Richard and Amanda Peacock spent five years building their dream home, a 10,000-square-foot, orange mansion overlooking the ocean here. They filled it with leopard-skin chairs, pinball machines, antique Coca-Cola signs and six sports cars. It had a room full of 100 hunting trophies — including a hyena and the head of an elephant — and an aviary out back housing eight rare parrots.

On a recent Saturday, they held a one-day auction to try to sell it all.

‘Four million, do I hear four and a half?’ shouted auctioneer Dean Kruse, as he took bids for the mansion. ‘Come on, people — the good Lord stopped making oceanfront property a long time ago.’

In a sweltering auction tent on the Peacocks’ front lawn, the bidding got especially heated for the road signs, hunting trophies and the couple’s 2004 Ferrari. Frank Burden, a local landscaper, picked up Mr. Peacock’s Pennzoil sign for $75. Bidding on the scarlet Ferrari, with only 5,000 miles, reached $110,000, a steal compared with its $207,000 purchase price. Marie Davis, a Florida vacationer, picked up several exotic hunting trophies.

‘I got a wildebeest for $250!’ she said. ‘What a deal.’

Mr. Peacock’s auction marked a new moment in the fall of the lastest Gilded Age. Fire-sale auctions of mansions, yachts, sports cars and other trappings of wealth have become increasingly common as the rich become less rich. But Mr. Peacock is in the vanguard in attempting to downsize in just one day. The event was less an auction than a lifestyle liquidation, a clearance sale on a decade’s worth of conspicuous consumption.

He has plenty of company among the once-wealthy. Half of all millionaires have lost 30% or more of their fortunes during the financial crisis, according to a recent survey from Chicago-based Spectrem Group. Whether unable to pay their bills or loath to appear lavish at a time of national thrift, many millionaires and billionaires are unloading their baubles. In a twist on the estate sales of deceased celebrities, ‘living estate sales’ have become increasingly popular.

Todd Good, president of Accelerated Marketing Group in California, recently auctioned off a 15,000-square-foot mansion in Walla Walla, Wash., along with a collection of more than 70 motorcycles, a large wine cellar, antiques and artwork. The house, which was listed for more than $13 million, sold for $3.5 million.

Jim Gall, president of Miami-based Auction Co. of America, helped a once-wealthy Naples resident try to sell a mansion, two condos, a fishing boat, a yacht and two Mercedes-Benzes. He failed to sell the yacht, since the debt on the boat exceeded the highest bids.

Mr. Gall says he’s had nine or 10 calls recently from similar sellers asking about one-day auctions.

‘We call it ‘going minimalist,” Mr. Gall says. ‘It’s the financing and debt that pushes these people to the wall. But they’re also saying that they’ve had it with buying and collecting. It’s like a great purging.’

Mr. Peacock’s selloff is among the most unusual. A 60-year-old commercial real-estate developer with a mustache and a dark tan, he built his fortune building and owning retail space in Miami’s Coconut Grove area. He and Amanda, a 39-year-old former model, moved in 2003 to Vero Beach, a resort town that’s home to billionaires and sports stars like Ivan Lendl and AOL executive Ted Leonsis.

They bought a piece of oceanfront property for $4 million and spent the next four years, and another $4 million, building the mansion. It has six bedrooms, seven-and-a-half baths, a gym and a barbershop and salon. Outside there’s a waterfall, tiki bar and aviary. The couple designed much of the furniture themselves, including the gold and leopard-skin dining-room chairs.

‘Richard likes leopard skin, and I like gold, so it was the perfect match,’ says Mrs. Peacock.

The sprawling ‘trophy/game room’ is stocked with dozens of antique road signs, life-size statues of Muhammad Ali and Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr, antique gas pumps and a cigar-store Indian. Stuffed hunting trophies spill throughout the house, including the fang-baring baboon in the guest room. Mr. Peacock says he doesn’t hunt.

