Show Summary

Join me for a fascinating interview with Jana Uselton, CEO of Model My Home, the largest Home Staging company in America. Jana shares interesting stats on why you should stage homes you’re selling, and gives us a deep dive into the business she’s built from the ground up. It’s a lesson for small business owners from all industries, and a show you must see!

Highlights of this show

  • Interesting facts on how staged homes sell for more.
  • Learn how entrepreneur Jana Uselton built Model My Home from an idea to the largest home staging company in America.
  • Discuss lessons on how to grow your business from a ‘doing it all’ to a business that runs without you.

Resources and Links from this show:

Listen to the Audio Version of this Episode

FlipNerd Show Transcript:

Mike: Welcome to the FlipNerd.com Podcast. This is your host, Mike Hambright and on this show, I will introduce you to VIP’s in the real estate investment industry as well as other interesting entrepreneurs whose stories and experiences can help you take your business to the next level. We have three new shows each week, which are available in the iTunes store or by visiting FlipNerd.com. So without further ado, let’s get started.
Welcome to today’s FlipNerd VIP show. Today I have with me Jana Uselton, who is the founder and CEO of Model My Home. She is an industry representative and speaks a lot on a number of topics and training to home staging and things like that and before we get into our interview today, I’d like to take a moment to recognize our sponsors.
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So Jana, welcome to the show.

Jana: Well, thank you for having me.

Mike: Good morning. Good. Well I know you a little bit because you operate primarily in the Dallas-Fort Worth market and I know you do a lot of things nationally as well. So a lot of folks are starting to get to know you that don’t know you already. Today I want to exacerbate that a little bit. Tell us a little bit about you. Let’s talk about you. First, let’s talk about you and then we’ll talk a little about Model My Home.

Jana: Okay. Very good. Well, we’re here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. I have a great husband, two boys that keep us busy with sports. I worked for Texas Instruments for almost ten years. I took real estate and design in college. Ended up going into corporate America. We had a vacant property that would not sell in one of the suburbs, The Colony here and we tried and tried to sell this home without any offers. Had a local real estate agent let us know about staging. I’d asked what if I’d bring some things back into this home and he said, you mean staging. Well, this was in early 2000 before HGTV. We brought some things back in and had two offers immediately and that was the only variable that changed. We took this vacant, naked home and gave it a little bit of personality and people responded.

Mike: Yeah. That’s great. It’s a real interesting topic because as a veteran real estate who sells a lot of houses and mentors people, I get asked all the time what do you think about staging. Do you stage your homes and I don’t stage everything. In fact, we do stage almost everything to some level. Some of it we just do some real minor things ourselves and then some of it we hire a company out, but it’s always an interesting question, because most people either do it all the time or they don’t do it at all.

Jana: Absolutely. I mean they have to get it and especially when this is a business for people. It’s all about putting your best foot forward.

Mike: Yeah and I think that’s one of the challenges too is investors. Investors tend to be very thrifty and they need to see that cost benefit and they don’t. They know that if it was free they would do it all the time. The question is it worth the investment is my guess. That was the birth of Model My Home or is that was just the beginnings of you do some things for your own properties?

Jana: Yeah, it was the birth of Model My Home. I immediately sought out training and started a DBEA and the rest is history. We’re now the largest home staging company in the country. We staged almost 700 homes in 2013 and that was actually hands on staging. We helped several hundred others just with consultations and that type of thing, but it’s been an amazing journey.

Then we have stagers that are actually servicing these homes. We have several projects going on right now as we speak. It’s always about going to the next level. I mean you as a business owner have to figure out who your key people are. We’ve had to do that. We’ve had to go back to the drawing board. We have just staged thousands and thousands over the years and we have the statistics. We know the proof is there.
Of course, with 2013 we had kind of a crazy market here in our Dallas- Fort Worth and people thought let’s just wait and see. We really don’t need to stage, but we were showing that we were having homes that were selling 20, $30,000 over and of course, we had appraisal issues in some of those homes, but many of them went ahead. They raised that property value and people literally for a 1000, $1500 investment were able to make an extra $20,000. It was amazing.

Mike: That’s incredible. So tell us a little bit about how your company is set up. I know you do a lot of houses and I know that you’re not doing it all yourself. So tell us a little bit about how your company is organized.

Jana: Well, you know as a business owner and I know many people listening are business owners, it was almost my goal to phase three out of my company. Phase one it’s like this scenario of the cake maker and oh, what’s the book? Goodness, goodness. I’m sorry. I’m having a blank here, but it was the scenario of the doing. You’re always doing everything. If your phase one you’re little the marketing person. You are binding homes if you’re an investor. You’re probably doing some of the projects. “E-Myth Revisited,” that’s the book.

Mike: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Jana: Yes. Michael Gerber.

Mike: He’s right behind me actually, so.

