Freebies for home buyers
Home sellers are trying to find creative ways to get buyers to sign on the dotted line.
By Les Christie, staff writer

NEW YORK ( -- As the real estate market slows, sellers seem willing to try anything to close a deal.

"Incentives are all over the place," says Salli Kirkpatrick, founder of SK Associates, a Sacramento-area advertising agency that works with homebuilders. "No closing costs, no payments for six months, $10,000 toward a built-in swimming pool. Things have gone berserk."

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David Seiders, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders says 75 percent of the nation's builders and developers are offering incentives.

Those incentives range widely. "Developers will upgrade appliances, put in a Garland range or a Sub-Zero refrigerator," says Diane Saatchi, a vice president with the Corcoran Group who specializes in Hamptons properties.

One big developer, Elliott Homes, will landscape the backyard and upgrade your appliances, if you're ready to purchase one of their $439,950 homes at Rancho Cordova in California.

The Associated Press reported last week that a new San Diego condo development, Atria, was giving away plasma TVs and $5,000 home renovation gift certificates.

Other popular options include fancy kitchen cabinets, granite countertops and marble baths.

Some buyers, however, may just want money - and those deals abound.

"Price cuts are averaging 5 percent to 6 percent," Seiders says, "and 30 percent of all the large builders have cut prices in at least some of their developments by 10 percent or more."

As mortgage rates inch higher, some builders eager to move inventory may help in that area too, says Seiders.

That could mean a 4.5 percent interest rate for the first year and 5.5 percent for the second on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, instead of the going rate of about 6.5 percent. That would save a total of $6,828 on a $300,000 loan over the first two years of ownership.

Other offers target closing costs. One of the nation's largest builders, Meritage Homes, has offered to pay all closing costs and the first three mortgage payments for buyers at one of its developments near Sacramento.

Most sellers, especially developers, try to structure the discounts from selling prices as rebates, closing cost payments and mortgage payment deferrals instead of showing a discount to the original advertised price. They don't want to establish a new, lower base price, nor do they want to field complaints from earlier buyers who paid full boat for the same house.

Individual sellers also get creative

Private sellers of single family homes have also entered the fray.

Cheryl Preheim, a reporter for KUSA in Denver, interviewed a couple who have been trying to sell their condo for more than a year (see video). They will give away round-trip, first-class tickets to Europe or a bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothschild worth thousands to buyers willing to act right away.

An area broker, Peter Workman, said other sellers were offering a month of massages and a personal chef for a while.

Matthew Martinez, a real estate investor in Boston and Florida, says a private seller wanted to give him a 20 percent discount for a quick house sale.

A condo owner in Miami was throwing in a Vespa, the Italian motor scooter. Another Miami house seller would have included round-trip air within the continental United States with the sale.

To Ron Phipps, a Providence, Rhode Island, broker, these sellers' concessions may be falling on mostly deaf ears these days. Not so last fall, when he was giving away a Lexus with the purchase of a house.

"It was different then," he says. "That kind of incentive had a profound impact. Now, price is the prime motive for buyers."

He's concentrating his efforts more on convincing reluctant sellers to lower their asking prices if they are serious about finding a buyer.

That's probably a good thing, as far as lenders are concerned.

"Lenders," says Seiders, "really frown on putting a new car in the garage or sending the buyer on a trip to Vegas."

That's because, with many buyers putting little down and prices in some localities stagnant or even falling, buyers could wind up with very little home equity, which can violate the guidelines or rules some lenders live by.

The lenders prefer incentives, such as kitchen upgrades, that add value to the homes, and many builders are doing just that.


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