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Research suggests home prices with certain numbers may draw better response


Real estate agents have long chanted the mantra "location, location, location." But sometimes more mystical forces are called on to help close a deal. Witness the power of the lucky number.

Real estate agent Juliet Zucker had a client about 4? years ago who kept losing her bids for condominiums in Washington. These were the days of multiple offers and no contingencies. On the third try, Zucker attempted something unconventional: She wrote the offer with "18" as the last two numbers of the price.

In Jewish tradition, 18 is considered a lucky number because it symbolizes "chai," the Hebrew word for "life." Zucker is Jewish; her client happened to be Jewish. They decided to take a chance.

"We had no idea if this would be something that would provide any kind of signal" to the other agent, Zucker said. "I'm not going to say we were totally desperate. But we were looking for things that would make an offer stand out."

It worked. Her client beat the other offer on the condo and signed a contract for $384,118.

Determining the right price for a home is one the trickiest parts of any real estate transaction. And of course, complex factors such as neighborhood, the house's condition and the marketplace should drive that decision. But some research does indicate that the last three numbers can play a special role in determining the final sale price of a house. And many agents and their clients welcome anything that might bring good luck in today's market.

Lena and John Ferris made certain to put their five-bedroom Falls Church, Va., home on the market the day before April 1, not wanting anyone to think their house was a joke. They also buried a statue of St. Joseph, whom the Catholic Church has deemed the patron saint of workers. The tradition has become one of the most popular superstitions in real estate -- and the Ferrises said they have gotten three calls about the home, up from zero, since burying it. Both are Catholic, but Lena Ferris said the statue, a gift from a friend, was more blind hope than anything else. They had already dropped their price from $545,000 to $520,000.

"I was willing to bury anything people sent me," Lena said.

Margaret Rome, a real estate agent in Baltimore, has established her own lucky tradition. When she started selling houses about 20 years ago, she said, she was scooting around in a Porsche 944. She loved the car and decided to claim the number as her own. So on her very first listing, she ended the price in "944."

It sold within a week. Rome tried it again with her second listing, and it sold within two weeks. She did it again for her third listing, and it also got snapped up.

"I said, 'There's something to this,' " she recalled.

Rome has since used the number for every property, though she now drives a Lexus. ("I didn't want to jinx it," she said.) Only once did she stray, when a family instead asked to use a number that is auspicious in Asian traditions, an eight. So Rome priced the house to end in "988." Luckily, she said, it sold.

Of course, not everyone buys the mysticism. Glenn Kelman, chief executive of Redfin, said the housing search site was founded on the principle that real estate is, if not a science, at least a measurable art.

"You shouldn't sweat the weird stuff, because it will just drive you nuts," he said. "To the extent that you might get superstitious, you might as well have some data behind it."

About two years ago, Redfin analyzed the list prices of all the homes in one county in Washington state and found that properties with a list price ending in "500" sold for more than slightly more expensive properties whose price ended in three zeroes. They also spent slightly less time on the market, an average of 69.72 days, compared with 70.25.

Redfin's findings were backed up by academic research published in March by Cornell University professor Manoj Thomas. He tested the theory by showing two groups of people sets of numbers that they were told were home prices in a nearby town. Some of the numbers were round -- $364,000 -- while others were slightly higher and more precise -- $364,578. Thomas said participants tended to consider the more precise numbers to be better values than the round ones, even though they were actually higher.

Thomas then checked to see how the theory applied in real life.

After examining home sales in Florida and New York, he discovered that houses with more precise list prices tended to have higher sale prices. In Florida, homes listed with fewer than three zeros at the end resulted in a sale price boost of about 0.2 percent. And for every extra zero added, the sale price fell about 0.09 percent.

"My job is not to help market or sell anything," Thomas said. "This is purely based on an exploration of how the human mind works."