Making herself at home, over and over

  • Friday, September 5, 2014

Anita Crone/South Strand News Charity Keefer has found the perfect accessories for her Showhome on the Intracoastal.

Charity Keefer is right at home in her newest job. Make that right at home in three houses, and she’s looking for more.

She doesn’t plan to live in any of the houses – that’s for someone else.

Nor does she intend to keep them for very long. If she has her way, the less time the houses spend in her portfolio, the better.

But for the moment, each house she has under contract is distinctively hers. She’s got the contracts to prove it.

Keefer is one of the newest franchisees for Showhomes, a national company that does anything from staging vacant homes that are on the market for sale, doing makeovers to help the homes sell and even finding home managers – essentially people to live in the homes and maintain them immaculately until they sell.

Buying into the program was easy for Keefer, who grew up in rural Indiana before forsaking the Midwest for the balmier climate of South Carolina.

Her parents are entrepreneurs – her mother sells homemade noodles – and Keefer, 36, a wife and mother, has always been a shopper, a worker since the age of 5, and a salesperson.

It made her an ideal fit, she says, for Showhomes. Evidently, the company thought so too. What was supposed to be a half-hour preliminary interview lasted nearly two hours, and all that was left was signing the contracts and paying the franchise fee. Then Keefer’s work really began.

At the suggestion of the company, she got her real estate license so she “could hit the job running,” when her franchise opened in mid-July.

“I told them I needed to do that,” she said. “I was making a great living as a pharmaceutical rep – a really great living.”

But she wasn’t really happy. She had two “babies” at home, who were at the age when they were getting into sports and school activities, and Keefer was spending a lot of time and distance on the road, about 60,000 miles a year.

Her son, Noah, is 6, and her daughter, Ava, is 5.

“Plus, the pharma industry was changing,” she said. “I realized with the new rules, I wasn’t really helping the patients and the doctors weren’t able, because of the rules on what they could and could not prescribe.”

The insurance companies weren’t paying which was severely tying her hands.

Even before she found Showhomes on a Internet search, she had an inkling of where her next stop would be.

“I have some really good friends in real estate – Alysha and Kevin DeRenzo with Beach Realty in Garden City.

We had talked about updating homes, but nothing came up right away.

“Then, I got a call from Alysha. She said that they had an owner I had to meet,” Keefer recalled.

She was reluctant at first – she had just taken a new pharmaceutical job and had a new territory to cover.

But Alysha DeRenzo persisted. So despite the 11 years of selling for three different companies, it was time for a change.

“I told my husband that I wanted six months to see what else was out there,” she recalled, while sitting at a table in a staged home near the Waccamaw River.

The home, in a gated community, abuts a park at the rear and has new construction going in around it – at asking prices about $100,000 more.

“I think part of the problem is that the house was vacant – no furniture, no wall décor, no sense that someone was living here,” she said, pointing out the home’s features, such as high-end molding, a whirlpool tub in the master bedroom and a bath off each of the other three bedrooms.

She’s got another house in Conway and one in Long Bay Estates under contract.

She said that one of the things that drew her to Showhomes was that the company is expanding its business model beyond staging homes for sale.

The company now includes updating homes and plans to introduce a line of paint and carpeting in the near future.

She added some minimal furniture to the home – beds, sofas, a dining room table, books, art, candles – things that turn a house into a home. She’s looking for a home manager – a renter who will move into the home and keep it immaculate until the home sells.

People in Florida call them “ghost renters.” They are there, but the homeowner or the real estate agents never see them once they sign the contract.

They maintain the home, carry the utilities and ensure that there are no dishes – no trace that anyone is living there – except for the “smells that come with a lived-in house,” Keefer said.

She said that Showhomes services do not come cheaply, but the return is worth it.

A mini-makeover to update a home can run just under $1,000, staging is about $2,500 and ahome manager is about 0.75 to 1.5 percent of the selling price, which can be deferred until closing.

Her first task is to build a team – movers, furniture providers, such as Seaboard Bedding and Furniture, and finding home managers, the people she wants with her for the long haul.

After all, she is in the business for the long term.

She’s excited about the opportunity, and it shows. She laughs easily, walks around the home as if she owns it. And in a way, she does. Well, at least until the home sells. And then it’s on to the next challenge.

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