Mike Wesley was getting desperate. Newspaper ads and "for sale" signs weren't attracting any buyers for his three-story brick town house in Centreville, which has been on the market since May.

So, on the advice of his real estate agent, he changed his approach. His ads now trumpet "no money down" in a direct appeal to today's timid real estate buyers.

"I'm being forced {to look at unusual financing options} because I have double payments {on the town house and his new home}. You almost get to the point where you say, 'Take it off my hands, and I'll eat my loss,' and to go from there," Wesley said.

Stuck with houses that won't sell, many homeowners and real estate agents have been attempting to boost business by using creative financing techniques. The effect has been to at least open doors to the housing market to people who may not have been able to afford a house a year ago.

Creative financing techniques first gained prominence in the early 1980s when many prospective home buyers were deterred by interest rates in the high teens. Even though interest rates today -- about 10 percent for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage -- are relatively low compared with that time, the slump in the real estate market is prompting agents to offer a wider range of financing options to lure buyers.

"As agents, we can't do what we did before. We can't put a listing into the computer and know that it's going to sell," said Jeannie Dietz, a real estate agent with Re/Max Select Properties in Sterling. "We're now financial counselors."

Few houses are sold now with no money down. A buyer wishing to purchase Wesley's town house with no deposit must qualify for a program offered by a local bank that requires the buyer to meet income standards and attend classes on paying for the house.

However, other sorts of creative financing have become more common. Delayed settlements, lease-purchase agreements, seller financing and shared equity are only a few of the hooks used by some realty agents and sellers to lure buyers.

"It's getting people in who might otherwise not get in because they didn't have the money," said June Rodgers, a Mt. Vernon Realty agent in the Vienna-Oakton office.

Such financing schemes have always been available, but in good times sellers refuse to accept them because there were usually enough would-be buyers around eager to snap up houses without having to wait. "Now, it's like, 'This is the only offer I've had in three or four months,' " said Rodgers.

Rodgers said she's written three delayed-settlement deals. In a delayed settlement, a buyer who wants a particular house but who doesn't have the cash signs a contract agreeing to settle on the house at a later date.

Buyers striking a delayed settlement deal must put down a nonrefundable security deposit that usually runs from $3,000 to $5,000, Rodgers said. The deposit is not refundable for any reason, even if the buyer can't get financing.

Such an arrangement, Rodgers said, appeals to buyers who don't have the cash up front for a down payment. Some buyers may expect to have the cash at a later date or need more time to save money for a down payment.

Other buyers may have the down payment locked in a 401(k) savings program and need time to retrieve it, Rodgers said.

Geab Fiano, a Reston resident, used a delayed settlement arrangement to sell his condominium in Reston. He said he agreed to wait three months to settle the purchase with the buyer.

"The right product priced properly will sell. Right now there's too much on the market and it's too highly priced," he said.

A lease-purchase agreement, similar to a delayed settlement, allows the purchaser to move in and begin paying rent before the settlement date is reached. A buyer under such an arrangement must purchase the house but can wait up to a year to settle, according to Mary Wilson, a real estate agent with Better Homes Realty in McLean.

In a lease-purchase, the sales contract will contain a lease agreement that stipulates whether some of the rent money will be applied to the down payment or closing costs on the house.

If a buyer does not settle on the house, he forfeits his security deposit.

However, Wilson said that while lease-purchase agreements have been heavily advertised, not many are being arranged. In a market where real estate prices are declining, buyers do not want to lock themselves into a price if the house may be worth less when the deal settles a year later, Wilson said.

Seller financing is also making something of a comeback, according to Ruth Dickie, sales manager of Long & Foster's Hampton Square office in Bethesda.

In a seller take back, a purchaser might, for example, make a down payment of $40,000 on a $200,000 property. The remaining money, $160,000, is taken back by the seller as a promisory note. The purchaser then makes payments directly to the seller, who in effect becomes a mortgage lender.

"The buyers have so many options right now that the sellers are willing to help," Dickie said.

In an unusual arrangement coordinated by Dickie's office, a Chevy Chase couple bought a single-family house from an elderly couple that was contingent on the sale of the Chevy Chase couple's town house. At the same time, the elderly couple, looking for a smaller dwelling, became interested in the town house. The two homeowners wound up swapping houses, Dickie said.

Shared equity in a house is another creative financing method being used by some buyers, said Jackie Huddleston, an agent with Long & Foster at their corporate headquarters at Fair Oaks. In this case, investors put cash up for a buyer who has the income to make monthly mortgage payments but little or no cash for a down payment. Then the buyer and the investor share ownership of the house.

Some investors are reluctant to buy a property in the current market, Huddleston said, on the fear that the value may drop rather appreciate. "But old-time investors know they can buy property for less than fair market value right now," she said.

For people interested in buying a newly constructed house, there are also deals to be had.

Wary of the value of a new house dropping after the contract has been signed, some buyers are putting clauses into their contracts stipulating that they will receive any buyer incentives that the builder offers to later buyers before their settlement date, according to one agent.

Despite the wide array of creative deals available, agents said most houses are still being sold by good salesmanship.

"We have a three-pronged strategy," Dickie said. "Make sure the house is in perfect condition, price it just a shade under what others are offering and find out if there is something the seller can do to make it easier for the purchaser."

Staff writer Jacqueline L. Salmon contributed to this report.