BIG property developers sat on their hands yesterday, letting one of the best Crown residential sites to be auctioned off in recent months go to a smaller private player and forcing three industrial lots to be withdrawn. While virtually all the property powerhouses attended, Sino Land, China Overseas & Investment and Paliburg Development were the only ones to bid. With the likes of Cheung Kong (Holdings), Hang Lung Development and Sun Hung Kai Properties sitting on the sidelines, small to medium-sized developers were left to battle it out for the main 44,412-square-foot luxury residential site in Cox's Road, Kowloon. After healthy bidding, it went to Eton Properties for a respectable $1.02 billion, which was at the upper end of analysts' expectations. A smaller residential site in Stanley sold after a fierce battle for $53.5 million, double most forecasts. With the two residential sites out of the way, attention then turned to three commercial and mixed industrial/office sites in the New Territories. Not even the smaller players were prepared to bid and each had to be withdrawn in swift succession after failing to attract a single offer. Analysts blamed poor location and the prospects of serious over-supply in industrial/office sites. The withdrawal helped send the Hang Seng Index sliding 173.02 points to 7,909.27 points amid heavy selling in late trading, although fears over the US dollar were partly to blame. Stock markets around the region fell on reports that the District of Columbia in the US may be insolvent, raising concerns about another financial crisis like that faced by Orange County, California. Bidding interest for the Cox's Road site was strong with three to four companies showing their hands at the same time. China Overseas became Eton's sole competitor when the price was pushed over $1 billion. Eton finished the bidding at $1.02 billion. This represents an accommodation value of around $4,600 per sq ft, which is roughly 20 per cent higher than a nearby site sold to Emperor Group in January 1993. Despite keeping their hand in their pockets, property developers said the sale was successful and would bring positive news to the housing market. Government Land Agent John Corrigall described the Cox's Road lot as a 'cracking site' and said he was not surprised to see it go for such a respectable price. 'The two sites sold were very good sites in their own ways,' Mr Corrigall said. 'This auction served to show that where you've got a good site and there is a known market, it is going to sell well.' Kerry Properties executive director Michael Hui said the luxury sector in Kowloon would benefit from the sale. For the Stanley residential/commercial site, property analysts said the 2,269-sq-ft site was too small to be an indicator on the housing sector even it attracted a lot of bidding interest yesterday. Eton Properties is a Hong Kong-based company with more than 30 years' experience in the local property market and it was not the first time it had bought land at government auctions. In October 1987, just after the stock market crash, the company paid $500 million for the Queen's Garden lot in Old Peak Road. The site, turned into a luxury development, was still held as long-term investment. The group also owns Dragon Centre in Kowloon and Radio City in Causeway Bay.