"You gotta get a gimmick if you wanna get ahead."--Veteran stripper in Gypsy
The advice sung to a budding ecdysiast on the eve of her stage debut is now inspiring some local developers and home sellers, who are starting to add tempting new twists to their sales routines.
Caught in a three-year-old selling slump and grind, builders and brokers are unveiling unusual sales techniques to draw traffic. Creative financing may be the main show these days, but at least some believe they also need more exotic attractions to tempt customers to take a closer look.
In September, for example, builders in Reston awarded $50,000 toward the purchase of a Reston home to a Virginia woman as part of a joint six-week campaign. Builders in Frederick, Md., also joined forces for a combined sales promotion in October, and included their own incentive for touring projects: a map of the Frederick area and a McDonald's hamburger and Coke.
Other offers here have tended to the flashy and luxurious: free maid service, sports cars, a vacation for two in Jamaica, lifetime use--for a week every year--of vacation time at Hilton Head, S.C.
Some are merely financial--$3,000 in options and a $7,500 certificate of deposit for buyers at one new Virginia development; at another, $100 to buyers who can prove they were offered better deals elsewhere; waivers of condominium fees for the first year or so, and buy-back guarantees.
There are also smatterings of raffles by nonprofit organizations and auctions by homebuilders of houses or lots that have gone begging too long.
"You've got to use the gimmicks; you've got to use the eye catchers," said Tim Conlan of White House Realty. Conlan and partner Marty Turk put together a land development package at the new Landmark Mews project in Alexandria and as a promotion are offering $3,000 in added options, such as fireplaces or greenhouses, and $7,500 CDs to buyers.
Conlan said these are genuine bonuses that come out of the developers' profits. But he expresses some frustration that they seem to attract more attention than the value of added floor space or quality.
"I feel we're giving away a basement and a fourth floor, but people respond more to the gimmick of $3,000 in options than in value," he said.
"If you wanta bump it, bump it with a trumpet."
Some developers are offering the extras to brokers as an incentive to push their projects hardest.
The Hillendale development on Reservoir Road NW, for example, is offering a 1982 Mercedes to any broker who can sell six of the luxury town houses.
Alexandria's Pavilion in the Park is going to give away a number of prizes at a drawing in December if brokers together can sell 35 units by then. The prizes include a Datsun 280-ZX, a vacation for two to Hawaii, a Betamax and an ounce of gold. In the meantime, the sellers get a color television for each sale they make.
The 283-unit project also is offering $100 to anyone who buys there or to visitors who can prove they got a better deal at other developments. The latter prize has gone unclaimed, sales manager Curt Creasy said. In fact, it's doubtful that anyone will collect this one since Creasy is the arbiter of what a better deal is, and he says he doesn't believe anyone can prove one once he runs the cost per floor space and possible appreciation through a computer.
General Motors, caught with an inventory of transferred executives' houses, offered free GM cars or an equal discount to buyers in Detroit. Nobody took a car, but GM called the experiment a success anyway and said it would make the same offer to buyers in the New York metropolitan area.
One local home seller, the Rev. Filbert Moore of Gaithersburg, used the same idea by offering to throw in his $10,000 sportscar to anyone who would buy his $145,000 brick colonial a couple of months ago.
Other homeowners, along with developers, will pay for vacation time-sharing as part of a promotion by Mt. Vernon Realty during December.
The firm got the idea from the General Motors promotion, company President Howard Rooks said. The firm started a resorts division six months ago, which sells resort units by the week on a time-sharing basis in Hilton Head, and Sarasota, Fla., and the campaign also will promote the new division, Rooks said.
One week at Hilton Head--mostly in the off season--is being purchased by individual sellers represented by Mt. Vernon Realty for $3,000 and up, Rooks said. Owners of at least 100 properties, mostly single-family homes, have signed up, he added.
"If you wanta grind it, wait 'til you've refined it."
The results of home-sales promotions here are mixed. Michael Was, marketing vice president for the Reston Land Corp., called the campaign there "extremely successful," particularly in terms of the traffic it brought in.
The main pull was a grand prize drawing for $50,000 to be applied against the purchase of a home in Reston. Anyone could enter by visiting any or all of 17 projects in Reston; Was said about 50,000 tickets were deposited by about 15,000 visitors during the six-week promotion. This translated into 38 sales during the campaign, which Was said was about three times the rate prior to the campaign.
Perhaps more important, he said, is the residual effect on visitors they hope will come back and buy later. "We got people to come and look, and that's the important thing," he said.
The Frederick builders' campaign with its initial hamburger offer (after a week, McDonald's backed out, a campaign spokeswoman said) also seems to have produced results. During the six weeks, traffic was up by 50 percent, and four of the six builders involved reported "substantially increased sales," said spokeswoman Rhona Saunders. Ryan Homes, for example, increased sales from six in September to 22 in October, she said.
A trip for two to Jamaica offered by River Towers in Alexandria, on the other hand, didn't have the desired effect on traffic and sales, said Cathie Story, assistant to the developer.
The results "were not very good," she said. "We were disappointed." Two winners were chosen at the end of September and October, but neither bought at River Towers, she said.
"You gotta have a gimmick if you wanta have a chance."
Irene Paradowski, 73, was able to buy a house because of a sales promotion. She won the $50,000 grand prize at Reston, enabling her and daughter Rose to move into a three-bedroom town house there. Eleven years earlier, they had moved to a rental apartment in Falls Church from Milwaukee, where they had sold a home for $4,000. Since then Rose, who works for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, had been saving to buy but was having difficulty.
Paradowski said when she first heard about the Reston offer, she was skeptical about going, but now recommends such excursions:
"One time in life everybody gets a break."