As the real estate market declined in recent years, the age-old practice of sellers marketing their homes as coming with buyer incentives was elevated from an occasional practice to a true art.
Savvy sellers and their agents created win-win strategies for differentiating their listings in a crowded market by throwing uber-desirable perks into the deal.
And some sellers have gone beyond old concessions, like picking up a portion of closing costs or paying homeowners association dues. Some are offering to throw in a fireplace-framing plasma screen TV, or other furnishings customized for the property. As a result, many a homebuyer ends up with more than just the home of their dreams.
There are those buyers and sellers, too, who have taken the smart strategy of offering desirable buyer incentives to extremes. These extremes fall along a spectrum that begins at entertaining and stretches all the way to worrisome — even very worrisome.
Here are seven of the most bizarre homebuyer incentives I’ve come across over the past few years.
1. Alcohol. Last year, news spread like wildfire of a Chicago-area listing in which the seller threw in a hefty prepaid tab for food and alcohol at a nearby bar. Frustrated by the fact that their home had been lagging on the market for several months with only two or three showings, the owners of a $450,000 Glenview, Ill., home decided to throw in a $1,000 tab at Grandpa’s Place, a bar located across the street from the property.
The idea — which was not only to entice buyers with potent potables, but also to showcase the neighborhood’s lively nightlife — apparently worked. The sellers reported a threefold increase in showings immediately after publicizing the boozy incentive.
2. Cookies — lots of cookies. A friend of mine, Ann Brenoff, reported a few years back on actor George Hamilton’s unusual contract demand during his Los Angeles condo-buying escapade. Hamilton didn’t ask, as you might expect, for a lifetime of spray tans or Brylcreem.
Rather, he demanded that the seller, who owned a famous bakery, throw in a dozen cookies every month for the year following close of escrow. Think about it: how much could 144 cookies possibly cost? Sounds to me like both Hamilton and the seller scored a sweet deal.
3. Other homes. At the bottom of their local market, circa 2010, one enterprising couple seeking to sell their Connecticut home decided to throw their Florida vacation condo in as a buyer incentive!
4. Crazy cars. The vehicles I’ve heard being offered as buyer incentives range from tractors and trucks that work the farms they’re sold with to the Lamborghinis and Ferraris accompanying home sales in luxury locales such as in Malibu, Calif.
5. Animals. It could be urban legend, but every real estate agent has heard tales from mentors of the suburban tract house hunter who saw home after identical, cookie-cutter home, before declaring a strong, even adamant, preference for a particular one.
When pressed by her agent to express precisely why she wanted that house, and not one of the dozens of other homes she’d seen, the buyer declared: because I want the dog in the deal, too.
Whether or not this particular story is true (as a dog Mom, I’m outraged!), there are dozens of documented tales of dogs and cats, for that matter, wooing buyers to feel at home in a given property, or to come back for a second showing, helping their owners get the place sold without moving in with the buyers.
6. Meth-lab chemicals. OK, so no buyer or seller is out there expressly negotiating to make sure that methamphetamine manufacturing residues are included in their deal, but plenty of sellers have apparently decided to throw them in anyway.
I couldn’t close this list out without a tiny dose of education, and what came to mind was the cautionary tale of the folks who bought a home from the estate of its recently departed owner, whose family members had unfortunately been using the place as a lab for manufacturing methamphetamine.
Because estates are often immune from disclosure requirements, the buyers sunk their entire life savings into the down payment for the property, totally unaware of the reality that the toxic residues would create headaches and chronic illnesses for them — and cost them thousands and thousands of dollars to remediate — when they finally were able to close escrow and move in.
So, how do you avoid this? Well, apparently this is such a widespread modern-day problem that most states now have laws that specifically require the sellers of a home to disclose that it has been used as a meth lab if they are aware of it.
But I’d suggest talking to the neighbors (that’s how the poor young couple in the example eventually found out what their home once was) or Googling the address (often, properties that have been raided and found to be drug labs will be listed on federal or local crime databases) before you buy to stack the decks in your favor.
Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Tara is also the Consumer Ambassador and Educator for real estate listings search site Trulia.com. Ask her a real estate question online or visit her website, www.rethinkrealestate.com.
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