Buy a home, get a hybrid

That’s the pitch for sagging suburban subdivisions

Car dealerships have been offering things like gas cards in attempts to sell the SUVs and large trucks clogging up their lots, as consumers search for more fuel-efficient alternatives. A similar thing appears to be happening in the suburban real-estate business.

As homebuyers, scant though they be, forgo McMansions built in city outskirts for less gas-hungry commutes near urban areas, new housing developments are becoming a harder sell. At least that’s the case in Plainville, Ill., about 40 miles outside of Chicago.

Chatham Square, a new subdivision featuring 3,000- and 4,000-square-foot homes, includes properties once priced at about a half-million dollars. Now those prices have dropped, and real-estate agents are offering peculiar incentives to attract homebuyers: $75,000 worth of free upgrades, a $200 gas card, developer-paid utility bills for five years, and, ahem, a 2009 Toyota Prius.A recent survey of 903 real-estate agents found that 78 percent of prospective homebuyers said rising fuel costs are responsible for their inclination for city life. In 2003, the average suburban household spent $1,442 per year on gas. In April 2008, the figure was $3,196 per year.