In a packed room inside Poplar Towers East, men wearing suits are begging for money ... and the Discovery Channel is catching it all on film.
It's not some documentary on well-dressed panhandlers. As part of a new reality series titled Going, Going, Gone, the Discovery Channel was shooting in Memphis last week at the Roebuck Auctions' monthly real estate auction.
"We follow people from buying a property to fixing it up to moving in," explains Stephanie Goldberg, the show's executive producer.
Before the audience files into the auction room, they're asked to sign a release from Lion TV, permitting the production company to use their image on the show. Once the room is full, John Roebuck, the company's CEO and auctioneer, announces that the Discovery Channel will be filming. He says the crew will want to meet with everyone who wins at auction after the event is over.
Many in the audience are investors looking to buy cheap property to rent out or sell for a profit, but Roebuck doesn't explain that the show is only looking for homeowners who plan to move into the homes themselves.
After a quick opening prayer, they're off. First, an office building on Premier sells for $45,000. And then they move on to a commercial property in the South Main Arts District.
"775? Anybody give me 800 [thousand]. Brother, how 'bout 800? Going once. How 'bout 825? Now 850? Anybody give me eight and a half. Downtown's what's happening, folks. It's hot, hot, hot," says Roebuck, speaking ninety-to-nothing.
Tensions are running high and the mood is intense as Roebuck's staff roams the room putting well-known investors on the spot to spend more. Cameras zoom in when a hand goes up to raise the bid.
One staffer, Mike Ray, speaks to a guy behind me making "come on" motions with his outstretched hand. The man motions that he's not interested in the property, and Ray says, "Well, where's Rick? He'll bid. He's not cheap."
The rest of the auction focuses on residential properties. Some are really nice, like the place on Classic Drive near Southwind that goes for $435,000. And others can only be described as fixer-uppers, like the home on Marble Street that fetched a mere $6,000. The audience even laughed when the place, with its run-down wooden frame and tiny, overgrown lawn, was shown on the screen.
But those fixer-uppers are what the Discovery Channel is looking for. After the auction, Goldberg and her crew weed out the investors in their search for a homeowner.
"We found one here today. We'll see what he's going to do with the house and hopefully follow him through the process," says Goldberg. "We'll probably film once before renovations, and then we'll come down again during renovations."
The Discovery Channel show will feature one property per episode. The idea comes from a U.K.-based show called Homes Under the Hammer. Goldberg says auctions have been a very popular way to buy residential property in the U.K. for years, and it's gaining popularity in the states.
"The whole auction mode of buying and selling has grown exponentially," says Jody Hopkins, vice president of administration and finance for Roebuck. "From the seller's perspective, once that house is sold, it's a weight off their shoulders, and they sell fast at auction. And buyers like the process because it's nice and clean and everything's already set up."