HOME: Stagers Feel Right at Home
If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. But at least one Oklahoma City company has a program in place that they claim is truly as good as it seems.
Showhomes OKC matches vacant homes for sale with screened home managers — individuals or families who live in the homes during the selling process — to provide a win-win for all parties involved, said Showhomes OKC owner John Stockton. The homeowners and real estate agents win by selling their homes faster and for more money, and the home managers win by being able to live in homes that they might not otherwise be able to afford, or even homes that are the same level of home they are used to living in, but for a much–reduced monthly payment, Stockton explained.
In 2008, a study conducted by the Real Estate Staging Association determined that filled homes sold 85 percent faster than vacant homes. And a 2004 survey of Realtors showed that homes filled with furnishings sold for 10 to 20 percent more. Showhomes OKC’s program has found a way to make sure the homes selling are full of beautiful furniture and accessories at no additional cost to the homeowner or real estate agent. They use home managers’ possessions.
When home managers apply for Showhomes’ program, they go through a background check and an interview. Stockton makes sure they don’t smoke or have pets, and then evaluates their belongings to ensure they would be acceptable for staging the level of homes he helps sell.
“Some (managers) qualify for a $300,000 house, while others qualify for a $700,000 house,” Stockton said. It’s based upon how much furniture they have to fill the different sized homes, as well as the quality of their furniture. Once those factors are determined, Stockton places the manager in a home that meets the size and style of their belongings. If the managers have children, Stockton keeps them in the school district where they attend.
Showhomes OKC has a decorator who helps stage the home with the manager’s belongings, to ensure the home looks its best. The personal items, such as photos and mementos, go into boxes for storage in the attic or garage, as do any knick knacks or other pieces that don't work with the design scheme.
The managers in return pay their moving expenses and a set monthly fee to Showhomes OKC, which is usually about 30 percent of what the mortgage would be if they owned the home, Stockton said. They also are responsible for the costs of maintaining the yard and a pool if the home has one, as
well as utilities.
“I get a lot of (managers) who are in transition (in their lives),” he said. Newly divorced people are custom-made for the program, with their nice furniture but decreased income. Business families who are transferred into the city also enjoy the program, as it gives them a chance to familiarize themselves with their surroundings.
“One gentleman is building a 3 million dollar home, and while it is being built, he is a home manager. This saves him storage costs and from having to live in a small apartment in the transition,” Stockton said.
Paul and Staci Swales became home managers for Showhomes OKC about 10 years ago when Paul lost his job. At that time, they had two children, 8 and 1, and another on the way. The idea of keeping a home constantly “show ready” with young children can be daunting to most. Paul said it wasn’t easy. “It was very difficult at the beginning; we all had to learn,” he said. “But the kids have grown accustomed to having to live in a picked-up, clean, orderly environment.”
Within a few years of entering the program, the Swales had saved enough on monthly mortgage payments that they were able to buy a home of their own. Then about three years ago, Paul decided to start his own business, so once again, they became home managers. “We sold the house, and had a huge amount of furniture — enough to (stage) a 7,000-square-foot home — so we couldn’t go into an apartment. This (program) is tailor made for people in transition like we were,” he said.
Combined, the Swales have been home managers for about seven years. In that time, they have lived in 14 different houses, ranging from a $225,000 home to their current $2.5 million home in Gaillardia — for which they pay $1,400 a month plus utilities. Their shortest stay in a home was five weeks, and the longest 14 months, although eight months seems to be the average.
Moving that often is a headache, Paul said, but the benefits greatly outweigh the inconvenience. And in time, his family has learned to streamline the process, knowing how to pack and unpack efficiently. “You have to learn how to live (the home manager) lifestyle,” Stockton said. “Moving often means you don’t collect all the stuff you collect when you live years in a home. And your personal stuff stays in boxes. You live with what you need to and call it a day.”
Home managers are generally given 30 to 45 days notice that they will be moving, and also have to give a 30-day notice if and when they decide to retire from being a manager.
“We have had our favorite houses, but never one that we disliked,” Paul said. “That’s one of the benefits: experiencing different neighborhoods and additions. It allows us to live in properties we wouldn’t otherwise be able to experience.”
And it allows home buyers to see the homes as such, rather than as empty houses, which in turn makes them sell faster and for more money. And with 15 years of experience dealing with hundreds of homes and managers, Showhomes OKC has proven that sometimes what seems too good to be true is
simply just good.