Friday, March 09, 2001

Service renovates houses quickly for bigger sales

By John Eckberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Newtown resident Mary Stange had her hands full in 1998.

        Her father had recently passed away, her mother needed to move out of the family house in Hyde Park and she needed to move to Cincinnati from Columbus to oversee all the changes.

        But the biggest challenge was the house where she grew up.

[photo] James Copens oversaw renovation of this home, on Pembroke Avenue in East Hyde Park.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
| ZOOM |
        It was her mother's biggest asset, and while she would be moving into a new dwelling, the old house needed to be completely overhauled to realize its maximum value before it could be sold.

        Ms. Stange, 39, did not know how to find any local renovators who could be trusted to do what they said they were going to do, so she turned to James Copens, owner of the start-up POP Advice.

        “He supervised all the work and and showed me all the bills. He ran everything past me,” Ms. Stange said. “He set a fee ahead of time. I'll tell you, it was hassle-free.”

        Mr. Copens, a career marketing, advertising and public relations consultant in Cincinnati, is among a growing number of residential real estate specialists who have found a niche in organizing home remodeling for people looking to sell property quickly.

        His niche is not actually handling hammers, drywall and kitchen counters.

        Instead, Mr. Copens's company is a go-between: He finds renovators, determines what work needs to be done, sees that it gets done and waits for the house to be sold. The cost of his services is set at a percentage of the value of the property.

        The Home Improvement Research Institute, a nonprofit research group based in Tampa, Fla., of manufacturers, retailers, wholesalers and allied organizations in the home improvement industry, predicts that the projected value of home remodeling in 2000 was $149 billion.

    The Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University found America's housing is undergoing sweeping changes, particularly middle-class housing in need of remodeling. The center reported in 1999 that:
    • One of 10 homeowners represent half of all fix-up expenses and spend about $5,000 annually on remodeling.
    • Three of four homeowners within two years of having a child embark on a major home improvement.
    • Trade-up buyers spend three times more on home remodeling than first-time buyers, and do-it-yourselfers perform more bath upgrades than contractors hired by homeowners.
        Spending will rise to a projected $200 billion in 2004, said Lisa Gunggoll, spokeswoman for the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, an association of 5,500 members based in Des Plaines, Ill.

        Nicolas P. Retsinas, director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, said baby boomers are less likely these days to be do-it-yourselfers because they have the disposable income to hire people.

        Niche service companies such as POP Advice are particularly appealing to baby boomer homebuyers because it is a pain-free way to get work done.

        “More and more people are going to be looking for professional contractors to both organize and do the work,” he said.

        Mr. Copens, who plans on acting as a consultant on five to 10 homes annually, said the demographics of an aging America will mean more and more opportunities for remodeling managers in the years to come.

        “It's a demographic thing: there is a significant number of people who are ready to get out of their traditional home who will be looking to get into condominiums, assisted-care facilities and ranches,” he said.

        “They have property that is distressed or has not been updated in 20 or 30 years but has been maintained well with good mechanics.”

        When work was started on the Stange house in Hyde Park, the property was valued at about $80,000.

        After 10 weeks and $20,000 spent on materials and labor to update the kitchen, repaint everything and put in a new bathroom, the property was put on the block for $139,900.

        Within a day, Ms. Stange had eight offers above the asking price. The house sold for $146,500.

        “What I do is provide a "no excuses' house,” said Mr. Copens. “When people look at a house and see the kitchen has not been updated, there is anxiety. They worry about getting appliances, cabinets, who will do the work.

        “I want to make sure at the selling phase that there are no excuses. I want people to think they can buy the house, walk in, hang up their coats and plug in the television.”

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