- - Thursday, October 6, 2011

Though the Washington metropolitan area is well-known for having one of the most robust real estate markets in the country, the sluggish economy and lack of consumer confidence nevertheless have taken a toll on sales of new homes. Home builders, in an effort to increase enthusiasm for home buying and to solidify contracts on new homes, are offering a variety of incentives for buyers.

Most builders include closing-cost assistance in varying amounts as part of their sales package, acknowledging that most buyers need and want cash to help them become homeowners or to ease a move-up transition. Beyond the cash, builders focus on adding desirable features with free or inexpensive options and finding new ways to bring potential buyers to their communities.

Lennar offers an Everything’s Included package at many of its communities, with luxury features such as granite counters and hardwood flooring provided at no additional cost. Now the builder is holding a sweepstakes for potential homebuyers, offering a chance to win prizes valued at more than $75,000. The When We Say Everything, We Mean Everything sweepstakes, open through Nov. 30, offers a grand-prize package that will provide the winner with items to make the new residence a true dream home: a car for the garage, furniture, a grill and patio accessories for outdoor living, and kitchen gadgets worthy of a professional chef.

“The sweepstakes is meant to generate excitement in an industry that has been associated with doom and gloom,” said Jonathan Tepper, director of sales and marketing for Lennar Maryland. “We want to re-energize people, especially in this market, which is alive and well. The real focus is that buying a home should be exciting and fun.”

The Lennar sweepstakes does not require a home purchase. To enter, you must be 21 or older and a legal U.S. resident. The complete rules and registration form are found at www.WeMeanEverything.com.

“We think that once buyers come into a Lennar community, the value of our homes is evident,” Mr. Tepper said. “We include things like recessed lighting, hardwood flooring, granite counters in the price of every home. Everyone wants to know they got a good deal on a home, but that good deal is not necessarily a good value. The astute buyer recognizes that the important thing is value.”

Lennar also offers closing-cost assistance and financing programs that can meet buyers’ individual needs.

Van Metre Homes tailors its incentive programs to individual product types and communities. In addition, this builder recently partnered with HGTV’s “Showhouse Showdown,” in which competing interior designers designed two of Van Metre’s town-home models at Stone Ridge in Loudoun County.

“The ‘Showhouse Showdown’ generated a lot of traffic and home sales at Stone Ridge,” said Danny Faulkner, general sales manager of Van Metre Homes. “The two models are now on the market, including all the interior upgrades such as light fixtures and wall coverings, along with the furniture.”

At most of its communities, Van Metre offers buyers closing-cost assistance and a design-center credit that can be used to select optional features, such as 200 different types of carpet, 50 types of kitchen cabinets, granite counters, plumbing fixtures and more.

“On our condominiums, we also offer one year of condo fee payments,” Mr. Faulkner said. “Many of our condo buyers are first-time buyers who need extra cash for closing costs and are also payment sensitive.”

The design-center credit on condos by Van Metre is typically $5,000, and it goes up to $10,000 and higher on town homes. Van Metre recently offered 50 percent off on design-center options as well as closing-cost assistance on its new collection of homes in Marrwood at Stone Ridge.

Toll Bros. is holding a national sales event offering special $1 option packages. The options vary by community and are tailored to the most popular options in each development. The promotion ends Sunday.

“We’d like more buyers to be able to make their dream home a reality, and often the ‘extras’ are just out of reach,” said Bill Gilligan, regional president for Maryland and Virginia for Toll Bros.

Buyers need to contact individual communities to find out which $1 options are available. Some of the choices include a finished lower level, a spa bath and a gourmet kitchen.

At K. Hovnanian Homes, incentives are geared to Realtors as well as prospective buyers. Dee Minich, senior vice president for sales and marketing with K. Hovnanian Homes, said the builder offers cumulative commissions to Realtors to encourage additional sales of homes at K. Hovnanian communities.

“We also give away a two-year lease on a Mercedes every year to a Realtor,” Ms. Minich said.

For buyers, K. Hovnanian offers closing-cost assistance and up to 50 percent off options, depending on the community.

“Everyone needs cash, so even move-up buyers want closing-cost assistance,” Ms. Minich said. “Move-up buyers can use the cash they would have spent on closing costs to furnish their home or to add a deck.”

Ms. Minich said the top priorities for buyers adding options are a finished basement, a morning room and kitchen upgrades.

K. Hovnanian also offers interest-rate buy-downs so that buyers pay a lower interest rate for the first two years of homeownership.

“The buy-down has been driving a lot of traffic into our communities, although some buyers choose to switch that incentive to closing-cost assistance and extra options,” Ms. Minich said.

Gregg A. Hughes, general sales manager of Brookfield Homes, said Brookfield offers a varying percentage of closing-cost assistance at all of its communities, depending on the buyer’s financing program.

“It used to be that just first-time buyers wanted closing-cost help, but now this is the number one request from all our customers,” Mr. Hughes said. “Move-up buyers sometimes need the cash because they are getting less equity from the sale of their current home, plus some buyers need to make a bigger down payment than they used to.”

Mr. Hughes said Brookfield adds more incentives to communities with a lot of nearby competition from other builders. All buyers can print a $1,000 coupon from the Brookfield Homes website to use on design-center options.

“We try to add value with our options, particularly to add living space, such as a finished lower level,” Mr. Hughes said.

Jack Kostelec, director of sales for Steuart-Kret Homes, said the builder is offering closing-cost assistance across the board at all of its communities and then is adding other incentives on top of the cash.

“We offer $1,500 in options to both active and retired military personnel to thank them for their service,” Mr. Kostelec said. “On our villa homes, we pay condo fees for two years and include closing-cost help. On our town homes, we offer $10,000 in options of the customer’s choice, such as a finished recreation room with a full bath on the lower level or a den and full bath. On our single-family homes, we often provide a finished recreation room with a full bath or a morning room as an incentive.”

While builder promotions sometimes entice buyers to look at model homes, builders agree that the long-term value of a home and the cash to buy it matter most to buyers.

“We’ve sometimes thrown in a lease on a BMW, done promotions with a flat-screen TV and even offered to pay moving costs in the past,” Mr. Hughes said. “But our research shows that people want value most in terms of extra living space, upgrades like granite counters and cash.”

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