by Michele Gillis, Staff Writer
After 25 years in business, Showcase Homes of Florida is still going strong.
Showcase Homes of Florida pioneered the home staging and management business in this area 25 years ago and owner Dennis Rust has helped manage and sell thousands of properties over this time.
Rust opened his business in Atlanta in 1987, 25 years ago, this past August. Within a year, he moved his operation to Orlando and then in 1992, brought the business to Northeast Florida. It was originally named Showplace Homes of Florida, but he had to change the name since Showplace Homes was already taken in Florida.
So, Showcase Homes of Florida was born.
What is home staging?
Home staging is the act of preparing a private residence for sale, making it as appealing as possible to secure the highest price and quickest sale. This includes furnishing and decorating unoccupied homes.
“The key thing is having the house ready,” said Rust. “Every house has problems and my goal has been to eliminate those problems and have it ready to sell. You try to eliminate the negatives and give a good first impression. All these factors play into selling a house.”
Rust provides Realtors and homeowners with these same services for free, while also placing professional home managers inside the homes to ensure they are well-maintained and kept “show-ready” at all times. Showcase Homes of Florida also takes over utilities bills including lawn, yard, pool and electric, relieving homeowners of these expenses while protecting the homes with a $1 million liability policy.
“We find a home manager and match their furniture with a home,” said Rust. “We will supplement if we have to, but we want them to have everything they need to do a house. They also need to have the financial means to run the house.”
Average cost to a home manager is about a 1/3 of the rental rate would be, which usually means around $800. Rust has 129 home managers in condominiums and homes.
The homeowner still pays the mortgage and insurance, but homeowners enjoy significant savings on their own homeowners insurance, as occupied residences cost less to insure because they are less likely to be damaged or broken into.
The home managers are independent subcontractors of Showcase Homes of Florida, who typically own their own furniture and are ready to move within 30 days’ notice of a sale. There are no leases involved.
The home managers have three crucial rules to follow: no smoking, no pets and no children. If they do any of those three things, they are out of the program.
All home managers are thoroughly vetted.
“We have a clearing house that clears them on their background, references and credit,” said Rust.
Once a home sells, the home manager can move into another home in the program. Home managers enjoy exceptional accommodations and below-market living expenses, typically thousands below comparable rental rates in the same geographic areas.
Rust looks for home managers with their own furniture, but maintains an inventory of his own to supplement as needed.
Rust said what gives him an edge over his competitors and what has helped him last 25 years in business is what he does for the homeowner.
“We are going to inspect it, clean it, do minor repairs, fix, pressure wash, mulch, put in flowers and have a luncheon,” said Rust. “All of this is free. A problem with model home services is that the inside of the home could be great, but the outside is bad. Or the outside is great and the inside is bad. So we have them working together to sell the home.”
Rust describes the business as a true “win-win” for everyone involved.
“It is a simple, straightforward business,” said Rust. “We take empty, sterile homes and make them look like model homes that buyers can envision themselves living in. Realtors and homeowners enjoy higher prices and quicker sales at no expense to them. Homeowners are relieved of expenses. And home managers enjoy reduced living expenses, great flexibility and no mortgage commitments.”
Last year, nine of their home managers even decided to purchase the homes they were managing. This year, seven have.
“They’ll use the program to see what parts of town they ultimately want to live in,” said Rust. “Every year there are 7-10 who buy the house they are in.”
While business has always been steady, the downturn in the market since 2007 has helped things further due to increased inventory and greater competition to sell.
Earlier this year, Rust expanded his team by forging an alliance with Signature Staging and Management, operated by local real estate industry veteran Sandra Panitz. Under the agreement, Signature Staging operates as a distinct brand, but one that is a division of Showcase Homes of Florida.
Rust also has his own moving company, Showcase Homes Movers.
“If a home manager moves from one home to another in the program, their moves are free,” said Rust. “We also help them (homeowners and home managers) pack, clean and take care of pressing needs, such as ‘punch-out’ items and small repairs that might help the home sell, and make it more appealing to prospective home managers.”
Rust said his business runs largely on autopilot through referrals from Realtors, homeowners and home managers. The company has 52 employees that help keep it running smoothly. The company’s primary markets are Jacksonville and Amelia Island.