- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 8, 2005

It can be the best member of a builder’s sales force, and it’s not even a person. It’s the model home. Although it may look innocent enough at first glance, a home builder’s polished model employs a number of tricks and treats to entice home buyers. Folks seem to clamor for a model home, but some of those responsible for the idealized look of a model home say the decor in a model isn’t always the most comfortable or practical choice for most buyers.

Proudly showcasing their models as examples of their construction prowess, builders install souped-up features like dramatic columned foyers, granite counters and lavishly decorated rooms.

Professionals say that most customers are known to buy or long for what they see, not what could be. This is why a large part of a home builder’s budget goes toward the model home filled with upgrade opportunities for buyers.

“A lot of thought goes into planning for the model home,” says John Monacci, vice president of operations for Winchester Homes Inc.

“We research the population to determine which model to highlight, what the square footage range should be and what features are popular,” he says.

Builders say that in addition to the features and furnishings, model homes also suggest choices for the prospective buyer. The opportunity to personalize a home gets a buyer emotionally involved in the process.

“Expansive built-ins, restaurant-grade ranges and bumped-out rooms are some of the features that models typically have. If a buyer can afford it and wants that luxury feature they see in the models, then they will usually buy it,” says Karen Karzen-Raybuck, a real estate agent with Century 21 in Alexandria.

“Gourmet kitchen and lavish baths are especially popular with buyers who look at our model homes,” says Mr. Monacci.

It’s those eye-pleasing upgrades and other extras that keep buyers flocking to models.

Interior designers are sought by builders to help turn a basic home into a palate of trendy ideas that is displayed in the models.

June Shea, owner of Shea Studio Interiors in Springfield, says there’s a difference when staging a home for display and decorating for a person’s house.

“A model home involves decorating someone’s idealized version of what a home should look like, but it’s not where people live,” she says.

While models often are decorated for perfection, industry experts say a closer look reveals that some features in model homes aren’t practical and that some features aren’t always offered by the builder.

“Many models get rid of doors so that you don’t know what the swing is,” says Ms. Karzen-Raybuck, who adds that it’s not uncommon for a model-home builder to remove the stair railing and use 42-inch stairs instead of 39-inch steps to make the stairway seem wider.

“Models have a limited amount of furniture,” says Ms. Karzen-Raybuck.

She says that larger pieces are not often used and that the kitchen table especially is usually smaller. In model homes, she says, “the chairs are always pushed in,” and the bar stools are generally 24-inches instead of the common 30-inch height, “so they can fit underneath the island.”

When touring models and considering a purchase, experts say to make sure that the features you especially like are offered in the home you plan to buy.

That quadruple crown molding, 9-foot ceiling in the basement and lush landscaping may look great in the model home, but it might not be an option the builder offers.

Higher ceilings give the appearance of more space, which is why most models feature two-story ceilings in the foyer and family room, real estate professionals say.

Other model home strategies include mounting the draperies near the ceiling to make the windows look taller and camouflaging unsightly outlets and switches with wallpaper, plants and strategically placed accessories.

Furniture placement is also important in a model home, says Ms. Shea.

“People have an easier time envisioning what a home would look like if it is already decorated with furniture,” she says.

Interior designers say that one important aspect of the model home is the absence of clutter.

So you want that model-home look?

Ms. Shea advises her clients to use baskets for easy storage of papers and toys. “Coffee tables with baskets and storage ottomans are good to have because when your mother-in-law makes a surprise visit you have someplace to easily store everything.”

“Models also use textiles that are more appealing,” says Ms. Karzen-Raybuck. Other features she mentions: a “ceramic surround in a luxury bath and eye-catching monochromatic paint colors throughout the rooms.”

Gloria Hill of Interiors by Decorating Den says most people are very impressed with the way model homes are decorated, and folks can use some of the model home tricks to make their own home more appealing for resale.

“For example, have appropriate furnishings for the space, great color and good arrangement layout,” she says.

Ms. Hill says planning is important. Often people let their excitement to decorate get the best of them and they purchase must-have pieces of furniture without ever considering the space these items go in.

Ms. Karzen-Raybuck says she advises sellers to borrow a technique from builders’ models — keep a lot of lights on when prospective buyers come to look at the home because it helps show off the house better.

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