Their fortunes began to turn last fall. Mr. Peacock was diagnosed with cancer. His commercial real-estate business, with 30,000 square feet of retail space in Miami, is facing rising vacancies. He also had to shut down his Vero Beach construction company, which was working on residential projects.

The couple now has a $2.2 million mortgage on their mansion, Mr. Peacock says, and a $1 million mortgage on a four-bedroom oceanfront home nearby that they used while building the mansion. Maintaining the house is also costly: $50,000 a year in taxes, $25,000 for insurance and more than $100,000 a year for indoor and outdoor maintenance. That’s not to mention the upkeep on their other home.

Mr. Peacock says he is now cancer-free. He says it was the health scare, not financial problems, that inspired him to scale back.

‘We don’t need all this stuff anymore,’ he says, adding that the couple plans to buy a cabin in the Blue Mountains. ‘It’s time to simplify.’

So, four months after moving in, the couple put the mansion on the market. They found no buyer. In February, the Peacocks decided on a single blowout auction, selling off the two houses and most of the contents with Indiana-based auction company Kruse International.

The Peacocks figured it would be fast and cheaper to market than several separate auctions. The risk is that such sales can flop.

On the morning of Mr. Peacock’s auction, more than 100 bargain-hunters flocked to the auction tent along with dozens more bidding live online. The bids started strong, with the metal signs and animals selling. An online bidder bought the elephant head for $6,750. A bright yellow Honda motorcycle went for $9,500, and a 2003 Country Motor Coach fetched $150,000 — far less than the $600,000 Mr. Peacock paid for it or the $200,000 he owes on it.

‘This guy had all the toys in the world,’ marveled Pat Nugent, a local real-estate agent.

When the six cars came on the block, however, the sale stalled. Only one — a cloned 1970 Plymouth Hemi Cuda convertible — reached Mr. Peacock’s asking price. The Peacocks didn’t accept the bids on the others, including the Ferrari. An Italian speedboat and a pair of jet skis also failed to sell.

Bids on the house ground to a halt at $5.5 million. The Peacocks decided they couldn’t let it go for that. Since they didn’t want to live in an empty mansion, they pulled the other items, including the parrots, off the block.
In all, 500 items sold for about $300,000. About $200,000 went to pay the auctioneer and other expenses. Both houses are still on the market.

‘Nobody’s spending money right now,’ said Mr. Peacock, sitting under the tent with his head buried in his hands. ‘I guess we’ll try to just keep hanging on.’

理查德•皮考克(Richard Peacock)和阿曼达•皮考克(Amanda Peacock)夫妇花了五年时间打造自己心目中的梦幻之家:一栋外表橘黄、面积约930平方米的海景豪华别墅。别墅里有美洲豹皮制成的椅子、弹球游戏桌、可口可乐的古董招牌和六辆跑车,其中一个房间,装饰着100件狩猎战利品,包括一个鬣狗标本和一头大象的头,别墅后院还有一个鸟舍,养着八只珍稀的鹦鹉。

Robert Frank/The Wall Street Journal

“400万美元,有没有人出450万?”负责别墅拍卖的拍卖师迪恩•克鲁斯(Dean Kruse)喊道,“大家想一想,上帝他老人家已经很久没有造新的海边别墅了。”

在皮考克家前院草地上搭起的拍卖帐篷里,空气十分闷热,但人们在竞价古董路标、狩猎动物标本和皮考克夫妇2004年款法拉利跑车时,气氛更为热烈。当地一位庭院设计师弗兰克•伯顿(Frank Burden)以75美元的价格竞得皮考克收藏的Pennzoil标牌。行驶里程只有5,000英里的红色法拉利,最终竞价为11万美元,与其20.7万美元的购置价相比,简直是贱卖。一个来自佛罗里达州的度假者玛丽•戴维斯(Marie Davis)买到几个奇特的狩猎动物标本。


