DESPERATION ISN’T WHAT GOOSED Alex Tibbetts into offering $5,000 to anyone who could help find a buyer for her three-bedroom Craftsman in Ravenna by Christmas, she says. She was just being realistic. “I’m consciously avoiding any panicky feelings.”

That “by any means necessary” approach to selling real estate is hardly new in this market. Just a year ago, builders were waiving closing fees and waving offers of flat-screen TVs to entice buyers. John F. Buchan Homes trumped everyone by dangling $100,000 private jet memberships last December; it upped the ante this winter by agreeing to make your mortgage payments through 2009.

But now home owners are getting into the incentive game? The market has officially gone from soft to squishy. Three weeks after listing her house for $619,000 and showing it only 10 times, Tibbetts dropped the price by $40,000 and made her finder’s-fee pitch to subscribers on an ex–Amazon employee list serve. (Then she dropped the price to $535,000.) The way she sees it, making a onetime $5,000 payment to a helpful acquaintance is better than shelling out $1,000 a month on staging. “I’ve always loved the idea that any small business person can make their customers their sales force,” she says. “If I refer someone to my hairdresser, I should get a discount.”

Sounds logical, but then to hear real estate blogger Tim Ellis tell it, logic is in short supply these days. “I can certainly understand the mentality of trying these creative tactics,” the founder of says. “Although you would think that sellers might take a moment to look at other declining markets and see how well such tactics worked there (Answer: They didn’t).”

Turns out Ellis may be right in Tibbetts’s case, even though it sounds like she’ll get her Christmas wish after all: As Seattle Met was going to press, she received a promising offer, almost for asking price—but, as far as she knew, it had nothing to do with her finder’s fee. Even in this market, sometimes a house can sell itself.

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