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California Office Complex Sets Record as Priciest Online Property Sale

It is an office complex in Manhattan Beach, California, sleek and attractive but otherwise unremarkable — until now.

The 309,734-square-foot property just sold for $96.1 million and is the most expensive piece of real estate ever auctioned online in the United States, according to Auction.com, the online company that facilitated the e-commerce transaction.

"I think the fact that we had a buyer pay $96 million to buy a commercial property online shows that real estate really is starting to move onto the Internet," said Rick Sharga, executive vice president at Auction.com.

The property, built in 1985 and consisting of two six-story office towers, is not quite as pricey as Frank Mulder's 405-foot "Gigayacht," which was listed on eBay for $168 million. EBay has not confirmed that it went for that price. It does top Mark Cuban's online purchase of a Gulfstream jet for $40 million, which is confirmed by Guinness World Records.

Until now, real estate auctions, both on and offline, have primarily been used to dispose of distressed assets. But as the rest of life moves online, so, too, do real estate sales, in ever more expensive offerings. Other sites, like Hubzu and bid4assets.com, are changing the landscape.

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"The big difference here is people not just looking at and researching real estate online, they're buying real estate online, traditional, nondistressed, high-quality properties," noted Sharga. "Now there is a sea change."

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The seller, CWCapital, declined to comment on the transaction, and Auction.com has yet to disclose the buyer. Auction, which launched as a distressed real estate auction website, reported selling more than $300 million in commercial real estate assets in just the past week.

"Over half of the commercial properties we bring to auction are Class A, nondistressed assets and that's a trend that will only continue to grow," said Gordon Smith, general manager of Auction.com's commercial real estate division.

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Auction.com is now starting to test sales of nondistressed, residential homes on its site. This could prove particularly lucrative in markets targeted by overseas buyers, like California and Florida.