Seeing the teddy bear in a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey told him all he needed to know.
T.K. Butler of HomeLife Cimerman Real Estate Ltd. was escorting a pair of young newlyweds through a house for sale in Ajax. He looked around at the basement festooned in Leafs memorabilia – from posters to a light fixture to stuffed animals – and sensed that fanatics lived there.
Mr. Butler also recalled that his young client, Derek Warner, has possession of a family heirloom more valuable than cash: He holds season's tickets to the Leafs, passed down from his grandfather.
Mr. Butler advised Mr. Warner and his wife, Dana Burton, to sweeten their offer for the house with a pair of hockey tickets – and make it a Saturday night game.
The play was successful: The couple beat out five other parties to buy the three-bedroom house at 51 Barrett Cres. Their bid of $415,000 was $30,100 above the asking price of $384,900. But in a very close contest, Mr. Butler says, the homeowners couldn't resist the opportunity to see Toronto's pro hockey club take on the opposing team of their choice.
"They picked Pittsburgh," Mr. Butler says.
Mr. Butler says his clients, who were married on May 23, were living in a basement apartment while they missed out on one house after another in competing offers. Sometimes bullies entered the fray; in some contests 13 or 14 other parties were at the table.
"The prices were going way over what these houses were worth."
The two were taken aback when he suggested the ticket gambit, but as young buyers in the super-heated Toronto market, he told them, they had to find a way to stand out.
"You've got to be more creative when even money won't work."
Mr. Butler says the detached, suburban house built about 25 years ago was more appealing than the townhouses and semi-detached properties they had been missing out on. He urged them to spell out a promise for the tickets in writing as part of the offer. He knew that beating the asking price was also crucial but sometimes in a close contest, he says, sellers will choose to work with the top contenders and send the others home. He wanted to make sure his clients were in the first group.
"If they want to push one guy in the direction of winning, they'll do that sometimes," he says. "The listing agents laughed at me and said, 'I can't believe you're putting this in the deal.' I said, 'Make it happen for us. We have to get out of the parents' basement.'"
The six offers tabled that June night were all very close, Mr. Butler says, who acknowledges that a buyer with thousands more to spend likely would have trumped all. Fortunately for his clients, they were in a tight race. The sellers asked them to change a couple of their conditions and they agreed.
Mr. Butler says the buyers are thrilled to have a two-storey detached house with a backyard and a garage. Mr. Warner will also have a place to watch the hockey games he doesn't attend. Mr. Butler figures all of that Leafs gear helped Mr. Warner to see himself in that recreation room.
"I know deep down inside he wanted a man cave," Mr. Butler says. "It was a great connection to the house."
Mr. Butler says this week is quiet in real estate because of the Canada Day holiday. He advised sellers to wait until next week to list if they plan to put out a "for sale" sign in July.
Overall, he expects July sales to slow a bit in the Greater Toronto Area as people head off on vacation.
He still has a pool of buyers who didn't find a property in the spring. Sellers, meanwhile, don't tend to list in July unless they have no choice. They may have purchased another house in May or June, for example, or they just couldn't get the house decluttered in time.
Sometimes, of course, resisting the admonishment to declutter can pay off for both sides of a deal.
"Everybody's happy," said Mr. Butler as he worked out the logistics of delivering a set of Leafs tickets.