News from the slack housing market just gets better and better for that rarest of customer, the buyer with good credit and no home of his/her own to unload. Now realtors are reaching into the car dealer's grab bag to lure visitors to open houses by offering a wide array of gifts.

The swag ranges in magnitude from the trivial (a treat for your dog) to the munificent (wine, gas cards). My favorite gift is offered by a Charlottesville, Va realtor, who presents open house visitors with a gallon of ice cream (hoping that they will drive directly home to put it in the fridge, rather than visit other houses for sale). According to USA Today, another realtor in Carmel, CA asks visitors to remove their shoes while touring the house for sale. During the tour, those shoes are polished.

More troubling for home buyers is the growing use of incentives paid to buyer's agents by the realtors as a reward for supplying a buyer for the realtor's listed property. This could persuade unscrupulous buyer's agents to steer their customers to houses carrying the best bonus, rather than those best suited and at the best price. I'd suggest discussing such bonuses with your agent before you begin shopping; that money should really come off the selling price, not into your agent's pocket.

To those realtors looking for a gimmick to drive open house traffic -- I'm not in the market for a new home, but it I were, I'm a fan of Merlot, Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey, and it would be wonderful if someone could do a load of laundry for me while I toured your fabulous home in a great neighborhood with nearby school.


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