TAMPA — Local entrepreneurs banking on their hunch that homebuyers are more likely to make offers on fashionably decorated homes — and make them faster — has begun to pay off big. Showhomes St. Pete-Clearwater and Showhomes Staging-Tampa have both experienced sharp growth over the past couple of years. And business continues to flourish as the real estate market bounces back following an extended slump.
Carol Ackerman recently transformed a bare-walled vacant house on Belleair Beach into a Gulfside spa-like retreat shrouded in shades of blue and turquoise. She didn’t just haul in a load of furniture — every shelf, wall, mantle piece and countertop is elegantly appointed with flower arrangements, wine glasses, paintings and decorative vases. The 3,858-square-foot house, listed for $3.4 million, is one of 30 homes the owner of Showhomes St. Pete-Clearwater has under contract right now.
Ackerman said she saw her business double in 2014 from the previous year and by May of this year she’d already done as much business as she did in all of the previous year.
“We’ve had a wild, crazy ride in Tampa, too,” said Linda Saavedra, owner of Showhomes Staging-Tampa, which serves all of Hillsborough County. “We are the No. 1 Showhomes franchise in Florida and the Tampa market is fantastic for staging,” Saavedra said. “We’ve done $200 million in homes since 2009 and no one has ever said ‘I shouldn’t have staged my house.’ I’m going to say we’ve had a 40 percent revenue increase since 2013.”
It took a while, Saavedra said, but most Realtors and Realtor organizations now buy into the staging process, which likely has added plenty to the uptick in business.
For Showhomes, that business includes everything from traditional staging to redesigning homes with the owners’ furnishings or replacing paint and carpet, even kitchen counters.
“We furnish so people can imagine, but we don’t overdo it,” Ackerman said. “It’s minimalist. Just enough to give a feeling that this room is an office, for example.”
“People think of staging as furniture, but it’s really the accessories that do it,” said Barry Ackerman, who runs Showhomes St. Pete-Clearwater with his wife.
Carol Ackerman got into the staging business seven years ago after her custom window treatment business faded during the economic downturn, she said. At first, her staging career was just a way to generate income. Since then, the business has grown beyond her expectations, she said.
The Ackermans started working just in Pasco, then expanded to Pinellas County. They now have three assistants and work with several moving companies that haul bedroom and living room furnishings, dining sets and all those accessories from one home to another.
She has stories she believes show just how successful staging can be. “We had a small house, around $100,000 that was in pretty rough shape. The purchaser had been there before it was staged and didn’t even remember seeing it. He came back after it was staged and purchased it. Then there was a Clearwater condo on the market for 854 days. We staged it on a Monday and Tuesday and it sold that following Saturday.”
Typically, a staged house will bring in 15 percent more on the offer and will sell 78 percent faster, Ackerman said. “For the amount you invest, you get a return of 342 percent.”
Showhomes started 30 years ago during the 1980s recession when a lot of homes were in foreclosure, empty and languishing on the market, said company COO Matt Kelton. “The founder had the idea to have people live in vacant houses and he quickly noticed that when people move in with their furniture, these houses sell faster and for more money.” Initially, the company didn’t stage but had “home managers” live in the houses with all their furnishings, he said. Kelton expanded the business 10 years ago to include traditional staging, redesigns and makeovers. The price a home seller pays for staging depends on the size of the house.
Saavedra, who said she’s been decorating homes for herself and friends most of her life, offers staging packages as low as $2,500 and as high as $4,000.
Ackerman’s prices, with a 90-day contract, run generally between $3,795 and $4,795. The price can rise to nearly $6,000 for a particularly large house. She said most houses sell within 90 days. For those that don’t, the homeowner pays 12-14 percent more per month until the property does sell.
Sometimes, staging can be a bit tricky, Ackerman said. “A lot of people want to know exactly what you’ll be using in the house and I tell them that’s what they hired me to decide. We stage to the buyers’ taste, not the homeowners’ taste.” That involves removing all personal photos, religious symbols and clutter. Showhomes will completely stage a house or can use a home seller’s furnishings, mixed with some accessories from its warehouse. On other occasions, the company will simply go in and redesign with the home seller’s furnishings, Saavedra said.
“We can handle everything for a home seller and they only have to write one check,” Kelton said. “Our goal is to accelerate the sale and for more money.” This year has been the most successful in Showhomes’ history, Kelton said. “We are up 35 percent (in revenue) year over year. Out of the last 10 months, five have been all-time records” for revenue, he said. The company has 55 franchises in 18 states.