Return to Urburbia

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 Chicago.

Chatham Square, a new subdivision featuring 3,000 and 4,000 sq. ft. homes, were 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 were 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.