Archive for December, 2010

Property Trax: Rise in vacant homes leads to more cases of ‘mansion squatters’

December 27th, 2010

By KAREN RIVEDAL, Dec 23, 2010

As if the owners of mansions weren’t burdened enough.

Now comes a report from Showhomes, a nationally franchised network of home stagers based in Tennessee, that the number of ne’er-do-wells shacking up in vacant mansions is on the rise.

The increase is tied to the wave of temporarily vacant homes being created by the struggling home market, Showhomes said.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported vacant homes increased to 19 million in the first quarter of 2010, some number of which are high-end properties ripe for trespassers with a taste for the finer things, the staging company warned.

Among the recent incidents cited was the case of a woman in Seattle, arrested for living in a $3.3 million home on the minor technicality that it wasn’t actually hers.

Similarly, a man in Chicago recently set up shop in an empty $700,000 home, carting in his furniture and big-screen TV and going so far as to introduce himself to the neighbors as the new owner, which reportedly worked for several months.

(Wasn’t there a short-lived show on FX about something like this, starring Minnie Driver and Eddie Izzard? Life imitating art, I guess, or vice versa.)

The problem can be compounded by the vagaries of homeowners’ insurance, which may not cover properties and the damage that squatters can do after a home has been vacant for a period of time.

Policies specifically for vacant homes, meanwhile, can be expensive and still not offer full coverage, Showhomes said.

The solution offered by Showhomes — shocker — is to hire one of their live-in managers to watch over the property and keep it in good shape for showings.

One would guess there are probably simpler and less expensive remedies out there, such as maybe not leaving a mansion vacant in the first place, and being more aggressive about getting it sold.

But even if a live-in stager seems over the top for most of us, there are plenty of advocates for the use of smart staging concepts to possibly give homes for sale a competitive edge.

Note: Using a Live-In Stager from Showhomes is often far less expensive than most home owners realize. Most of the fees are paid at close and in many markets, owners don’t have to pay up front or monthly fees.

To learn more about opening your own Showhomes Home Staging franchise, fill out our request information form to attend a webinar

Showhomes Home Staging Franchise in Toledo makes quick sell after staging

December 17th, 2010

December is one of the slowest months for house real estate, but many people strive to sell their house before the New Year. Showhomes Toledo owner, Matt Pokorny, has another staging success story from a real estate market that has seen some of the toughest market conditions in the country:

This $400k  house had been on the market for several months when the home owner hired  Showhomes to stage the home with a Home Manager.  Within a week, Showhomes staged the entire home and moved in its live-in home stager to prep it for showings and keep it in perfect show condition.

Within 30 days on the staging, a buyer fell in love with the home and put in an accepted offer! Homes in this price range are taking a long time to sell in this market; 2 to 3 times as long as it took to move this one.

The unique layout of the house gave the Showhomes home staging team a chance to get creative. The house had a large great room that was open for two stories. The team created a “southern style” gathering area in the kitchen staged with a love seat and two chairs in front of the windows. They also positioned a gathering area around the fireplace on the other side of the kitchen. These cozy gatherings made the home memorable to buyers and really increased the amount of time spent on showings – a critical point to selling a home for top dollar.

The house had neutral colors, lots of beige. “Vacant, it was all builder beige – it all looked the same. The furniture added life to the house,” said Matt. “It was colorful. It had a much warmer and cozier feeling.”

After the Showhomes Home Manager moved in, there was a noticeable rise in the amount of showings. “Showings increased after the Realtor put the new pictures up,” said Matt. “We had three to five showings a week for a home that was beginning to get stagnant.”

The Realtor was very happy with the staging and the sales results Showhomes provided.

Who wouldn’t be?

Great work, Showhomes Home Staging in Toledo!

Showhomes Home Staging Heats up Chicago’s Fox Valley Home Sales

December 10th, 2010

December is one of the slowest months in home sales, but if you ask Michael Callahan, franchise owner of Showhomes Home Staging in the Fox Valley suburb of Chicago you may get a different answer. Why? Showhomes had four homes sell this month.

Fox Valley living room before staging

What made the difference? Home staging.

The four homes that sold were all very different, ranging in style, size, location and price. All had been tough to sell and all four had been sitting on the market for lengthy amounts of time.

One of the properties, a townhouse, was a small and featured small rooms. The challenge was highlight that the two-bedroom home had good, usable space. Callahan’s team staged the house to accommodate enough furniture without the townhouse feeling cramped or crowded. The staging was so successful the buyers, who had complained that other homes in the complex were too small, fell in love with this one and placed an offer, even though it was smaller than the others.

Living room after staging

The next home was a unique, historic property that had been on the market for several years. Even staged, the house stayed on the market for about a year with a live-in Home Manager. The house had small rooms and an awkward layout. Michael and the Home Manager focused on creating functional rooms that could accommodate furnishings and a comfortable lifestyle. With careful staging, the living room, dining room and kitchen eating area made sense to prospective buyers. Without it, visualizing the spaces working was much more difficult.

Master before staging

A 10-year-old, three-bedroom house in Fox Valley was the next one to sell. The neighborhood featured mostly houses with four or five bedrooms, and though Showhomes does not typically stage basements, in this case, the team created a fourth bedroom from the basement. This detail showed that the home could accommodate a larger family and put the property in a more competitive position in that neighborhood.

