Home sellers offer a full refund when they pass on -- one more gambit in a sluggish market
October 29, 2007 4:00 AM
Darrell Sapp / Post-Gazette
Bob Husick in his kitchen at 2626 Fountain Hills Drive in Pine.
By Amy McConnell Schaarsmith Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When the housing market slows, some home sellers drop their asking price. Others give buyers allowances to cover the cost of upgrades or offer help with financing.
Bob and Ricki Husick came up with a more creative twist: Whoever buys their four-bedroom, 31/2-bath home on Fountain Hills Drive in Pine would get their money back after the Husicks die.
Not only that, but if the buyers are willing to care for the Husicks in their old age, they could also inherit the Husicks' retirement home in Arizona for a total estate now worth about $500,000. The couple has no heirs.
"Why not go for the works? So if we're worth $2.5 million, you get it all," said Mr. Husick, 55, a former Wachovia mortgage broker who would like to continue working after he and his wife move to Arizona.
"That's one way you get a built-in child or a built-in someone to care."
Of course, the value of the estate could erode, too, depending on the Husicks' fortunes and the cost of their long-term care. But Mr. Husick points out that he began saving for retirement at age 21, and he's willing to let the buyers write the will to ensure they inherit the Husicks' assets.
"We don't want you to think we're trying to trick you," he said. "You draw it up and we'll sign it."
If buyers prefer a more conventional arrangement, the Husicks are willing to sell their home, without any strings, for $399,900. The house, which the couple is selling themselves, has been on the market for 11 months.
The Husicks' novel incentive is just one example of the ploys -- from sending buyers on vacation to giving them a new plasma TV -- that sellers sometimes use to move their homes in a sluggish real estate market.
Nationwide, sales of existing homes fell 8 percent in September, the largest decline in records kept since 1999, according to the National Association of Realtors. Median prices for homes have fallen in 13 of the past 14 months.
Pittsburgh real estate has shown more durability, however, with median sale prices for existing homes actually rising from $109,000 to $123,000 between the end of spring and the end of summer this year. This market is less volatile than others, which means sellers here tend to be less desperate than their counterparts in California or Florida. Or Cleveland.
One Cleveland Heights seller is offering buyers a two-year lease on a Honda Civic. Another in Canton, Ohio, will throw in tickets to an Ohio State football game, according to Howard "Hoddy" Hanna, CEO of Howard Hanna Real Estate Services.
In Pittsburgh, meanwhile, a seller is offering to sell her home completely furnished. In the past, local sellers have offered round-trip plane tickets for buyers to go on vacation, cars and plasma TVs.
"Gimmicks create attention, which means more viewers and more activity. Then again, the buyer may say 'Take the price of the car out of the sales price,'" Mr. Hanna said.
Helen Sosso, president of Prudential Preferred Realty and co-owner of a Prudential affiliate in West Palm Beach, Fla., said real estate gimmicks aren't common here.
"In Florida, you see all kinds of things happen, but Pittsburgh is still a relatively stable market."
The Husicks' offer is certainly unusual, said attorney John Cook, who specializes in estates and trusts for the North Hills law firm Cook & Tate.
"Holy mackerel! This is unbelievable," Mr. Cook said when told of the Husicks' proposal. "You can make a contract to will the assets, so it would be a binding contract, but of course there's no guarantee that there will be anything of value left in his estate at the time of his death."
To protect themselves, Mr. Cook said, would-be buyers would have to write stipulations into the will that the Husicks not give away large portions of their estate, and not place the estate into joint ownership with anyone other than the buyer.
The Husicks said they were already thinking of resale value when they built the house in 1993. They recently upgraded several features in the two-story brick house, which has a two-story foyer with dentil crown molding and handmade oak paneling on the walls and stairway.
In the sunken family room, there are cherry accents in the window sills beneath Andersen windows and in the chair rail and mantel over the gas- or wood-burning brick fireplace. Hardwood floors are found in the living room and nearby study, which has intricate handmade cherry and black walnut paneling. Three skylights in the kitchen and one in the master bathroom were recently replaced.
The Husicks said they tried to include every amenity a family would want. Railings on the back deck are 4 inches taller than usual to provide child safety and new non-slipping Choicedek has replaced the original wooden decking.
"Even though we had no children, we child-proofed," Mr. Husick said. "There's no upgrade we don't have."
The lot is slightly larger than a half-acre and adjoins a state game preserve that's home to deer, wild turkeys, pheasants and red foxes.
Because the Husicks are trying to sell the home themselves -- and because Mr. Husick was in the mortgage business -- they would like potential buyers to prequalify for a loan before making an appointment to see the house. Potential buyers would need to show liquid assets of $200,000.
Mr. Husick admits his offer is a little quirky. He'd rather just sell the house in the usual way.
"If you want to buy the house and you don't want the $500,000, you don't have to have it," he said. "We'll find someone else to take it."