A New Wrinkle in Real Estate Marketing

Coffee shop employees sometimes “salt the tip jar” — putting a dollar or two in an empty jar to influence customer behavior. Now, some in the real estate industry are borrowing the idea and implementing it on a much larger scale.

Home staging companies have been around forever — real estate companies hire them to make vacant houses look lived-in. But until recently, most of the houses weren’t actually occupied.

That’s changing. The Wall Street Journal reports on companies that provide “faux homeowners” — people who actually move in. The idea is not completely new (some businesses did this during the California slump of the early 90’s), but it’s become a lot more prevalent. These companies

…fill high-end empty houses with occupants who play the part of happy homeowners, in a bid to remove the price-depressing stigma of vacancy…Temporary occupants bring their own furnishings and insurance to empty houses, and maintain the home, lawn and pool. They pay utilities and a monthly fee well below market rent. “They are not tenants, because they are instrumental in marketing the property,” says Ms. Heineke [Mary Heinke, owner of Quality First Home Marketing]. And besides, “a tenant isn’t seen as an asset.”…

Showhomes Management LLC, a franchise operation based in Nashville, has 350 “resident managers” living in homes for sale in 46 high-end markets, including in Florida, Arizona and Illinois. The company has seen revenues increase 88% since last year, says vice president Thomas Scott. Unoccupied staged houses aren’t selling as well as those with people in them, he says, “because people can still tell they’re vacant.”

During the boom years, many homeowners just put a for-sale sign on the lawn, and let buyers compete with each other.  Even if the home was in poor repair, buyers would use their imaginations as to what the house could be — and make an offer.

Now, it’s up to the seller to fill in the picture.


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