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

Home inspection: When asking a seller pay for the home inspection, which typically costs around $300, it's important to make sure you can pick the inspector. That way, there is no conflict of interest for the inspector, whose check is signed by the builder, says Stuart.

Reggie Marston, president of Residential Equity Management Home Inspections, says it is imperative that buyers insist on a home inspection. "If the builders were doing that poor of a job during the good times, imagine what's happening now that they are cutting costs and trying to build quicker with less people," Marston says. "Obviously, to give such stupendous discounts, something has to give."

A home inspection that shows substantial issues can get the buyer out of the contract. Marston says he's seeing less expensive fixtures, low-quality stone veneers, low-cost vinyl, single-hung windows, vinyl siding instead of brick and lower-end HVAC equipment instead of top of the line. "I've seen builders go from one supervisor per project to one supervisor for five projects over 30 miles between projects," Marston says. "In Florida, the builders went with drywall manufactured outside the United States, which is now reportedly giving off toxic fumes."

Memberships, parking and association fees: If a new home is in a golf community, a free membership is worth writing into the offer. If it's a condo or in a home association, request the fees be paid by the builder.

Max Dobens, a broker at Prudential Douglas Elliman in New York, says his company has given away free memberships to health clubs and paid condo maintenance charges for a year. In one case, the monthly costs were $3,000 a month. "In New York, we can't offer free lawn care for a year, so ... fees and free parking are big incentives here," Dobens says.

In downtown condo areas like Chicago, parking can cost as much as $60,000 a year. Pohlonski says he's helped clients secure $90,000 worth of parking on the builder's dime. "Getting free parking is probably the easiest and best way to get some money off (the price of) a downtown condo," Pohlonski says.

Warranties: Some states have guaranteed top-to-bottom warranties on new construction, and most product manufacturers give warranties for appliances, windows, flooring, ceiling fans and more. Some builders are offering hazard and flood insurance and extended warranties, Duffy says. Stuart adds that a new-construction buyer definitely wants at least a 10-year structural warranty on it. "You can ask the builder to add or do anything," Stuart says. "It's just all a matter of how much money he has into it for what they'll do."

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