NPR: Stingy Banks Come Around to Quirky Home Staging
Stingy Banks Come Around to Quirky Home Staging
Tuesday, April 19th, 2011, by Blake Farmer, NPR
Tens of thousands of empty houses remain as evidence of the mortgage crisis. In Tennessee alone, census data show nearly 320,000 vacant properties. Some are houses that just won’t sell. Others are foreclosures – bank-owned properties. And now a handful of financial institutions are turning to a Nashville-based company that uses human props to sell a home – live-in staging.
There’s an entire home-staging industry, complete with a show on HGTV. A promo suggests staging is about “more than selling homes fast and for top dollar. It’s making people want to live here.”
Instead of moving in a love seat, a few paintings and an area rug, Bert Lyles’ company called Showhomes home staging – with a small headquarters near Hillsboro Village – just finds someone to live in the house. And he actually charges that person rent.
“You do get weird looks occasionally when it’s first presented,” Lyles says. “But the truth is, it is a better program in our view, all the way around.”
Still, Lyles has convincing to do. That’s why his Web site uses lots of testimonials from satisfied homeowners and realtors, like Sandy Barrett from Scottsdale, Arizona. She says there’s something warm and inviting about having clothes in the closet and food in the pantry while vacant properties become forgettable.
“What can you say?” Barrett says. “It’s the one with the dark painted doors? It’s the one with no water in the pool?”
A Cheaper Way
A typical staging company could give the illusion somebody is home. But Bert Lyles contends live-in staging is a cheaper way to get the job done.
Finding the home managers, as he calls them, is the hard part. They need their own high-end furniture. And they have to make their bed, everyday.
“They have to be willing to keep the home show-ready seven days a week,” Lyles says. “They have to be willing to leave the home on 30 minutes notice. So if you’re not a neat-nick, this might not be the program for you as a home manager.”
At a 4,000 square foot home in Brentwood, Terese Baker-Bell lives – at least for the moment – with her two daughters. This is the second Showhome she has managed.
In the kitchen, the granite counters are spotless. The hardwood floor is clean enough to eat off of.
Baker-Bell relocated from St. Louis and figured she’d rent a home for a while until she got the lay of the land.
“I went online, and I saw some great homes for what I thought were unbelievable prices,” she says.
But then Baker-Bell found the catch. The site asked, “Do you have nice furniture? I thought, I wonder why they’re asking that,” she says.
Showhomes doesn’t rent homes and the Home Managers it places are not tenants who have a lease.
The constant threat of showings doesn’t really bother this family of three. They’re hardly here. The oldest daughter is a competitive gymnast, with out-of-town meets every other weekend.
“It works because we are extremely busy,” Baker-Bell says.
It works for a select few. Other home managers are divorced dads or even professional athletes.
For the handful of companies that do this live-in staging, it’s a booming business right now. Showhomes reports record growth in six of the last seven years. And increasingly, that expansion is coming from banks, historically the stingiest kind of property owner.
Banks have no mortgage to pay. And they don’t particularly care if the swimming pool is empty or not.
“We have no emotional ties to properties,” says Jason West, who poses of foreclosures for Pinnacle Financial Partners, based in Nashville.
Pinnacle is one of the 22 banks – spread from Maryland to California – that have started using Showhomes over the last two years. For financial institutions, West says selling a home is just a numbers game.
“You say ok, is there a benefit for having the home occupied? And is the cost of staging either going to shorten my sale cycle or get me a higher price?” he says.
If the answer is yes, West says live-in staging makes sense, as weird as it sounds, particularly if the home sits on a block with half-a-dozen other empty places.
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