- - Thursday, December 15, 2011

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.”

You may find yourself paying for removal.

If you are trying to get rid of a property in need of some TLC, consider offering a gift card to your local flooring company or home improvement store.

“People who haven’t updated anything for 15 years are at a disadvantage,” Mr. Labout said. “A lot of people do update, and buyers today have more properties to choose from than ever.”

Unless you are willing to remodel that kitchen or bathroom beforehand, setting aside a remodeling credit to enable the buyer to do it after the sale is a good move.

Many home sellers routinely offer home warranties, which cover everything from HVAC systems and major appliances to any accidents or incidents that may occur during an open house or home showing. Unlike the home warranties of just a few years ago, which usually expired after a year, some of today’s home sellers offer warranties that run far longer.

“In some cases, sellers will cover home warranties for four or five years,” Mr. Labout said.

If you are a homebuyer who would rather just have the cash, you may find that coming your way as well. These days, many sellers offer to pay a substantial amount of closing costs, often right up to the limit required by lenders.

“I’m seeing closing costs across the board,” Mr. Labout said. “Buyers are also looking for a cash settlement to cover inspections.”

Having at least some of the closing costs covered is especially attractive to many of today’s buyers, who often are cash-poor, Mr. Labout said. So sellers can offer allowances for buyers to do the things they otherwise might not be able to afford.

“There is quite a variety of allowances,” he said. “Sellers can cover decorating, flooring and carpet.”

Some sellers even have been known to pay points upfront so buyers can get a lower mortgage rate. Note, though, that most lenders have limits on what sellers can bring to the table. FHA lenders, for example, don’t forbid “inducements to purchase,” but they will lower the amount of the loan accordingly. At the very least, any lender would expect full disclosure of all such deals.

Other incentives that may “convey” with the home include the seller paying the homeowners association dues for a year or more or covering the first year’s property taxes or condo fees. Motivated sellers even may offer to cover the buyer’s homeowner’s insurance costs for a year or two.

Another tactic taken by home sellers involves a bonus for the selling agent. Presumably, the promise of a $2,000 or $3,000 bonus can motivate an agent who has several properties to deal with to spend a little more time with yours.

“We are seeing more of this right now,” Mr. Herrera said.

“We just completed a deal this week with a Realtor incentive that was a $2,000 bonus.”

For some higher-end properties, agent bonuses can fly as high as $25,000, Mr. Herrera said.

Meanwhile, some sellers are stepping up commissions. Hard-to-sell properties may offer commissions of 4 percent to 6 percent for buyer’s agents in the higher price ranges, Mr. Labout says. Once again, the idea is to motivate the agent to show your property rather than someone else’s.

“It’s a way of getting attention,” Mr. Labout said. “If you can only show a certain number of homes in the day from your listings, you’re more likely to choose the ones with the bonus.”

Not all Realtors are convinced such tactics work when it comes to selling a home.

“I don’t know how much it really helps,” Mr. Franklin said. “We try not to push them toward one property or another.”

Some Realtors point to a relatively old-fashioned tactic: reducing the price of the home.

“I’ve never heard of a buyer making a purchase because he or she was convinced by a Realtor,” Mr. Herrera said. “They’re convinced by the price and what the home offers.”

Of course, not every seller is keen to slash prices as much as the market warrants or the Realtor would like. But the fact is, with many inventories high and buyers few, there may be very few buyers willing to pay the price you think your home is worth.

Often the offers a home receives in the first 30 days are the most important, Realtors say, so pricing your home too high can squander that most valuable early face time.

“Ultimately, it’s seller motivation that determines how things play out,” Mr. Herrera said. “Some of the savvier sellers will make the offers at the initial point of listing. You’ll never have more momentum or marketability than when the house is first listed.”

If you haven’t had many offers within those first 30 days, it may be time for a big change. (Buyers often are leery of a home that sits too long on the market, thinking there must be something wrong with it for it to stay active so long.) So consider a fairly substantial slash - often 10 percent or even more of the asking price - to attract those buyers who saw the home as out of their price range the first time around.

Once you start negotiating with a buyer who may not be ready or able to pay your asking price, incentives can start to make a big difference.

But just like the home that’s been sitting on the market a little too long, too many incentives can cause buyers to be a little wary about what’s inside. You don’t want buyers continually asking themselves, “What’s wrong with this house?”

Remember, too, that whatever tactics and techniques you decide to use, they’ll work better if prospective buyers know you’re using them. Make sure your home is featured on the Internet or as a preferred property on your Realtor’s website.

And that El Dorado? The buyer ended up taking it.

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