Here's a video on Business Week's website showing an actual auction on the steps of the San Diego County Courthouse, a place I once knew well.
Yes, there are auctions once in a while for commercial property. The last one I worked on was a few years ago, for a prominent local investment company that purchased two apartment complexes in the Southeast. The total purchase price, as I recall, was in the mid eight figures. And yes, the client flew down to the courthouse and literally bought the property on the steps. It was very exciting.
The key to these deals is doing as much due diligence as you possibly can, since you are expected to buy the property on an absolute as-is basis, and with a closing occurring almost immediately. So you'd best order minutes of foreclosure from your title company, get your hands on a survey and dig into whatever information you can find. You'd better also cash, a good line of credit or have a lender or money partner on board to do this deal. This is all a part of good opportunistic investing.
It's down and dirty work sometimes, even at those price points, and, as you can see from the video, it can be dull and sometimes no one buys anything. The key (duh) is to pay the right price, which isn't always easy to figure out. I didn't work on the sale of the property I mentioned, but I understand the client made a nice profit on the deal.