Jana: Yeah. She’s making all the cakes and she’s so frustrated. As a business owner you find yourself getting into that situation and that’s when you need to phase two. Phase two means, now you’re managing. You have people on staff and there out actually doing the technical work. So that’s kind of where we are in Model My Home. We have 20 stagers and reps that are out solidifying relationships with investors and real estate agents.
Our business model is for not only to have people doing also has to managers in place and then my goal is to be phase three, where literally the business runs without me. That’s kind of how we’re set up within Model My Home and it’s totally different. We’re trailblazers within the staging business. For many people it’s a hobby. For us it’s a true business and we just want to help as many people as possible.

Mike: That’s awesome. Hey, I think pretty much every body listening to this show is trying to get from either stage one to two or stage two to three.

Jana: Absolutely.

Mike: It’s very fitting I mean in all honesty I have in HomeVestors speak I’m what we call a high blue. So I’m always innovating. I’m always thinking of something new to do, which drives my wife nuts sometimes, but there’s no doubt it’s hard to get to where the business runs without you. Actually, my core business of buying and selling houses is that closest thing to that. It’s the business I’ve been doing the longest, but other things that I do I can’t seem to get myself out of the mix. In some instances, I’m kind of the guy so it’s hard for me to get out of the mix. I think in those instances it’s just really important to do something that you love. Right?

Jana: Absolutely. If you have that passion, it will keep you going.

Mike: Yeah. Yeah. So inside of your…you have a number of employees that are out setting up homes, probably deciding what they’re going to do from a design standpoint. Are they also sales people? Are they the ones that are finding new businesses and finding repeat customers and things like that?

Jana: That’s a good question. We let them choose. For many people we have teachers on our staff. We have moms that have kids that want to pick up kids at 3:00, 3:30. So we let them choose. We make this work for them. Whenever we bring people on our team they fill out a business blueprint.
They decide what they want to make for that year and then we can structure their position based on making it fit for them and making sure we have the people and the best is key. If they feel like they don’t want to be a salesperson, we help them overcome and say really you’re an expert advisor. You are an educator.
You’re not a used car salesman so we help with the soft skills and the training if they do want to go out and teach and train and secure relationships and make a little bit of commission when they do bring in jobs. That’s how we’re set up on the inside.

Mike: That’s great. That was interesting that I didn’t know that. So you primarily have, is it mothers that this is a second job or a job in addition to their family or things like that? Is that primarily who your representatives are?

Jana: I would say so. A lot of people do this part-time. We have probably half our team are full-time, but they do still, they don’t work on the weekends. They’re done by 4:00 and because we have such a good strong team that work well together. They’re efficient. They can get in and get out. At times, it’s many in this business so we just make it work for them.

Mike: That’s awesome. That’s awesome. I’m always fascinated to learn about new business models. So in your model do you have some sort of central hub where you have all of the materials, furniture, and decorations and things like that?

Jana: Yes, we do.

Mike: Or do they just come to a central hub and pick that up?

Jana: We do. We have a 6000 square foot warehouse here in the Dallas- Fort Worth area right in Addison and then we have our trucks that actually deliver furniture if we’re doing a vacant home. They deliver furniture, the stagers show up and make it pretty within a few hours. We do have systems, processes in place to make that happen.
We’ll have monthly meetings here, but most people work out of their homes or they’re out marketing and we just have…the difference between us and a lot of stagers is that we own our own inventory. So we keep about a 130 active homes staged at any given time and then our warehouse is for new jobs that come in. We do a lot of destages and we’ll move that to a new stage that has the same specs and same price point and then we’ll tweak that. So we really have a system.

Mike: Tell us a little bit about your plans. I know you plan to expand. Can you talk a little bit about, I suspect when you go into a new market, you have to have a newer house, new inventory, things like that so that’s probably the big investment. Then of course finding the people as well, but if you go into, you pretty much have to pick, you can’t really grow slowly. You’re going to have to double if you go to a new market. You’re going to have buy all new furniture, not that you’ll double, but it’s a significant investment to go into a new market I guess.

Jana: It is. It’s a significant investment to do vacant properties because our average price point maybe $1350 for a vacant and so we’re maybe putting 7 to $8000 worth of furniture and inventory into that house. So you can do the math on that to your cost alone to of course labor and everything. So it is a very it’s going to have a whole lot of stagers that have their own inventory that we have decided to do.
So when we decide to go into new markets right now I’m doing like you teaching, coaching, training, and developing an industry association to help other people grow their business and we’ll see what the future holds for us, but there is a significant cost into opening a staging business and all the labor and materials. It’s like moving 700 times in a house and out of a home like we did. So you can imagine all the missing or the pieces that have to go on to make that happen.

Mike: Right. Right. I don’t actually know this number. I’ve said this number before, but in hindsight I’m not sure that I knew what I was saying. Do you about how many houses are actively listed at any time in the North Texas area?

