WHAT does it take to sell a house in a slowing real estate market? Lou Aloupis thinks he knows: a 2006 Mercedes E-Class sedan.
A partner in a contracting firm that renovates houses for resale, Mr. Aloupis is trying to sell a remodeled ranch on a dead-end street in Stamford. Every single thing in that house has been replaced, he said. Yet the listing has languished since February, and Mr. Aloupis is growing impatient.
He has shaved more than $100,000 from the initial asking price, bringing it down to $679,000. He is offering the property through both a real estate agency and for-sale-by-owner Web sites. He even invited a woman who runs estate sales to display merchandise at the ranch, then distributed sales fliers to her customers. At the end of the day, nothing came of it, he said. Not even a phone call.
So now he has sweetened the pot: Mr. Aloupis will sign over the lease on his Mercedes for one year to the buyer who closes on the house. He will prepay the lease; the buyer will have only insurance costs to cover.
As for Mr. Aloupis and his partners, Scott Kaluczky and Robert Bove, well be happy right now if somebody buys the house for $660,000, he said. Weve got too much money tied up in it.
Mr. Aloupis is not alone in his frustration with the changing market. Though median sales prices in Connecticut were still rising, albeit modestly, as of the end of July, single-family home sales were down 13 percent statewide for the year to date, according to the Warren Group, a real estate research and publishing company based in Boston. The drop was steepest in Fairfield County, where sales were down more than 20 percent for the first seven months of the year and 30 percent for July.
The accompanying increase in the number of available properties has many sellers scrambling for ways to make their houses stand out from the pack. While some agents are sticking to traditional marketing strategies like competitive pricing and added online exposure, others are adopting more creative attention-getting methods aimed not just at buyers, but at fellow agents as well.
Theres so much inventory out there that, to a great extent, its a matter of just getting the brokers to your house, said Patti Ballard, a sales agent with William Pitt Sothebys International in Ridgefield. Last year, we averaged 8 to 10 brokers open houses on any one day in Ridgefield. Lately, weve had a couple of days with 34, 36 broker open houses. It can be overwhelming.
One local plastic surgeon is offering free Botox treatments to the agent who sells his home. Such incentives arouse curiosity, Ms. Ballard said. Im not a big Botox girl myself, she said, but it certainly got my attention.
Carole Maisano, an agent in the same office, is using a more exotic incentive to drum up agent interest in her 4,400-square-foot contemporary home in Wilton. Ms. Maisano listed the four-bedroom home in April for $1.375 million and has since reduced the price to $1.285 million. Showings dropped off, however, so she is now offering an African safari for two to the agent who brings a sale to closing.
The idea arose from her husbands newest business venture: arranging customized safaris. The offer has not attracted significantly more traffic, but it has drawn agents from outside the immediate area, Ms. Maisano said.
Mark Markelz, a sales vice president at William Raveis Real Estate in Southport, sees extravagant incentives as more gimmick than effective sales tool.
Earlier this year, he worked with some builders who tried to attract buyers by offering to pay points and closing costs. It fell flat on its face, Mr. Markelz said. The consumer is sharp enough to say, Listen, whats the bottom-line price?
Dawn Grabover, an agent with Keller Williams Realty in Ridgefield, has tried a similar approach with her listing for a three-bedroom town house in Danbury. The unit has now spent five months on the market, so the owner is offering to credit the buyer six months worth of common charges at closing. Coupled with a price reduction to $469,500 from $499,000, the offer was an attempt to distinguish this unit from the other 15 town homes for sale in the complex, Ms. Grabover said. As of yet, it has not attracted much interest.
If buyers see through certain incentives, agents also sometimes steer clear of them. Safaris to Africa notwithstanding, state law stipulates that any incentive for selling a house must be given to the brokerage, not the individual agent, said Eugene Marconi, general counsel for the Connecticut Association of Realtors. The brokerage then decides what to do with it. The aim is to remove the temptation for sales agents to bump up their income by working out side deals, he said.
The value of incentives is further diluted by the arrangements that many buyers agents have with their clients that limit their ability to accept additional rewards, he noted.
This incentive business is almost becoming an urban legend do this and youll get droves of people coming to your house, Mr. Marconi said. But when you start peeling the layers away, oftentimes the incentive is not an incentive at all.
Typically, however, brokerages do pass the incentive along to the deserving agent, according to Ms. Maisano. In offering the safari, she said, we assumed that the agency would just let the agent benefit. Ive yet to see one that doesnt.
Paul Colombie, director of sales and marketing for the New York-Connecticut division of Baker Residential, is trying a different tack for increasing sales at the companys Villages at Timber Oak, a 328-unit development in Bethel. Playing off the popularity of home-staging shows on HGTV, Mr. Colombie decided to try schooling homeowners interested in moving to Timber Oak how to sell their properties quickly.
Although more than 50 units at Timber Oak are in contract, Mr. Colombie said, some potential buyers appear reluctant to move forward because they have houses to sell.
About 40 people recently turned up for free food and marketing advice at Mr. Colombies first home-selling seminar in the developments gracious clubhouse.
A staging specialist recommended cleaning out closets and deodorizing carpets. A mortgage broker explained the intricacies of bridge financing. A real estate agent offered reassurances that the declining market was in fact returning to normalcy.
We want to increase their comfort level, Mr. Colombie explained. To be honest with you, were going to help some people sell their house, and then theyll buy somewhere else. But thats the nature of the game.