding and Toussie continued to do so.
The auction runs again Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency Long Island at Wind Watch Golf Club, 1717 Motor Pkwy. Representatives from Bridgehampton National Bank will be on site to provide applications for financing for qualified borrowers.
For more information visit suffolkcountylandauction.com.
Correction: An earlier version of this article included an incorrect number of properties to be auctioned.