- The Washington Times - Friday, February 26, 2010

They are the picture of perfection. With their tailored window treatments, gleaming floors, strategically placed furniture and trendy designer accents, there’s not so much as a rug out of place. Model homes present a palette of ideas to tempt would-be homebuyers into making a purchase.

As the spring buying season kicks into full gear, builders are putting their best foot forward with their model homes. The National Association of Home Builders said its Housing Market Index rose two points this month, a sign that federal tax credits and lower interest rates are boosting the demand for new homes.

Folks tour model homes for various reasons. Some are in the market for a new home, while others are lured by the welcome sign and stop in to check out the latest design trends.

Anslie Stokes, a Realtor with McEnearney Associates in the District, says if people are in the market to buy a new home, they can’t always envision the home on paper, so they like to see it and feel it.

Others come to view the decorating and architecture for ideas to apply in their own home, while still others are just interested in seeing the latest trends incorporated into a home, she says.

A lot of thought goes into creating a builder’s model. Industry experts say that before deciding which model to highlight, builders research the population to determine which type of home is most in demand in a particular area, then decide what the square-footage range should be as well as what features are most popular.

“Good model homes are design magazines come to life,” says Holly Polgreen, president and co-founder of Carlyn and Co., an interior design firm in Great Falls, Va. The bulk of her company’s work is with builders and developers; her client list includes Bozutto Homes, K. Hovnanian and Goodier Builders.

“Let’s face it, most people don’t have every room of their home designed to the nines or have each room flow seamlessly from one room to the next,” Ms. Polgreen says. “We all have ‘stuff,’ including hand-me-down furniture like mom’s antique sofa, and model homes are the manifestation of how we want to live, our fantasy come to life.”

With a model home, it’s important to give extra attention to traffic flow and focal points. Ms. Polgreen says the job for merchandisers and designers such as herself is to help builders sell their homes and to make the experience of touring the model a memorable one. Memorable the models are, too. With oversized rooms to accommodate just about any hobby, state-of-the-art home theaters, luxury bathrooms that rival a spa, and gourmet kitchens that appeal to the senses with freshly baked cookies on the island, model homes are meant to tempt.

“When you design a model, you are trying to appeal to a large demographic,” says Rebecca Taylor of Model Home Interiors, headquartered in Elkridge, Md. She has done work for Bozutto Homes, Stanley Martin and Mid-Atlantic Builders. She says “memory points” such as themed children’s rooms with murals and over-the-top lower levels are ways to connect with homebuyers and help them envision how they would live in the space.

Designers say that although there isn’t a huge difference when decorating for a builder’s model vs. decorating for someone who will be living in the home, most model homes are geared toward aesthetics and not always functionality.

“Decorators may choose pretty window treatments over the more practical privacy shades in order to please the eye,” Ms. Stokes says.

She adds that customers also will have to factor in their budget, which may not be big enough to include the items provided in a model, which is intended to highlight the builder’s best product.

Experts remind buyers that while model homes are appealing, there are some tricks of the trade builders employ to get that perfect look, from the practical to the not so practical. Realtors say many models don’t have interior doors, so you don’t notice how much space is taken up when the door swings open; they often use larger, 42-inch-wide stairs instead of the standard 39-inch stairs; and they hang drapery and shower curtains high on the wall to add height to the room.

Though new construction has slowed, designers say the need for good models is stronger than ever.

“It is still a major marketing tool for home builders,” Ms. Polgreen says.

“In a slow economy is when [builders] should be using models to attract interest to their communities,” adds Ms. Taylor. She also says that instead of having fully furnished models, many builders are choosing to “vignette” the house instead, furnishing just a few rooms and accessorizing lightly.

Resale homes can benefit from the same enticing design as models, and this is where professional home staging comes into play. While real estate agents are experts in selling homes, most are not necessarily design savvy.

Stacy Springer, owner of Springer Staging and Consulting in Silver Spring, Md., says one of the advantages to hiring a professional home stager is that stager helps the seller showcase the house’s strengths so it is buyer ready.

“A home stager will declutter and rearrange or add furniture and accessories to open up the floor space and accent the home’s features,” Ms. Springer says. “You are selling a lifestyle.”

Ms. Springer likes to create settings in each room that achieve the model-home look and feel when she stages homes. She adds that buyers don’t need to see personal items such as family photos, toiletries or toys.

“This will overwhelm them. The mental picture that buyers are left with is of the seller’s things as opposed to the features of the home like granite countertops, hardwood floors or the sunroom,” she says.

She says decluttering is the most important thing to do before showing off your home. For vacant homes, she says buyers should add coordinated furniture pieces with accessories such as lamps, vases, tableware and throws to make the home more welcoming.

Designers suggest some other simple ideas to make your home model-perfect, including adding a fresh coat of paint.

Ms. Polgreen says, “Concentrate on that first impression. Look to see what the sightlines are from the front door. Are you facing a blank wall or a row of doors? Create an inviting focal point in the foyer using rugs, artwork and lighting.”

She also suggests using mirrors to open a space and add light. Mirrors “also create energy in an empty room. Model-home designers love them,” Ms. Polgreen says.

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