Million-dollar lifestyle on a middle-class income
Showhomes Orlando puts “home managers” in homes for sale to help attract buyers
By Jon Busdeker, Orlando Sentinel
March 1, 2011
John and Faith Forsythe live in a million-dollar mansion on Deer Island, but they don’t own it. And they’re not renters, house sitters or squatters either.
The Forsythes are “home managers” with Showhomes Orlando, a home-staging company that specializes in placing individuals and families in upscale homes for sale.
For a fee of $1,700 a month, excluding utilities, the Forsythes live in a 4,500-square-foot lakefront home with five bedrooms, four-and-a-half bathrooms, a heated spa, hand-carved marble mosaics, 20-foot ceilings and a boat dock.
“It feels like this is our home,” Faith Forsythe said.
But technically, it’s not. The owners of the home southwest of Oakland moved out months ago and took their furnishings. An empty house, however, is hard to sell, said the owners’ real-estate agent Barbara Vance.
“Selling a vacant house is like a woman trying to model without makeup,” Vance said.
In order to create that “lived-in” look and feel, Vance contacted Showhomes Orlando, which provides both occupants and furnishings.
“We create the model-type atmosphere,” said Jeff Smith, Showhomes Orlando director of operations.
As home sales have decreased, more real-estate agents have turned to home-staging companies such as Showhomes for help selling their listings, mainly those priced at $300,000 or more. Smith said business for the home-manager program, which had dropped as much as 60 percent in the mid-2000s, has rebounded in the past two years.
Who does it?
Showhomes, which started in Atlanta and is based in Nashville, Tenn., opened an Orlando franchise more than 15 years ago. Smith said its home-manager program attracts a range of participants: Single professionals who need temporary housing, empty nesters, renters at the end of their leases or those new to Orlando who haven’t decided on a permanent neighborhood yet.
The Forsythes, both in their 50s, moved from Albuquerque, N.M., when John joined the morning crew on Magic 107.7 FM (WMGF). The couple didn’t want to purchase a house without getting to know the area, and they didn’t want to sign a long-term lease.
“It [the program] fits our needs,” John Forsythe said.
The homes must be kept in “show to sell” condition, Smith said, and his company performs unplanned inspections. When a potential buyer wants to tour a home, which could be any day of the week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., the beds must be made a certain way, dishes can’t be in the kitchen sink and the home must be spotless.
Most of the time home managers can “live a life,” Smith said. They can enjoy the amenities of their comfortable home by swimming in the pool or inviting guests over for a cookout. “We really don’t want people to feel like they’re in a prison.”
When a home is sold, Showhomes moves its managers to another vacant home within 30 days.
Showhomes have placed managers across Central Florida — from a $1.3 million home on Bear Lake in Seminole County to a $595,000 home in Lake Mary.
Terry and Sharon Weyer live in a four-bedroom home off Markham Woods Road near Longwood with an open-air patio, a fire pit and pool. The home is listed for $600,000. Their fee is $1,400 a month, plus utility and upkeep costs.
In November, the Weyers moved from Wadsworth, Ohio. Terry, 60, is a semi-retired property manager, and Sharon, 53, is a nurse practitioner who teaches at Mountain State University’s satellite campus in Altamonte Springs.
Owners of three homes — two in Ohio and one in Fort Lauderdale — the Weyers didn’t want to buy another one in Orlando, and they didn’t want to sign a long-term lease. Sharon found Showhomes online.
The couple first moved into an Italian villa-style home in Apopka. It sold, and so last week, the Weyers moved to the Longwood-area home. Moving from house to house, Terry said, doesn’t bother them because they have few belongings. Cell phones and laptops keep them connected to friends and family, and all of their mail goes to a post-office box.
“This totally works for us,” Terry said. “All the luxury and not all the work.”
Roy Van Buskirk and his wife are relocating to Atlanta, but at first he was hesitant to let a stranger stay in their $685,000 Lake Mary house.
Then he found out that it’s more expensive to insure a vacant home, and an occupied home helps guard against squatters. Also, Van Buskirk said there’s a peace of mind knowing that if a pipe bursts or the pool turns green, someone is there to handle the situation.
In the end, Van Buskirk got an offer on his home before a manager could move in.
•Home managers are screened and undergo background and credit checks. Pets and smokers are not allowed, and managers can be removed if a rule is broken.
•Home managers must pay a monthly fee, about one-third of what rent would cost. The fee varies by location and the amount of furnishings Showhomes provides.
•Managers pay for monthly utility bills and upkeep costs. The real-estate agent and home seller pay nothing.
Copyright © 2011, Orlando Sentinel