Cover story: Incentives upgraded in down market

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Desperate times call for desperate measures, the old saying goes. So here’s the question: How desperate are you to sell your home?

For many home sellers these days, the answer may involve an array of incentives homeowners never would have dreamed of offering a few years ago. The result: Today’s homes for sale may come equipped with more than just the curtains, the stove and the refrigerator.

“There’s no question, we’ve had some unusual things,” said Michael Labout, regional vice president for the National Association of Realtors (NAR). “I had one seller who wanted to include his 1970s Cadillac El Dorado.”

According to the NAR, sellers are resorting to a variety of inducements, from home warranties and closing-cost assistance to remodeling credits and flat-screen televisions, in order to get their homes off the market and into a buyer’s hands. Together they show that sellers are willing to dig deep and get creative to unload their properties.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a buyer’s market right now, it’s more like a normal market,” said Mynor Herrera, a partner with Keller Williams Capital Properties who is on the board of directors of the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors. “There have to be concessions on both sides of the fence.”

At the same time, buyers are a lot pickier than they used to be.

Why throw in the car? That unexpected item might be just the thing to get the buyer in the door. Once in, buyers may like what they see.

“These things don’t actually make the deal,” Mr. Labout said. “They’re as much to get buyers and agents to look at a house as anything.”

Of course, having a 365 Ferrari parked in the driveway brings curb appeal to a whole new level. But flashy cars aren’t the only items buyers are bringing to the table. Common bonus items include flat-screen televisions, hot tubs, home theater systems and even, in one case, a pair of all-terrain vehicles.

“It was a big place in Hancock, Maryland, with a lot of land,” Mr. Herrera said. “The acreage was big, the owner was downsizing, and the ATVs really helped to seal the deal.”

Some sellers may offer $1,000 gift cards, a plasma television or even the pool table to help buyers make that crucial decision.

“Some of these things are more of a pain to actually take down and move, like a flat-screen television or a pool table,” Mr. Herrera said. “And you could probably get a new and better television for your new place for a fraction of what you paid for the one on the wall.”

In other words, sellers can do the math, too.

But buyers may not appreciate sellers leaving behind random items, such as rock salt, lawn mowers and power tools.

“A pool or a hot tub can be an issue,” said Wade Franklin, marketing manager for Jim Downs Real Estate in Manassas, Va. “A lot of things that require a lot of maintenance are not things that buyers want to deal with.”

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