With so many new luxury homes sitting idle on the market, the Chrisland Corp. hoped to open its latest upscale development, Megill's Crossing in Clifton, Va., with a splash. So when the company previewed the $700,000 to $800,000 houses to top-selling agents in the area, it threw a gala luncheon Oct. 1 and sent limousines to pick up the agents at their offices.

"The agents that came, they thought it was great," said Jeanne Whitaker, the project manager with Shannon & Luchs's Centreville office. "They really took their time looking at the properties... .

"We knew we had to create a kind of excitement to get people out," she said. "There are a lot of houses out there and there are so many luncheons."

The results so far: No sales.

In another promotion, Shannon & Luchs encouraged selling agents to make a quick sale on any property in Willow Springs, a lower-priced subdivision in Clifton, by promising an all-expenses-paid, eight-day vacation to Hawaii if any agent made a quick sale last weekend. No one did.

"Fortunately we didn't write one {contract}. But we got a lot of people out there," Whitaker said.

The limousine rides and vacation promotion are among numerous gimmicks being used by home builders and brokers in today's soft real estate market in an effort to make a sale. Even though large numbers of builders and sellers of existing homes have lowered their asking prices since last year, many prospective buyers are still wary of making such a big-ticket purchase as a house.

In particular, new luxury home developments are not generating the kind of instantaneous interest brokers were accustomed to over the past few years. Increasingly they are resorting to a variety of incentives to even get agents to show their properties.

"There was a time where you just put someone in your car, showed them three houses and unless they died you had a sale," said Larry Barnett, the manager of Town & Country Realtors' Vienna office.

Today, Barnett said, houses need to be in mint condition, and 50 potential buyers have to parade through before one makes an offer, while in the past it might have taken only five.

"What we're finding now is there is more thought being given to marketing technique than any other time in the past eight years," said Bill Ellingsworth, a spokesman for the National Association of Home Builders.

At a recent meeting of builders, brokers and marketing specialists, Ellingsworth said, the conversation kept coming back to the subject of selling houses during the market's downturn.

"There was a lot of emphasis on relations with the salesperson," Ellingsworth said. There was a belief that by educating as many salespeople as possible about the selling points of a new house, the builder has a better chance of finding buyers among today's more discriminating consumers.

New techniques being tried to prod salespeople include:

Town & Country's Relocation Consultants Inc. rewards agents who show its slow-to-sell corporate-owned properties.

The houses, which companies buy from employees who are relocated before they can sell their homes, are always in the harder-to-sell category because they are unfurnished and do not show well.

In a promotion called T&C 10K, the company gives away $10,000 in a drawing to a sales agent every time 22 of such hard-to-sell vacant properties sell.

Barbara Nulty, president of the relocation subsidiary, said the promotion has increased showings of the properties tenfold.

On some of Town & Country's other properties, the company is offering a commission of 4 percent to the sales agent, up from the standard 3 percent, according to Barnett.

To attract sales agents to one Fairfax subdivision it was marketing, Mount Vernon Realty gave away a facsimile machine in a drawing.

In a sales effort aimed at prospective buyers, Long & Foster Realtors' Centreville office is looking for sealed bids on 23 houses in hopes it will generate interest. But there's no guarantee that any of the bids will be accepted.

Earle Whitmore, a Shannon & Luchs agent in Annandale, is offering a weekend for two at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia in a drawing of business cards of agents who show her properties.

"The inventory is so large that an agent ... {has} to decide which ones they're going to show to a buyer," Whitmore said. "I try to pick some things to encourage agents to preview properties... . If you get enough people through a property, if it is priced well and it ... shows well, it will probably sell."

Whitmore also stepped up relations with her clients by throwing a party on a dinner cruise ship on the Potomac. "Two years ago it never would have occurred to me to do the cruise," she said.

But she said she is finding that some of the old standard sales tactics are not worth spending money on any more. Inviting a host of agents to look at a house, like the gathering at Megill's Crossing, is being done too frequently now, she said. "It's not innovative. The agent has to be innovative and respond to changes in the marketplace."

With rampant competition and skepticism about the market, gimmicks can get people to see a property, but the house still has to be a good value if it's going to sell, several agents said.

"The Mercedes in the driveway doesn't sell the house," said Barnett, referring to giveaways that luxury home builders have promised to buyers or selling agents. "It's just a gimmick to get the agents there. Those agents don't sell the house because it's {part of Town & Country's 10K promotion}. They sell it because its a terrific value."