The occasion for closing on a house deal is frequently marked by a real estate agent giving the new owner a gift. An odd custom, at best, and one that seems to run counter to the philosophy that you gift those who provide you with a service: teachers, waiters, the gardener at the holidays, maybe even the latte maker at Starbucks who automatically starts up the little machine when he sees you walk in the door each morning.
So why do real estate agents spend an average of $51.80 come closing time on a buyer?
According to a 2009 Realtor Magazine reader profile study, it's a way of saying "thank you." Although in this economy, many clients might be more appreciative if their agent would cut their commission or spend more on marketing so the home didn't linger so long on the market.
For another, some of those gifts can be a means of promotion. Phil Puma of Puma & Associates Realty in Charlotte, N.C.
gives out a new address stamper. He says he's heard back from almost every client, saying they enjoy it. But he adds, "The good thing about it is that our name is in front of them for years to come." Uh-huh.
Web editor Saul Daniels remembers the agent who sold him his Chatsworth Ca. house in 1992 precisely because of the gift the agent sent. "When we bought our current house," Daniels said, "we referred to the large expanse of rear yard as the "Back-40." The next day, a series of life-size plywood cows appeared there "grazing." Next time, a lawn mower perhaps?
Keller-Williams agent Sandy Zalagens, Los Angeles, is a dog rescuer who knows an opportunity when she sees one. Assuming that the buyer qualifies for both the mortgage and dog ownership, she gifts them a rescue dog as a closing gift. She recently placed a German shepherd this way; she pays the adoption fees. She's also sent gift cards for restaurants, wine and Home Depot cards.
Beverly Hills ex-actor turned real estate agent Curt Truman recalls that he bought actor Aaron Eckhart a Weber BBQ grill as a closing gift when he sold him his house. "He tells me he still uses it everyday. I see him at the meat counter at Bristol Farms on Doheny and Beverly," Truman said.
Mary Bremer of Keller Williams Realty, Glen Ellyn, Ill., takes a photo of the house and sends it to Fudge by Design, which memorializes your new home in fudge. That's kind of right up there with eating the chocolate Easter bunny; some of us just can't do it.
Some agents disavow the practice of giving closing gifts. They say that good service trumps the need for a gift. "My attorney, doctor, mechanic, plumber, electrician, and many more do not give me a gift when I pay them for a job well done," says Ron Tiller, of Five Star Real Estate Inc. in Grand Rapids, Mich. Tiller will personally deliver a pizza to his clients' home on moving day, but that's about it.
Some states limit the gift value to $25, so it may not be that your agent was being cheap. The law made him do it.
The season for gift-giving, real estate style