Pioneer Press: Showhomes Live-In “Managers” Make Show Homes a Living Stage
Live-In “Managers” Make Show Homes a Living Stage
By Gita Sitaramiah, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.
March, 2011 – - Instead of buying their own home, Kim Gaddes and her husband live in a high-end Sunfish Lake house staged for sale. In exchange, they pay a really cheap monthly fee.
The catch is that they have to keep the four-bedroom house ready to show at all times and be prepared to move to another listed property when the $749,900 house sells. In this case, that’s May when a closing is expected.
They’re hired by Showhomes home staing in St Paul, which pays their moving fees but also requires that they own contemporary furniture that works well in many home styles. They pay $1,100 a month to Showhomes plus utilities and consider that a deal.
Gaddes, 48, and her husband sold their Inver Grove Heights house and planned to buy a town home when they discovered Show Home Minneapolis nearly a year ago. Instead of buying right away, they decided to sock away more money toward retirement. She works for a home party business; he’s employed by Cub Foods. They’ve made a previous move, also in the Sunfish Lake area.
“We look at how the market is right now,” Gaddes said. “I think, ‘Do I want to invest a huge amount in a house when I can be in this program and live in beautiful, unbelievable houses and not invest my money?’ ”
As more houses sit vacant in a tough market, sellers are trying creative strategies to make the empty properties look enticing. Some hire professional stagers to furnish the homes. Others tap firms like Showhomes St Paul, which stage a home and place a “home manager” on site to keep the snow shoveled and provide some income for the seller.
While there’s no data to pinpoint how many houses for sale in the Twin Cities are unoccupied, it’s becoming more commonplace as houses take longer to sell and sellers find themselves needing to move because of job relocations, divorce or other issues.
“I do see, besides the foreclosures, that there are a number of vacant homes on the market,” said Pat Paulson, an agent with Exit Realty. “There are some that are short sellers.”
These days, Sharon Mitchell’s North St. Paul staging business is sometimes hired to furnish houses for sale by owners who already have relocated. The sellers who hire Simply Staged want to ensure the house is seen in its best light and that potential buyers don’t notice a stained floor or nick on a wall.
“If it’s vacant, buyers notice everything,” Mitchell said.
Most foreclosures are vacant. They’re often at the low end of the market and banks don’t put much money into marketing, let alone staging them. Foreclosures accounted for more than half of all home sales last month.
In rare cases, smaller banks have hired Show Home Minneapolis for high-end foreclosure listings to ensure someone is there who can alert them to, say, a leaky roof, before it becomes a disaster.
Highland Bank in St. Paul hired Show Home a couple of years ago to manage a foreclosed $1 million-plus house for sale in Eden Prairie’s Bear Path golf community, said Rick Wall, chief executive of Highland Bank.
Being a small bank, Highland was able to try something new to sell the high-end property, he said.
“We wanted to ensure that we had the best face on the property all the time, so we thought we’d be best off with someone who lived there and had an interest in keeping the property up,” Wall said.
Jim Knutson, a special assets manager of KleinBank, hired Show Home to manage the sale of a high-end home under $1 million near Delano. He didn’t want to discuss specifics, but did talk about why KleinBank hired Show Home.
“The difference is, on a high-end property, how do you maximize your return to your shareholders versus just unload it?” he said.
Showhomes has two successful franchises in the area – one in St Paul owned and operated by Denise Gartner and another in Minneapolis owned by Cindy Montgomery.
Showhomes Minneapolis, a franchise of the national firm, closed on 65 homes in 2010, up from 42 in 2009. Owner Cindy Montgomery said she’s seeing steady growth since launching her franchise eight years ago. Sellers pay Show Home Minneapolis a $1,500 setup fee and 0.75 percent of the list price at closing.
Showhomes works in all price brackets as well as condos and moves home managers into similar units in the areas they want to live.
So far, she’s finding enough potential home managers willing to put up with keeping beds made at all times and the frequent moves. Montgomery also believes her services help vacant properties sell faster and with fewer issues.
“We’ve saved a couple of homes from having problems,” she said.
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Copyright (c) 2011, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.
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