Showhomes is a national home-staging company. It matches people looking for a nice house to live in temporarily at a reasonable cost with sellers who have already moved out. The company capitalizes on one of the realities of real estate: Many potential buyers shy away from empty homes with bare floors, stark rooms and cold, naked windows.
For five months, Sandy Crawford watched uneasily from her new home in Georgia as her old home in St. Petersburg, Fla., sat on the market with little interest from potential buyers.
Discouraged, she turned to Showhomes, a company that places people -- and their attractive furniture -- in vacant homes. A fastidious man moved into Crawford's house, and things changed.
"The house looked fabulous," she said. "Every little thing, inside and out, was constantly being watched and taken care of. Within 30 days, maybe 40 days, we got an offer. A lady from California offered $5,000 more than we were asking. Then the guy who bought it offered $5,000 above her."
Showhomes is a national home-staging company. It matches people looking for a nice house to live in temporarily at a reasonable cost with sellers who have already moved out.
The company capitalizes on one of the realities of real estate: Many potential buyers shy away from empty homes with bare floors, stark rooms and cold, naked windows.
"Seeing how somebody lives in the house makes a big difference," said David Vann, an agent with the ReMax Metro. He recently arranged for a Showhomes "home manager" –– the person moving in –– to move into a vacant house that wasn't getting great reviews from prospective buyers. It sold three months later.
Sellers who hire Showhomes pay a one-time setup fee of 50 cents per square foot. That covers the move-in costs of the home manager and whatever it costs Showhomes consultants to decorate. The home manager pays the monthly utility bill, any required lawn or pool maintenance and a monthly fee to Showhomes that's about a third of what a comparable house would rent for. The house has to be ready to show to prospective buyers on short notice seven days a week.
When the home sells, the seller pays Showhomes a percentage of the price: 1 percent or less, depending on how many days it takes to sell. For August, the company offered a flat rate of $2,500, including setup and the sales fee, for any house priced above $300,000.
Showhomes has gotten exposure recently in the national media, and the St. Petersburg office gets hundreds of calls or emails a week from people who want to cut their expenses by becoming home managers. Only about five a week qualify, according to Rebecca Schleifer, sales and marketing manager for Showhomes St. Petersburg.
"We go to their house and see how they live. You have to have high-end stuff if you're going into a million-dollar listing," Schleifer said. "But they could have great furniture and be messy."
Pets and children are usually deal killers, but not always. For example, another client of Vann's just bought a house listed by another agent that was maintained and furnished by a home manager with a family.
The home manager "had three or four little boys under the age of 5. I mean, it was unbelievable how she could put those kids in the car and be out of there on an hour's notice" for a showing, he said. "You wouldn't believe how neat and picture-perfect that house was."