Real estate agents desperate to win listings in the hot residential market are turning to increasingly bizarre tactics to catch the eye of homeowners.

Recipes, seeds, memo pads, chocolates, letter openers and even cakes of soap have become crucial soldiers in the battle of self-promotion.

Figures show strong demand for houses and rising prices, particularly in Auckland, but a shortage of listings is making life competitive for agents. Harcourts Ponsonby sales manager David Hammond told the Weekend Herald that the environment was forcing agents to be more innovative.

""The ones who keep in touch with people and who are innovative just might be the ones who nab that listing."

Mr Hammond said some of the agents in his office had used the well-worn tactic of distributing recipes on the back of a flyer.

It was important that an agent built and maintained relationships with people in an area, but it was equally important they had something to say when they made contact, he said.

Residents in some areas might be used to receiving what many term "those annoying recipes", but one of the strangest ideas adopted lately has been the delivery of a cake of soap with an attached message asking if the owner wanted to "clean up".

A visit to the letterbox in sought-after suburbs has yielded chocolates, fridge magnets and humorous postcards.

Homeowners the Weekend Herald spoke to had mixed reactions to the gimmicks. Many said they immediately threw the items in the bin. But others said small things such as memo pads were handy - and if they decided to sell then the agent on their pad would probably get a call.

One man who has used a novelty approach successfully is Hibiscus Coast agent Trevor Hyland.

Twelve years ago he began distributing sunflower seeds to letterboxes in his area.

Occasionally he dons a sunflower-patterned lavalava, and in recent years he has given away postcards of himself and his grandchildren sporting sunflower print outfits.

It has seen him dubbed "Mr Sunflower", and last month he sold enough real estate to be Harcourts' top agent nationwide.

"People start ringing me from about August each year looking for their seeds.

"My best listing tool is service, but this is a big part of my business," he said.

Real Estate Institute national president Graeme Woodley said a lot of agents used gimmicks but in the end success came down to service.

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