Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Would Outside Incentives Help The Purchase Market?

Some realty firms and builders have stepped up efforts with offers of an incentive, often worth thousands of dollars, to buyers upon closing. The trend seems to be leaning toward the incentive being something not specific to the property.

Offering or giving an incentive to a buyer is nothing new. In the past, it might be new furniture, a big screen TV, or some sort of a services discount or gift (i.e. free maid service for 3 months).

One big difference with incentives now is that many more are offered to buyers, whereas in the past it was often incentives to realty agents who brought the successful buyer. Even though it was about 20 years ago, I still remember a time I was doing a marketing presentation at a realty association meeting in the Los Angeles area. While waiting, several agents were pitching new listings they had to the other agents in order to draw attention in a then hot market.

The owner of a realty office with about 12 agents got up, pitched one of his listings, and then promised "an additional $5,000 in commission on a sale from any of you who get me an offer by 5:00 PM today". Now that was "creative selling" at its best!

Of course, at that time, his purpose was to attract attention to his listing and make other agents remember it ahead of hundreds currently available within the same area. And attract attention he did. Yet, the eventual buyer of that home had no clue. The "incentive" was used effectively where it needed to be.

Recently, I have seen sellers, realty companies, and builders offering some interesting incentives to the actual buyer. These range from a pick-up truck to installing hardwood floors. Some are specific to the property, others are geared toward the buyers.

A realty company in Birmingham AL offered a 4-year tuition to the University of Alabama Birmingham Medical School (over $22,000) with the purchase of a unit in an upscale development. The Birmingham News reported there were no takers. (On a separate note, that incentive was stopped. That was dumb to stop it. They should have continued it since not many other incentives are valued at more than $20,000, and if they got a "taker" the local and national publicity it would have generated would be worth far more than the amounts paid out!)

I also saw a news story about a seller who allowed the asking price to be reduced by $2,500 per week for several weeks.

In an active real estate market, such methods make sense when the idea is to make "your" property stand out. Agents and builders want buyers to consider their property ahead of others they are looking at. Of course, this assumes there are plenty of active buyers out there.

That's the difference. Right now, thousands of dollars worth of incentives don't matter nearly as much when people who want to buy can't get a mortgage and/or can't sell their current property to guarantee a move. Unless they are the right incentives.

For many, the "right" incentive would be a buyer for their current property so that it can lead to the next sale, or being able to get better financing for a first-time buyer.

Somehow, there has to be a way for "regular" sellers to compete against the foreclosures and short sales. But first, we need for buyers to compete. Period. The fact that there continues to be so many foreclosures and short sales on the market tells me that there people are not buying, even at lower prices.

Until people and investors can start buying a serious number of properties, a big screen TV or a pick-up truck won't make a difference.

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