Thanks to a spate of foreclosures over the past two years, the Charlottesville-based bank owns about 1,200 properties throughout Virginia. Unable to sell them on the open market, First Bank decided it made more sense to give them away.
“Everyone gives out toasters and tote bags,” said Robert April, First Bank’s director of customer relations. “But really, who needs another tote bag? And does anyone even use a toaster any more?”
The bank’s properties include everything from two-bedroom condos to several 3,000+ square-foot single-family homes, with appraised values between $110,000 and $600,000. Most are in good repair, April said.
Which houses customers can choose depends on the size of the accounts they open. “For a $5,000 checking account, they have some nice three-bedroom [homes] to pick from,” April said. “[A] ten thousand [dollar account] would let them take one of those McMansions.”
Despite heavy promotion throughout the state, however, the bank hasn’t been able to give away a single home.
“We play a lot of card games,” admitted April Chin, a new-accounts supervisor in First Bank’s Winchester office. She was hired to help manage the expected rush of customers — a rush that never materialized. “There isn’t a lot to do,” she said. “Just a lot of waiting around.”
The free-house-with-a-new-account promotion was scheduled to end on Tax Day, but the bank is considering extending it unless it gets some takers. “I knew it was a tough market,” April said, “but I figured we’d at least be able to give them away.”