2009 Real Estate Guide
real estate
8 freebies home builders are giving away

Cars: Many developers are dangling cars over buyers. "I saw a newly built condo building owner give a buyer an E-Class Mercedes, on a two-year lease," Pohlonski says. Laurie Donofrio, a Coldwell Banker Realtor in Raleigh, N.C., has encountered developers giving away new Jeep Wranglers. But these were promotional offers used to lure buyers, not the result of a customer request, she says. "A free car can drive a lot of traffic for a seller," Pohlonski says. "Developers just use the car as an incentive, but I haven't seen anybody ask for that."

Closing costs: Depending on how desperate they are, builders could pay all closing costs, transfer taxes and attorney fees, Lewis says. In fact, they are more likely to pay closing costs than to add new products to the home. "Developers want to hold as much power as possible because in this information age of blogs and text messaging, if one person gets one thing, the whole world knows about it in 10 minutes," Lewis says. "They can better control a monetary transaction, like closing costs, than upgrades."

Furthermore, Stuart says, it makes better sense to ask the builder to pick up closing costs rather than upgrading the items, such as countertops, for an already built home. "If there are already countertops in there, they're losing money to take those countertops out and buy more countertops to put in," she says. In addition, some mortgage companies will also pay for closing costs, Stuart says. But she recommends requesting to see what's actually being picked up before you hit the table, because you may be surprised that the title insurance or attorney fees are left off.

"What happens is, depending on the price of the house, you end up paying $700 or more in closing costs that were not quoted to you upfront because the builder or mortgage company is not paying for title insurance," Stuart says. "At the spur of the moment, when it's time for closing and you find that out, the free closing costs is not as good of a deal. But you can't stop and start over."

Fencing and landscaping: For new homes that have been sitting awhile, fences are easy add-ons, Stuart says. "You want to extend the deck, add extra landscaping, have fences put in. It's just about how much negotiating room you have in the price," she says. "When you get up into some of the nicer houses, the price of the house includes what needs to be with that house as far as the deck and basic landscaping." She says builders have contract landscapers who do cookie-cutter jobs for them, but if a buyer wants to upgrade landscape quality, he or she can negotiate terms to have the landscaper improve the yard.

"You usually can negotiate with the builder to do landscaping through his landscaper, and you'll get a much better price," Stuart says. "And you can get it done on your time table and put it into your mortgage or pay it on the side." For custom-built homes, the buyer picks yards from a catalog and everything is done from square one. Stuart says some plans might throw in koi ponds or extravagant patios, but for the most part, there are basic landscaping packages to choose from.

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