Forget flowers or food, some real-estate agents think a furry friend or a donation to an animal charity is the perfect gift for homebuyers

By Joyce Cohen
Updated December 31, 2009 03:08 PM

Nothing warms up a home like a pet. So Jeffrey Potter, whose rental didn’t allow dogs, was eager to adopt a German shepherd when he bought a one-bedroom condominium in Redondo Beach, Calif., last summer.

At that point, he didn’t know that his real-estate agent, Sandy Zalagens of Keller Williams Los Feliz, was deeply involved in dog rescue – or that, after he moved in, she would be giving him a dog. Zalagens paid the $300 adoption fee for Clancy, who came from Westside German Shepherd Rescue of Los Angeles (

“I had no clue that real-estate agents gave housewarming gifts,” Potter tells “I was not expecting anything.”

The practice is customary in some areas, with gifts typically being wine, concert tickets or a fancy dinner out. Zalagens, who has four dogs, always gives her clients a gift when they close on their home – sometimes with a warm lap and sloppy kisses in mind. But when people can’t take in a new pup, Zalagens donates $300, a typical adoption fee, to Labs and Buddies Rescue. “It’s about showing gratitude to the client and saving a dog too,” she says.

Another California agent, Rene Succa-Ruston of Century 21 America in Westlake Village, does a similar good deed. For each transaction, she donates $1,000 to an animal charity of the client’s choice. If the person has no charity in mind, the donation goes to the Brittany Foundation Animal Sanctuary. The idea dawned a decade ago when Ruston passed an animal adoption event as she was showing a property.

“Everyone is not necessarily an animal person, even though that is my focus,” says Ruston, who has three dogs. “I still want to thank them for the business and for any referrals.”

For Potter, a recent grad of California Polytechnic State University, the gift made his dog adoption effortless.

Clancy is “an amazing companion,” says Potter, who grew up with German shepherds. The pup, who has a strong herding instinct, is now learning to catch a Flippy Flopper, the flying dog disc. “Clancy is one of the fastest dogs I’ve ever seen,” easily outrunning his canine pals at the dog park, Potter says.

Every lunchtime, Potter comes home from his job as a software engineer to walk Clancy. And every night, when he returns from work, the dog is there waiting. “Clancy is something to look forward to,” he says.