The fourth home was the most expensive, though it had one of the lower values in a high-end neighborhood. Again, in this house, the basement was staged with all the furniture facing the window because it looked out over a beautiful wooded area. In the end, this house, valued at just $1 million, was competing with houses in the $2 million range.

“All three Chicagoland area Showhomes  franchises are standing out in the industry because we are producing such good sales results,” says Michael. “Homes that have been really difficult to sell are moving when staged.”

Master after staging - SOLD!

Home staging with live in Home Managers works at all price points. The four houses ranged from $200,000 to $1 million.

“But it doesn’t have to be a million-dollar home to receive the value of good quality staging,” says Michael.

For more information on Showhomes, visit and for franchise information, visit

Mansion Squatting Takes Root in Vacant Homes for Sale

December 8th, 2010

Showhomes Home staging helps solve squatter problem for vacant homes

A woman is arrested for illegally squatting in a home for sale

As the number of vacant homes for sale in the U.S. spirals higher, so-called “mansion squatting” is on the rise, too, especially in large metro areas such as Chicago, Los Angeles and Seattle.

Consider these recent incidents: A woman was arrested in Seattle for living in  $3.3 million home that wasn’t hers. A squatter in Chicago moved his furniture and big screen TV into a vacant $700,000 home and introduced himself to the neighbors as the new owner. His scheme worked for several months before the police closed in.  Actor Randy Quaid and his wife, Evi, got busted for squatting inside a $1 million property they previously owned in Southern California.

Matt Kelton, COO for Showhomes, a nationally franchised network of home stagers, says a home owner who allows a home to sit vacant is “playing with a grenade.”  That’s because most insurance companies refuse to insure vacant homes, leaving homeowners with few options for coverage. Damage and vandalism done by a squatter is often not covered by home owner’s insurance if the home is vacant.

“Major carriers cancel policies on vacant homes after 30 or 60 days, often without warning, leaving the home uninsured,” Kelton said. “Some companies underwrite vacant home policies which don’t offer full coverage and cost up to 400 percent more than a traditional home owner’s policy.”

Showhomes has a tidy solution to this messy problem. The national franchise uses live-in home managers who help stage the home, keep it prepped for Realtor showings and act as on-site caretakers. Because the home is occupied, owners qualify for steeply reduced insurance rates with far better coverage than vacant home policies provide. The live-in home managers also help homes sell faster and for higher prices and best of all, keep squatters from moving in.

Vacant homes remain a stubborn problem in the struggling housing market and increased to 19 million in the first quarter 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and record numbers of homes for sale are now vacant. Left untended, many of these homes are going to continue to be targets for squatters — unless Showhomes gets to them first.

For information on a Showhomes Home Staging franchise, visit

Interview with Showhomes -Tampa franchisee Linda Saavedra

December 6th, 2010
Linda Saavedra – Showhomes Tampa

Linda Saavedra is a driven, determined professional – a self-described Type A personality who isn’t satisfied unless she’s at the top of her game, achieving the highest and the best. Before becoming a Showhomes franchisee, Saavedera owned a highly successful short-term vacation rental company in the Disney World area of Orlando, Florida, worked as a franchise sales director for Computer Renaissance and was a business broker helping people find and start up small businesses.

She has since become a top-performer and leader in the Showhomes system.

SH: How long have you been a Showhomes franchisee?
I purchased my franchise in January of 2009.

SH: How did you hear about us?
I knew about the franchise via professional and personal connections and it came across my radar in my work as a business broker. I was considering doing some work with Showhomes because of my background in property management and design. After learning more about the concept and talking to them about helping on the franchise sales front, I was intrigued enough to buy a franchise instead.

SH: Why Showhomes?
It’s a much needed service in today’s market. Plus, I wanted a service-based franchise that truly helps people. You can’t beat Showhomes’ low overhead.

SH: What’s your background?
I worked for 19 years in the automotive industry with a Ford Motor Co. franchise. I developed their rental/leasing operation in Central Florida that was recognized by Ford as the leading leasing and rental company in the U.S. After that, I owned a vacation rental company. I re-designed many of the rental homes, updating them and making them more appealing to customers. I also designed the new investment properties that were just coming into the short-term rental market.

Showhomes was the next logical career step for me because it combines my management experience, my experience working with home owners on a short-term basis and my flair for design and décor.

SH: Can you share one of your secrets? What really works for you in your market?
There are no magic bullets. We do what everyone else does—all the basics, day in and day out. Showhomes just has a higher level of “push,” which suits my Type A personality. I’m not happy unless we’re making something happen. What works for me? Progress and growth.

Linda Saavedra with Elaine Wooding, owner of Showhomes St. Petersburg

SH: What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned?
LS: Showhomes is proof that hard work and dedication bring success. I firmly believe — and I’m thankful — that the Showhomes corporate folks are genuinely interested in helping us be successful. Everyone wants success for the system. It’s challenging work, but it’s a winning business model.

SH: What keeps you active in your free time?
What free time? I’m Type A personality.

SH: Why would you recommend Showhomes to someone interested in owning a business?
For the same reasons I like it. I also think that the franchisor is still small enough to be receptive to our input. They do listen! There’s a certain amount of freedom in the system to “do our own thing,” providing it’s within the corporate guidelines. That suits me. I am not known as a conformist or a follower.