Q: I have been approached by a real estate broker who wants me to list my house with him. He has indicated that his company has an arrangement with a big retailer (department store) that permits a buyer who purchases my home to get discount coupons. What do you think of these kinds of programs?

A: In my opinion, this is nothing more than a sales gimmick, which should not be involved in the sale and purchase of real estate.

I recognize that the Federal Trade Commission -- presumably a friend of consumers -- has supported these promotional sales programs, but in my opinion, they do not belong in the real estate marketplace.

Clearly, the first real estate company that made an arrangement with a department store had the edge over its competitors. But once the first brokerage house opened the door to this kind of salesmanship, many other real estate firms quickly jumped on the bandwagon. Soon, most, if not all, of the real estate firms will be involved in this kind of sales promotion, and we will be right back to square one in terms of its competitive edge.

Indeed, real estate brokers and agents may find themselves pushing the retail products available from the store, rather than doing the job which only they can do best -- selling houses.

Yes, it makes sense to offer potential home purchasers a discount of several hundred dollars if they buy the house through a particular real estate firm. But both the consumer and the real estate broker/agent should be more concerned about the house itself. Is it structurally sound? What is its appraised value? What kind of financing is available? Is the neighborhood right for my lifestyle?

These and many other questions should be of primary concern to both the seller and the buyer of residential real estate -- and not the amount of discount they may be able to get from a retail department store.

Many years ago, in an effort to increase competition, banks and savings and loan associations used to offer free items to new depositors. For example, if you deposited $500 in the bank, you might get a toaster. If you deposited $1,000 in that same bank, you might get a television set or a fancy camera.

But the banks have learned the hard way that this kind of competition is merely a sales gimmick, which ultimately detracts from the primary purpose of the bank -- namely to make loans to potential applicants, and to encourage borrowers to save their money.

The real estate industry, in my opinion, should not be involved in trying to sell products outside of its expertise. Perhaps the real estate industry would be better served if it discounted its own product, such as its fees and commissions. After all, nobody gets anything for nothing. Clearly, someone has to pay the department store something for these "discount or free coupons." The consumer -- whether it is the buyer or seller (or even both) -- ends up paying for these "freebies" in the long run.

In my opinion, while these discount coupons may be attractive, they should be but one factor in your consideration of what real estate firm to use when listing your house. You should meet with the broker and the agent who will be directly involved in the sale and marketing of your house. Find out what they will do for you, how often they will advertise the house, how often they will keep the house open on weekends, and what kind of financial institutions they do business with. These questions are equally as important -- if not more so -- than the ability to offer discounts at department stores.