News and observations from a very broadly defined real estate horizon:

It’s practically old hat now for a homeowner to offer to throw in a free car to the buyer of his house, a marketing ploy that became almost ubiquitous during the housing downturn.

News and observations from a very broadly defined real estate horizon:

It’s practically old hat now for a homeowner to offer to throw in a free car to the buyer of his house, a marketing ploy that became almost ubiquitous during the housing downturn.

But it lives on, with a twist: The owner of a home near Richmond, Va., is offering a 2012 Mercedes-Benz when his house sells — but the car would go to the real estate agent who brings a buyer for his house, currently listed for $1.9 million.

If the agent wants to skip the brand-new Benz, valued at $37,900, the owner is offering $30,000 in cash in addition to the commission, according to the Richmond Times Dispatch. The listing agent, Susan Stynes, told the newspaper the homeowner hoped the offer would attract interest from agents outside Virginia.

Single families dominate rental market

Some 16.1 percent of all listings on MLSs today are rentals, more than double the number in 2006, according to UPI. The report cited a new study by CoreLogic economist Sam Khater that said the single-family rental market accounts for 21 million rental units, or 52 percent of the entire residential rental market.

Happier times are coming, right?

Real estate agents expressed increased confidence in both the national economy and their local real estate markets, according to a national survey, the RCLOO Real Estate Market Index.

Compared to a similar poll a year ago, more than twice as many respondents described both the overall U.S. and their local or regional economies as "significantly better," and said they were likely to be significantly better in the next 12 months.

About 44 percent of the respondents said they believed there was a moderate or significant risk of a price bubble in their local apartment-rental sector.

Supersize me

Architecture quiz: What’s a McMansion? You might think you know one when you see one, but don’t be so sure. Wheaton College Prof. Brian Miller has studied how the term is used, and has concluded we can’t quite agree on how big as house has to be before it reaches "McMansion" status, and whether being one is a good thing or a bad thing.

Atlantic Cities blogger Nate Berg said Miller’s research into how the term has been used over the years in the New York Times and in the Dallas Morning News, and found that the term has four general meanings: a large house; a relatively large house; a house with bad architecture; or a symbol for other ills, such as sprawl.

Don’t call them McMansions recently took a look at the five largest mansions on the market, a list that included Eschman Meadows, a 55,000-square-foot behemoth built by the Longaberger basket tycoons, near Newark, Ohio.

But Central Ohio home shoppers who have a few bucks to spend — and don’t insist on having the very biggest of the big — might want to take a look at a one-of-a-kind alternative nearby: the so-called Parenteau mansion in Columbus, which encompasses about 26,000 square feet, and includes such memorable features as a five-story elevator, a hair salon overlooking the master bedroom, a sledding hill with moguls, and 42 furnaces.

The riverfront house comes with a bit of baggage, however, according to the Columbus Dispatch. A recent story explained that the home’s most recent owner is a homebuilder who’s now doing time for bank fraud, tax conspiracy, money laundering and other deeds. A bank took possession of the house recently and plans to put it on the market soon, the newspaper said.

900 houses to vanish

We’re relatively certain the Parenteau mansion isn’t on a list of 900 unoccupied Columbus homes that the city plans to demolish in the next three years, also according to the Dispatch. Mayor Michael B. Coleman recently announced an $11.5 million program to tear down the "worst of the worst" of 6,000 abandoned structures in the city.

Separately, two Ohio lawmakers are pushing a bill that would provide $4 billion for states to help demolish vacant, blighted homes they say are destroying neighborhoods. The bill would allow the federal government to issue bonds to states and establish land banks for qualified demolition projects. Each state would get about $40 million to take down abandoned properties.

Casper, is that you?

A New Jersey couple are suing their landlord over the return of their security deposit because they say the house is haunted and they had to move out of the house after just one week there.

Jose Chinchilla and his fiancée Michele Callan claim they were terrorized by eerie noises, flickering lights, slamming doors and strange pulling on their bed sheets, according to a Fox News report. They said they brought in a team of paranormal investigators, who confirmed paranormal activity inside the home, and they are seeking the return of their $2,250 security deposit.

The landlord, who is countersuing, said they made up the story in order to get out of their lease.

He’s planning to storm the market

A local television weatherman in Albany, N.Y., who has been a meteorologist for more than 25 years, recently announced during a broadcast that he’s leaving his TV news career to become a real estate sales associate for Keller Williams. The Albany Business Review quoted the new agent, Neal Estano, as saying that he was tired of getting up at 2:30 a.m. in order to prepare for his early-morning television gig.

Come clean on smoking, Bloomberg says

The mayor of New York wants buildings containing three or more units — rentals, condos and co-ops — to adopt policies that would disclose whether smoking is allowed in all indoor and outdoor locations, including within apartments, on balconies and rooftops and in courtyards. Mayor Michael P. Bloomberg said the law would be "informational," and would not be part of an attempt to ban smoking in residences, according to the New York Times.

The newspaper quoted Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, as saying that the proposed law would have to clarify who would be responsible for enforcing the rules. The city said it had received more than 2,300 calls since July that had complained about secondhand smoke in residences.

A dog gets his day

A Nashville pit bull that’s been on doggie death row for a year recently got a reprieve from a judge after the dog’s real estate agent owner proposed sending the animal to a rescue operation in New Orleans.

Prada, the 4-year-old pit bull, drew attention from around the world after owner Nicole Andree organized a campaign to send the dog to the Villalobos Rescue center, which is featured on an Animal Planet cable network show that pairs convicts and abused dogs together in an effort to rehabilitate both, according to the Huffington Post. The dog had been declared vicious and ordered put down after it escaped from its home and attacked several other dogs in its neighborhood.

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