Hometenders: Housesitters for Homes for Sale

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John Bezik and his wife Cyndee own a home, but for now they're living in a $2.8 million, 6,500-square-foot home outside Scottsdale, Ariz., that has been on the market for more than a year.

It's not their house, but they sleep there at night. By day, they keep the pool sparkling, the plants trimmed and the interior showroom-quality immaculate in case a real estate agent wants to bring a buyer through at a moment's notice.

They decided to rent out their home and act as interim caretakers of another until the market improves. But John Bezik is not, as the saying goes, just a member, he's also the president.
In 2008, John and Cyndee opened up HomeTenders of America and managed 250 homes that first year. Their daughter, Barbara, works as the office director. John is a licensed Realtor and his wife is an interior designer. (The home they are currently staying is is pictured below.) Both their businesses were hit hard when the market began to decline, but their skills complimented each other for the home tending business.

Bad times overall make for good times in the hometending market. Dan Ortega, one of the industry's godfathers, launched Showhomes of America in 1986 during the savings and loan crisis. He sold the business in 2004 and now just owns the Atlanta franchise, but says this most recent crisis has doubled their normal business.

"We absolutely blow up when the market goes in the tank," Ortega says.

The Beziks run criminal background and credit checks on all potential tenders. Many of his tenders have gone through bankruptcy, foreclosure or divorce so a compromised credit record isn't a deal breaker. Lousy furniture, however, can be. The residents are required to supply their own furnishings, although Cyndee and her team of decorators take care of the staging. The Beziks establish that a potential tender has appropriate furniture before even running a background check.

Once the tenders move in, they are responsible for utilities, landscape and pool maintenance. Technically they're contractors, not renters, which means the company can inspect the home unannounced. If anything in the home's appearance is out of place – even an unmade bed – the tender gets one written warning. The next infraction leads to a five-day notice to clear out.

John says that staged homes sell faster than vacant ones. Similarly, occupied houses are less likely to be vandalized; insurance premiums often spike on empty houses.

The service is free to Realtors and homeowners. Bezik makes his money off monthly fees from the tenders, who pay as little as $600 for smaller homes, up to as much as $3,000 for a 10,000 square-foot, $8 million home. It's a bargain for the amount of home the tender is getting, but not without inconvenience; the Beziks have moved twice already in 2010 as the homes are sold out from under them.
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