Rhonda Interviewed and Quoted for article in The Wall Street Journal

The art exhibit at the house in the Hamptons drew 150 people, many of whom were content to drink a glass of wine and stroll through the otherwise empty home, admiring the black-and-white photos by a New York artist.

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.But the goal of the event, publicized to real-estate brokers through hand-delivered invitations, wasn’t to sell the artwork. It was to sell the home.

And it worked.

“With big empty houses for sale, people can’t help but walk through them quickly,” says Priscilla Garston, a real-estate associate broker who owned the Hamptons home. “Photos make them hang out and pause.”

To sell a home in a weak market, people will try almost anything. Ms. Garston used this technique in 2007, when real-estate prices were still soaring. But the strategy works in tougher times as well: In January 2009, when “nothing was selling,” she says, she used the same technique to sell a $2.2 million spec house that her husband built, also in the Hamptons.

Throwing a party is a fairly conventional idea, compared with some strategies sellers have tried. Here’s a look at some of the more inventive, and offbeat, ways homeowners and their agents try to close the deal.

A Little Magic
Some homeowners and agents want to feel like they’re doing everything they can to make a sale, and that can include dabbling in superstition, religious beliefs and other ancient customs.

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.Displaying oranges during showings, for example. Oranges are associated with good fortune in Chinese culture, says Cindy Lin, general manager of Staged4more Home Staging and Redesigns, a South San Francisco company that helps sell homes with decorating and other techniques.

Another tactic: sprinkling salt over the doorway. Vanessa Sidi Wells, an agent who deals in luxury real estate around Miami and Palm Beach, Fla., says it “might be an old wives tale, but I wouldn’t want a black cat to cross my path, so why not the salt?”

On the more spiritual side, some sellers bury statues of St. Joseph in the yard to help facilitate a sale. The origins of the tradition are unclear, but Phil Cates, founder of StJosephStatue.com, thinks it likely originated in a story about a nun in the 1500s. The nun buried a St. Joseph medallion to help her find land to build a home where she and four poor women could live, Mr. Cates says. At some point, the medallions were replaced with statues.

Deal Sweeteners
Eye-catching incentives sometimes pop up in the luxury markets of Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties in Florida, where Ms. Wells works. Private country-club communities are popular in these areas, and paying the club memberships for a buyer can be a huge incentive. The memberships can cost anywhere from $35,000 to $175,000, Ms. Wells says. And in east Fort Lauderdale, Ms. Wells says she once showed a condo that came with a Jeep.

Some tactics can help homes sell quickly, but others can stall or derail a sale.
.But some deal sweeteners don’t have to be expensive. During open houses, Ms. Wells will often have chocolate-covered strawberries on hand.

“As stupid as it sounds, it really helps,” she says, mainly because it keeps people from running out the door. In fact, when a home gets a reputation as a “strawberry place,” sometimes people will come specifically for that treat. And that’s a good thing, Ms. Wells says. The more “nosy neighbors” you can draw to your home, the better, she says. “Word of mouth is still No. 1.”

Dear Buyer…
Rhonda Duffy, a broker in Atlanta, urges her clients to try the love-letter strategy, a personal note to prospective buyers that they will find when they look at the house. These letters, crafted with emotion, but also covering the basics, should paint “a picture of a lifestyle,” Ms. Duffy says, and tell prospective buyers what they want to hear: that you were happy while you lived there.

Other things to include: why you moved there, the experiences you’ve had, where you eat and shop, where you are going and why.

It brands the house in a positive way, Ms. Duffy says. “It’s ‘the letter house’ instead of ‘the green-carpet house.'”

It’s Time to Party
Rob Jenson, a Las Vegas real-estate agent, held a Cinco de Mayo open house party—complete with tacos and margaritas—that helped sell a listing.

An event can get people to step inside, stay a while and see how they might entertain in the space someday, he says. “Instead of walking through the home with a Realtor…you’re experiencing the home,” Mr. Jenson says.

For this technique to work, make sure the party matches the property. Step back, and think about what suits the home, says Ms. Garston, who held photo exhibits to sell homes in the Hamptons. She once held a picnic to show off a plot of land for sale.

If young families are the target audience, you might ask Santa to take a starring role at an open house. Michelle Carr-Crowe, a San Jose real-estate agent, has been doing that for the past few years. Kids get their pictures taken with the big man in red, parents avoid crowds at the mall, and prospective buyers could find a home during the holidays.

Going Once, Going Twice…
Selling a home by auction has become an increasingly popular strategy. But it takes a substantial investment in marketing to gather a crowd of bidders. And it’s not for the faint of heart.

“To get people interested and excited, you have to list them very, very low,” says Tara-Nicholle Nelson, consumer educator for Trulia.com, a real-estate search site.

For the agent, there’s another drawback as well. Auctions focus attention on one property at the expense of other listings, says Misha Haghani, principal of Paramount Realty USA, a New York-based real-estate auction company that only represents sellers. Auctions create a deadline for those interested in buying the house, but that also means potential buyers of other properties in the area often won’t act until they’ve attended the auction, he says.

Ms. Hoak is a reporter for MarketWatch in Chicago. She can be reached at [email protected]

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