Showhomes Home Manager Program Featured in St. Petersburg Times
For five months, Sandy Crawford watched uneasily from her new home in Georgia as her old home in St. Petersburg’s Shore Acres neighborhood sat on the market with little interest from potential buyers. Discouraged, she turned to Showhomes, a company that places people — and their attractive furniture — in vacant houses. A fastidious man moved into Crawford’s house, and things changed. “The house looked fabulous,” she said. “Every little thing inside and out was constantly being watched and taken care of. Within 30 days, maybe 40 days, we got an offer. A lady from California offered $5,000 more than we were asking. Then the guy who bought it offered $5,000 above her.”
The company capitalizes on one of the realities of real estate: Many potential buyers shy away from empty homes with bare floors, stark rooms and cold, naked windows.
“Seeing how somebody lives in the house makes a big difference,” said David Vann, an agent with the ReMax Metro. He recently arranged for a Showhomes “Home Manager” to move into a vacant house that wasn’t getting great reviews from prospective buyers. It sold three months later.
Real estate agents are still very much in the deal.
“The whole goal is to get prospective buyers to fall in love with the house, and then it’s an emotional buy,” said Rebecca Schleifer, sales and marketing manager for Showhomes St. Petersburg.
Showhomes has gotten exposure on Oprah, HGTV, National Public Radio and other media. The St. Petersburg office gets hundreds of calls and e-mails a week from people who want to cut their expenses by becoming Home Managers.
Several local staging companies provide a similar service by setting up furniture and “scenes” in vacant houses, but they usually don’t stage the whole house. And many Home Managers have several flat screen TVs, stellar furniture and great art. That’s often more than a staging company has in its inventory.
Chuck Barrow is living as a Home Manager in his third Showhomes house. It’s 4,000 square feet on the water with views of the Sunshine Skyway, a boat dock and a price tag of $1.2 million. His baby grand piano, home gym and 60-inch flat screen fit in well.
Barrow’s business, financing heavy construction equipment, is down right now, so he’s not ready to buy a house. After a divorce a few years ago, he discovered he could live as a Home Manager in a great house with room for his daughters for a lot less than buying.
He has even put his office near the Veterans Expressway in Tampa so that he can choose from Showhomes properties in Pasco, Pinellas or Hillsborough counties. If the home he lives in sells, he has 30 to 60 days until the company places him in another home.