The Rise of the Unsightly Home

Your listing is less than perfect, and it’s going to take a miracle to sell. Learn about the market for “ugly” homes.

For every perfectly staged home that beckons buyers, there is a growing number of lemons—and one day you might have to sell one of them.  From gaping holes in the wall and missing appliances to overgrown yards, the housing inventory is getting uglier, some buyers say, as the tally of abandoned homes and foreclosures swells. The longer homes sit vacant, the more they can deteriorate. And there might not be a budget to spruce up an abused property. Before you accept defeat, read up on how some in the industry are confronting the “ugly.”

Hire a sitter. House-sitters can keep a for-sale home ready to show and serve as a deterrent to would-be vandals. Home Caretakers International, based in Tampa, Fla., offers a service to move “caretakers” into vacant properties. Available homes span a vast price range, from $15,000 to $2.5 million. The service is free to real estate professionals or home owners; the company makes money through a fee caretakers pay to live in the home. Home Caretakers inspects properties and handles minor repairs and problems.

“If you walk into a home that smells and looks terrible—the pool is green, the yard hasn’t been cut in months—people’s perceived value of that home is less than if it looks and smells good,” says Mike Shelton, director of operations of Home Caretakers International. “Caretakers are responsible for keeping the property clean and to be away for showings.

Sell as-is. Some investors are excited by phrases like “fixer-upper” or “handyman special.” One company, HomeVestors of America Inc., boldly advertises “We buy ugly houses.” The company, which has franchises in 33 states, works with real estate professionals in most of its purchases. Franchisees renovate and then sell or rent out their purchases; rentals represent the company’s biggest growth area.  While the company buys some REOs, it buys mostly from home owners, not banks. “We believe we are partners with [real estate professionals],” says David Hicks, co-president of Dallas-based HomeVestors. “We work together to help raise the values in a neighborhood by getting vacant homes off the market.”

Be honest. Harry Ackley, a sales associate with Coldwell Banker Weir Manuel Real Estate in Plymouth, Mich., wishes more agents would tell it like it is. “It’s a pet peeve when you go out to look at a house and the listing ad doesn’t say anything about the furnace being gone or the toilets being missing,” Ackley says. “If people want a house like that, they’ll come.”

Several years back, Ackley provided the straight facts on a real dog—a 704-square-foot home built in 1941 that was outdated and in poor condition. In the listing’s public remarks section—with the seller’s permission—Ackley wrote: “The bottom of the barrel! I have avoided listing this one as long as possible, since it will take a miracle to sell. Sure, it has two bedrooms, one bathroom, and an oversized lot in a desirable Plymouth neighborhood. But beyond this, there’s nothing else that’s positive.”

The property sold within 17 days for $112,500, only $7,000 less than the asking price. Ackley says his phone rang off the hook from real estate professionals wishing they could be so frank about their listings. This proves that telling the ugly truth can pay off.



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.”



Luxury Fixer-Uppers for Cheap


Luxury Fixer-Uppers for Cheap, But You Can’t Stay

Daily Real Estate News | Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Home Caretakers International is a Tampa, Fla.-based firm that finds caretakers willing to rent foreclosed properties at a reduced rate.   These caretakers make minor repairs, mow the lawn, and do some deep cleaning so that the home can eventually be sold.   [. . .] a portion of the monthly fees covers cleaning costs.   However, caretakers must cough up the money for any minor repairs.   "Believe it or not, there are a lot of people out there willing to put in sweat equity for a reduced cost of living," says Michael Shelton, the company's marketing director.   He says caretakers pay about $600 per month for a home that would rent for $1,000, and one couple is spending $1,500 to live in a waterfront home in St. Petersburg that would rent for more than $3,000.




Furnished Houses Sell

Furnished houses sell far better than unfurnished ones.  But the truth is, in today’s market, a large percentage of the homes being offered for sale are vacant.  Why?  One of the reasons might be because the burden of upkeep may have simply been too much for the homeowner to bear.  When an unoccupied home is for-sale the challenges associated with actually selling the property begin to mount as time passes.  The condition of the lawn and general landscape begin a rapid deterioration once regular maintenance has stopped.  If the electric has been turned off, the air inside the home is no longer being conditioned.

Once that happens, all sorts of deterioration can occur; mold, pests, warping of cabinets, etc.  In addition, an unoccupied home invites theft, vandalism and squatters.  If there were a way to have their home furnished and cared for at no charge, would that not be an ideal way to get their home sold?

 Companies like Home Caretakers International are in a perfect position to do just that. By finding qualified and screened caretakers to care for and furnish a home helps the homeowner, real estate agent and helps the entire market work through the overstock of inventory.  The biggest challenge is finding a reputable company that can screen the caretaker and their furniture.  Home Caretakers International can do just that.