Show to Sell finds temporary occupants for homes
Published 12:40 pm, Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Debra Grant is like the Millionaire Matchmaker. She keeps an inventory of eligible bachelors, makes sure they live well, and intends to improve their home lives.
But this isn't TV, and she isn't looking for a love connection. Grant's reality is matching marketable gold coast homes to well qualified suitors, and she's a pioneer in the industry.
"We're headhunters for homes and people," Grant said of her Westport business, Show to Sell. "We put people and places together, and the end result is we get houses sold."
Grant founded the business in 1986 as a response to the increasingly long time it takes to sell vacant houses, she said. Show to Sell contracts home managers in Fairfield and Westchester counties, who pay a negotiable fee -- typically 60- to 80 percent less than the average rent for a comparable property -- to live in, furnish and take care of a house for sale. The service is free to the broker and owner.
Grant said she accepts "all walks of life" -- families, doctors, policemen, relocating businesspeople -- but she calls one demographic her "greatest success":
"We've had a very, very good record with our divorced men," she said. "We educate them on how they need to live."
Show to Sell home manager George Knapp, a Fairfield builder, was looking for a place to live close to his family after separating from his wife. He called Show to Sell at the suggestion of a friend, and discovered he was a perfect match. After completing the company's seven-page application and contract, and acing Grant's extensive interview process, Knapp moved in to a three bedroom, two bathroom ranch on Westport's Lehn Farm Road.
So far, he's impressed with the program.
"It's better than I expected," Knapp, 41, said of life as a Show to Sell home manager. "It's not for everybody."
Knapp is expected to keep the residence in immaculate condition and ready for showings from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week. In a way, Show to Sell's home managers are props who add to the saleability of a property. They're expected to make a house look livable, if not lived-in. Knapp said the program isn't too intrusive, but he's changed his habits a bit since moving into the house, which is listed at $649,000.
"I always have that at the back of my mind," Knapp said. "I always make sure I make the bed, try not to leave dishes in the sink. At my house, I would never make my bed, never or very seldom do dishes."
Grant said Show to Sell's house management program is just as thriving now as it was during the market boom of the 80s, particularly as homes stay on the market longer due to foreclosure and a large inventory. Last year, the company handled 105 houses -- although not all at once -- and Grant said the hot spot is still Westport.
"Everyone wants to live in Westport. Even in a depressed market, Westport sells," she said.
Kim Elstein has been a Show to Sell home manager for years. She's lived in five or six houses and moved eight times throughout Fairfield County, and in May, moved into a $2.9 million house in Westport's Saugatuck Shores neighborhood. Elstein said she couldn't be happier.
"I hope to be there a long time, but that's not the point," she said. "If I move, with every time I move, it's always fun in some way, even if it's a lot of work. It's always a new experience and this move was definitely my best yet."
The packing and unpacking and moving can be a headache if the house sells quickly, but Elstein is used to it.
"Moving in and moving out is very stressful. If you take a long time, your whole life could be packing and unpacking," she said. "The market has been so crazy that I don't know if I'll be in there for a month or a year, you never know. I do think it's a tough price range in this market right now."
Elstein, who loves treating her home "like it's a hotel," said living in a Show to Sell home is an investment which pays out after about four months. A home manager must supply furnishings -- although some is available for rent through the company's stagers -- and be ready to move out with a month's notice. This time around, Elstein said she's invested about $3,000 in furnishing the house, which otherwise might be considered a tear-down-and-rebuild property. She changed the curtains, bought new carpets, and decorated the 3,000-square-foot, 1963 waterfront home using items from her Stamford-based modern furniture business, 33 Now.
"The whole point is to let people have a different option that they might not have been able to see -- your eyes see the beauty of a 1960s house," she said of the four-bedroom, 11 room raised ranch.
Elstein said living in different Fairfield County neighborhoods is one of Show to Sell's biggest draws.
"I wanted to be back in Westport, and Saugatuck Shores is such a nice community. They're so friendly, everyone sort of knows each other; it's a great area," she said. "When you're a visitor, you don't really know what it's like to be in a community, to live there. I lived in Greenfield Hill (in Fairfield), I know what it's like to live there. I learn about all the different neighborhoods. I wanted to live in Greenwich until I lived there; now I really want to live in Westport. You learn about a town in a way that you never would have otherwise had the opportunity to do."
Her house may not be her home, but it's enough for now.
"I feel like it's my home. I treat it like it's my home," Elstein said. "I like the adventure of being in new cities, towns, meeting new people. If it gets too intrusive, I will stop."
Prospective home managers, brokers and sellers may contact Show to Sell at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 203-221-0228 for more information.