Luxury fixer-uppers for cheap, but you can’t stay


Magdalena Santana cleaned eight days straight for a home in Land O’ Lakes.
By SHANNON BEHNKEN | The Tampa Tribune
Published: July 25, 2011
Updated: July 25, 2011 – 12:32 PM

When Clint Arndt and his fiancee, Charisse, moved into an abandoned waterfront home, the pool was green, there were holes in the walls and it smelled like mold.

It took a lot of cleaning before the couple even wanted to sleep there.

“Mostly elbow grease more than anything,” Clint Arndt said. “A couple of weeks of just getting it back into livable condition.”

All this was for a home they’re not even buying. In fact, they’ll have to move out as soon as someone else makes an offer.

The couple is in a program run by Tampa-based Home Caretakers International. The idea is to get hard-to-sell foreclosure homes to look better, and sell faster.

The company partners with area real estate agents trying to market homes in foreclosure, said Michael Shelton, marketing director for the company.

Grass is usually tall and, often, homes have been empty for years.

Not the warm impression agents want potential buyers to have.

The company has placed about 30 caretakers in homes so far, and hopes to keep growing.

Caretakers pay a reduced monthly fee to stay in the home. In return, they move in, decorate and do needed repairs.

Some of the proceeds from monthly fees go toward cleaning up the home, but minor repairs are the responsibility of the caretaker.

So who would want to do this?

“Believe it or not, there are a lot of people out there willing to put in sweat equity for a reduced cost of living,” Shelton said. “It’s amazing, actually.”

The reduction in rental rates could be a good deal for some.

For example, the waterfront St. Petersburg home may rent for over $3,000 a month. But Arndt pays just $1,500. And he gets to use the boat dock out back.

“We got really lucky with this home,” he said.

Shelton said a home that might rent for $1,000 a month could cost a caretaker as little as $600 a month.

Magdalena Santana moved into a home in Land O’ Lakes and said she had to clean for eight days straight.

“It was worth it,” Santana said. “The house is beautiful, it’s comfortable.”

Not everyone gets to live on the water.

One house, in Ybor City, is in such bad shape that professionals need to clean it and remove carpet before someone could move in.

Even then, Shelton said, the home will likely sit on the market for a while.

“What we’re trying to do with some of these homes is just increase the chance it will sell,” he said. “We can’t force people to buy them.”

Home Caretakers International has been in business for just three months, but some in the company have used the business model for years, Shelton said.

One of the partners in the new company is Kevin Byrne, of Valencia Realty. He said his agents are thrilled to breathe life into the abandoned homes they’re trying to sell.

Keller Williams Realty agent Virginia T. Arnold has six homes she hopes will soon have caretakers.

Some, Arnold said, need a “special” person to move in.

“Someone who’s handy that’s willing to come in and fix things,” she said.

“You have some people who are talented at taking something that looks disheveled and making it look really good.”

Arndt, who thinks he’s that kind of person, said he hopes this program keeps him living in nice homes.

“I hope if this house sells they can move us to another one and we can start over.”



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