Extreme home selling
As the market slows, home sellers are throwing in sweeteners to move properties...dual-mode toilets, anyone?
By Les Christie, CNNMoney.com staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - Everybody wants something for nothing, and as housing markets slows, homebuyers are starting to get just that. Sellers, reluctant to drop home prices, have been finding creative ways to move product.

The trend is especially evident among developers and homebuilders who have to act much more decisively than individual homeowners who have the option of sitting tight.

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Some recent freebies include trips to Las Vegas, home-entertainment and security packages, furniture store gift certificates, golf club passes for a year -- even swimming pools, according to Greg Paquin of the Gregory Group, a market-research company.

The Gregory Group reports that in Sacramento, Calif., the value of incentives by homebuilders in the fourth quarter averaged $8,965, double the prior quarter. Incentives include price discounts, upgrades, and promotions.

"Builders don't want to hang on to standing houses -- they have to pay their bills, financing, and taxes," said Paquin.

Steve Melman, a spokesman for the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reports that sales incentives have become the rule among its membership -- 56 percent feature non-price incentives. Some 16 percent of NAHB members are now offering to absorb financing points, up from 13 percent six months ago, and 33 percent are paying at least some closing costs, up from 27 percent.

But it's the non-price incentives that attract the public's fancy and 40 percent of the builder's NAHB surveyed are offering optional items at no extra charge to help close deals. A year ago, only 28 percent were doing it.

Bamboo? A standard option?

The offers can be anything from hardwood floors to upgraded lighting, but the most popular incentives seem to revolve around the kitchen, according to Melman. Granite countertops, commercial quality appliances, and wine storage all appeal to buyers. A relatively new option, bamboo floors, has recently emerged as a deal maker.

The giveaway trend is not confined to new-home builders. Ron Phipps, a Providence, Rhode Island broker appeared on the CNN show, Open House, with Gerri Willis in November. He was giving away a Lexus (for two years) with the sale of an existing home. "My goal is to differentiate the property and draw attention to it," said Phipps.

He tries to tie the promotion to some aspect of the property. If the yard is beautiful but requires a lot of care, he'll offer free landscaping for a year or two. If a bathroom is dated, he'll throw in a renovation allowance.

One of his favorite freebies wasn't even aimed at buyers; it went to those merely shopping. Anyone who came to look at one house received 30 days of free groceries. He also targets other real-estate agents. One house came with a trip to Europe for the agent who provided the ultimate buyer. Phipps says he heard of a Florida real-estate broker who was giving away jewelry.

One builder, Georgia-based Forrest Homes, is giving away a two-year lease on a Volkswagen Beetle with a home purchase. That's right, these houses come with their own Bugs.

Pulte Homes, a Michigan-based homebuilder, is paying the heating bills for six months to anyone who buys a home in one of its Maryland developments. Pulte also will throw in a free-gas fireplace, hardwood floors, upgraded cabinets, and a washer/dryer -- and a 42" plasma TV.

Apparently, though, the deal may sound better than it actually is -- a Pulte spokesman, Jim Zeumer, was quoted in the Wall Street Journal saying that all but the plasma TV were already standard in the houses.

The incentive ideas keep, shall we say, flowing. The NAHB's Melman recently attended a show where many homebuilders showcased their free upgrades. The incentive item that caused the biggest, well, splash, was an upgraded Kohler bathroom that included a toilet that had number-one and number-two buttons.

"It saves on water bills," he says.


Click here for 5 strategies sellers use to improve the chances of selling their existing homes.

Many of the upgrades homebuilders give away add substantially to the home's value. Click here to see how much. Top of page

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