Robert Frank/The Wall Street Journal
皮考克的这场拍卖会是镀金时代(Gilded Age)走向没落的最新标志。随着富人的财富不断缩水,别墅、游艇、跑车和其他奢侈品的拍卖络绎不绝,但像皮考克这样希望在一天之内就清空一切的情况,还是比较少见。与其说这是一场拍卖,不如说是对一种生活方式的全面清算,对十年奢华消费的彻底清仓。


加州的加速营销集团(Accelerated Marketing Group)总裁托德•古德(Todd Good)最近通过拍卖售出他在华盛顿Walla Walla一处1,400平方米的别墅,还有收藏的70多辆摩托车、一个大型葡萄酒窖,以及各种古董和艺术品。那栋别墅的标价超过1,300万美元,但最后只卖了350万美元。

位于迈阿密的美洲拍卖公司(Auction Co. of America)总裁吉姆•高尔(Jim Gall)为一个曾经富有的意大利那不勒斯人拍卖一栋别墅、两套公寓、一艘渔船、一艘游艇和两辆奔驰汽车。游艇没能卖出去,因为那艘船所欠的债务超出了最高竞价。



理查德•皮考克的拍卖会极不寻常。这位60岁的商业地产开发商留着大胡子,皮肤晒得黝黑。他在迈阿密的椰林区(Coconut Grove)开发并拥有零售商业地产,从而积累起自己的财富。39岁的阿曼达曾是一个模特,2003年和理查德搬到Vero Beach市,这是一个亿万富翁和体育明星云集的度假小镇,如网球名将伊万•伦德尔(Ivan Lendl)和美国在线公司(AOL)高管泰德•里昂西斯(Ted Leonsis)等。



Robert Frank/The Wall Street Journal
在别墅的“狩猎展示和游戏室”里,有几十个古董路标、拳王默罕默德•阿里(Muhammad Ali)和绿湾包装者队(Green Bay Packers)四分卫巴特•斯塔尔(Bart Starr) 的全尺寸雕塑、老式加油泵以及一个以往放在雪茄店前的木刻印第安人雕像。整个别墅到处可见作为狩猎战利品的动物标本,客人房里还有一只龇牙裂齿的狒狒标本。理查德说,他自己从不打猎。

2009年秋天,他们的运气开始急转直下。理查德被诊断出患有癌症,他在迈阿密占地2,800平米的商业零售地产空置率越来越高。他还被迫关闭了在Vero Beach从事居民住宅的开发项目的建筑公司。



“所有这些东西我们都不再需要了,”他说,两人打算在蓝山(Blue Mountains)买一栋小木屋,“现在要过的是减法人生。”

因此,搬进别墅四个月后,皮考克夫妇打算把别墅卖掉,但他们找不到买家。2009年2月,他们决定委托印地安纳州一家拍卖行Kruse International举行一个统一拍卖会,一次性把两栋房子和里面的大多数东西处理掉。


Robert Frank/The Wall Street Journal
拍卖会那天早上,100多个想捡便宜的人涌入拍卖帐篷,还有几十人通过互联网参拍。拍卖会的开局很好,金属标牌和动物标本卖得不错。一个网上参拍者以6,750美元的价格买下了大象头,一辆明黄色的本田(Honda)摩托卖出了9,500美元,2003年产的乡村大房车(Country Motor Coach)成交价为15万美元,比理查德当初60万美元的买入价低得多,而且也不足以偿还这辆车20万美元的债务。

“这家伙什么好玩的东西都有。”当地一个地产经纪人派德•纳秦特(Pat Nugent)惊呼道。

然而,六辆跑车开拍时,成交的步伐立刻慢了下来,只有一辆1970年Plymouth Hemi Cuda敞篷车的仿制车达到了理查德的拍卖底价。理查德没有接受对其他几辆车的竞拍价,包括那辆法拉利。一艘意大利快艇和一副喷气式滑水板流拍。




Robert Frank