Two Credit Cards, A Mouse and You Too Can Buy a Building

July 18, 2013

Jon Peterson, executive vice president of The Peterson Cos., caught wind of the online auction at 9 a.m.

Three and a half hours later on that mid-May day, Fair Lakes-based The Peterson Cos. had bought itself an Oakton office building. And all it took was a frantic tour, a pair of credit cards and a legendary Northern Virginia developer clicking a mouse like he was playing a video game.

“It was like playing asteroids on the computer for Milt,” Jon Peterson said of his father, Peterson Cos. Chairman Milton V. Peterson. “He was clicking away. He said it was so hard to believe that you could buy an office building with the click of a finger.”

“It was a great 20 minutes.”

Here’s how it went down.

A former employee called Jon Peterson the morning of the auction to let him know that the Oakton Corporate Center III, a mid-rise office building located at 10467 White Granite Drive, would be available for sale at starting at noon.

He had looked at the building before, Peterson relays in a video taped by his company, but passed because he thought it would sell for more than it was worth. But he got a tip that the price was going down.

By 11 a.m., Jon Peterson had completed a tour of the 29-year-old Oakton center, which had sold for $8 million in 2012, and $16 million in 2005. He wanted in, but it required a $25,000 credit card deposit, and he didn’t have a single card with that kind of available balance.

So the Petersons scrounged together a couple cards ( does not accept American Express, FYI), going through a special process to get registered in time for the noon kick-off. A nimble private company not dependent on institutional investors, Peterson told me Wednesday, can pull these things together in a hurry.

When the auction started, there were Jon and Milton Peterson at the computer, firing away in $25,000 increments. The computer would tease, “Going once, Going…” And someone else would bid.

But within a half hour, it was all over. The property, at the I-66/Route 123 interchange, sold to the Petersons for $4.8 million, or $77 per square foot.

“We don’t know what to do with that,” the younger Peterson said. “Maybe we condominiumize it. Maybe we flip it.”

It may be hard to imagine Milton Peterson, with his 40-year history as one of the Washington area’s most prolific developers, sitting at his computer, furiously clicking to land an office property at a bargain price.

Welcome to 2013.

“I think Milton, in his wildest dreams, if you had asked him 10 years ago, 15 years ago, if you could buy an office building with the click of a finger,” Jon Peterson said, “he would have told you, ‘You’re crazy.’”

(Washington Business Journal/Neibauer)

Write a comment