Group-coupon craze comes to real estate (© Vstock/Getty Images)

© Vstock/Getty Images

Group coupons for restaurants and spa treatments have been popular since Groupon launched in November 2008. But until recently, no one had made the link between real estate and collective discounts. A group deal doesn't mean you must buy a house with a bunch of strangers. It just means that a real-estate agent will give you a bargain once a certain number of people have bought the same coupon. (Bing: Find more group-buying sites)

Deals from real-estate agents and brokerages include:

  • Commission discounts or rebates.
  • Cash gifts at settlement.
  • Gift cards to home stores.

Group buying deals
As with other group discounts, a minimum number of customers must buy the deal before it "tips" and is finalized.

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"In real estate, the deals are often offered for three to seven days rather than for just one day because these are not usually impulse buys," says Tigue Bonneval, co-founder of HouseTipper.com and a real-estate agent in Baton Rouge, La. "This gives customers time to see the deal, make an inquiry with the real-estate agent and decide if they want to make the purchase."

For real-estate agents, offering a group discount can be a great way to gain exposure and reach out to potential new clients, Bonneval says.

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"Real-estate agents don't pay us anything, because HouseTipper gets paid when the consumer buys a deal," he says. "There's a preapproved commission that goes to the merchant and fluctuates according to the deal."

Group-coupon buyers must work with the agent or brokerage that offers the deal.

"HouseTipper will refund the cost of the coupon if the customer doesn't buy a house or if they don't like the agent and want to work with someone else," Bonneval says.

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Consumer benefits
For people who are buying or selling a home, real-estate coupons can be a valuable bonus as long as you understand the details.

For example, Paul Gorney, a real-estate agent with Prudential Rubloff in Chicago, recently offered a deal through HouseTipper.com. Prospective homebuyers paid $50 for the coupon and will get $2,500 in cash at settlement as long as they close within one year of the coupon purchase date and buy a home for $350,000 or more.

"I've sold at least seven of these, which is a great way to meet new clients," Gorney says. "I really encourage everyone to call an agent before buying one of these, though, because you want to make sure are choosing someone with whom you can work.

"Most people that buy these coupons are in the planning stage, about three to nine months from going to settlement. This coupon is just a little bonus they can look forward to when they close on a property."

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Dream Town Realty in Chicago offered a deal through Groupon in April for $25, which would give homebuyers $1,000 back at the closing, provided they bought a home by the one-year deadline for a minimum of $150,000. In less than one day, more than 50 people bought that coupon.

Hounshell Real Estate in Washington, D.C., offered a group coupon through The Capitol Deal, a website owned by The Washington Post. The Hounshell deal had cost $50 and offered up to $6,000 off commission for buyers or sellers. It is refundable if a home is not sold or purchased within one year.

"We have a sliding scale for the commission discount according to the sale price, from $1,500 for a home between $200,000 and $400,000 and up to $6,000 for homes $800,000 and above," says Greg Tindale, a real-estate agent with Hounshell. "We wanted to make sure the deal is worth it for customers and also (add incentives on) the higher end of the market."

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Buyer beware
Real-estate agents in some states are not allowed to give commission rebates, so they may need to structure different kinds of deals.

"The important thing for consumers is to read the fine print and call the agent to have a conversation before they make the coupon purchase to make sure it will work for them," Bonneval says. "Most people don't think to ask for a cash gift or to negotiate the commission when they are buying a home, so this way, we are essentially doing the negotiating for them."

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