Jana: You can go to NTREIS, N-T-R-E-I-S, and it will show you monthly reports and so that is usually 25 to 35,000 active homes on the market any given time. That will also tell you days on market and this year we sat at about 65, usually we’re at 70, 80. We really need to as stagers who know these numbers so that we can build our statistics.
Just like 50 percent of our homes have accepted offers within two weeks and 90 percent within 45 days. You can imagine if 90 percent of your homes were under contract within 45 days that’s huge and that’s really all different price points that we service. Most of our homes are selling at least at 99 percent of that list price. Many like I said, this year sold over and above 106 percent was close to the average.

Mike: Wow. And my point there in the number listings is you have tremendous growth opportunities still in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Jana: Oh, yes. Absolutely. We’re not scratching the scratch, which is to say, if you talk about our market share it is very low. We were up against a lot of self-stagers and agents that don’t really focus on listing a home, but they’re focused on staging it as well and it’s like your time value of money is here is a little off.

Mike: Yeah, yeah. How do you find new customers? Is it I’m sure there’s a little bit of everything, but do you actively or you try to tap into, I assume you’re going mostly through the realtor community or broker community to try to network that way?

Jana: Real estate agents are key. We do a lot of educational marketing. We’ll go in and do NC classes at Teach and Tours events because I would rather talk to a room of 20 or 30 my key clients, my dream team than one on one. Now I will do one on one and we teach this within our model for those agents that you really believe in. They are a dream team or however, we do a lot of that educational market and that marketing will allow us to select.
We want to select people that we work with who are at a point of that in our business. So anything that we can do to solidify that relationship through education is usually key and showing them statistics, showing them before and after pictures, showing them the difference that it makes.

Mike: Do you pay any sort of referral fees? Do you get business that way or do you just try to educate and advise people through relationships or yeah?

Jana: Yeah that is something we’re looking at in 2014. We are aligning ourselves with key partners within the real estate industry that we can help grow each other’s businesses. We’re all working with the same clients. So why not refer the best of the best, the cream of the crop and so that we can, when a client, say that it’s an investor and they surround themselves with experts they are going to have the best product and it’s going to sell quickly for top dollar.
So it’s not about teaching them how to do things. It’s about letting them be the expert in their area and then surrounding themselves with key people. So referral fees have been here and there, but most of the time it’s just a good recommendation. As a client I’m going to, if you’re going to ask me who the best moving company is, who the best painter is, I’m going to give you that information because we have tested and tried those people as well. Our years of experience have a great vendor list that we can help people surround themselves with experts.

Mike: That’s great. That’s great. Do you know what percentage of your business just roughly speaking is investors verses just one off home seller.

Jana: Absolutely. I had to fill this out for my business coach last night. We definitely look at all of these…

Mike: So the coach has a coach, to clarify. Is that right?

Jana: Oh, absolutely, right. Always.

Mike: Is that funny? I mean everybody has, I have, I mentor a bunch of people and every once and a while I let it slip out that I have a mentor too. I have mentors too.

Jana: Hey, Tiger Woods has a coach right? Dirk has a coach. If you want to be the best of the best you can never get in a situation where you feel like you’ve arrived. We’re always learning and growing. To answer your question with our business really in 2012 and 13, we do about 60 percent of our business comes from investors, which is interesting, but they get it. The ones that we work with they usually have a property a month.
We work with HomeVestors, we work with several franchise owners and they wouldn’t call anyone else because they know it works. It’s a system they can budget, just like they budget for flooring and the key things that need to happen. They set aside money and they say this is my icing on the cake. At the end of the day, I can’t just sell a naked vacant home. I have to have, we’re an emotional industry and the buyers have to connect. They understand the importance of it and that we’re a visual industry. We’ve got a get that home sold.

Mike: Yeah. I suspect from a business standpoint or relationship standpoint it’s a lot easier to work with investors too because of the repeat business. I mean if you’re working with the one off folks, either they or the agent that likes you has to convince the next person every single time they need your services. So yeah.

Jana: Exactly.

Mike: Yeah. I won’t quote this right, but there’s a quote about the best customer is a customer that you already have something along those lines of selling them more and providing good service obviously to make sure you get more sales. Yeah, that’s great.
Tell us a little bit about I know you’re involved with some associations. Can you tell us a little bit about some of the other things you do from speaking and some of the associations you’re involved with?

Jana: Absolutely. With speaking for me I enjoy doing that. I can speak about staging and our experiences all day long. If I feel like I’m adding value to someone and if there’s some key nugget I can say to help them see something differently or implement a new process I’m all about it. We speak, I don’t know if you know Mike Reese and Jay Kinder, they have NAEA. National Association of Expert Advisors and it is like NAR where it’s apples and oranges in the fact that they go in and they teach and coach and have programs.
They have national events that we’re involved with them very heavily. We get to speak to 800 agents at a time. Then we’re also involved with Infusionsoft. We are a vertical partner with them in the home staging industry. So love that relationship. We speak at REI and Investor Expos. We also do events here in the local Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Then as I mentioned we have started HSRA, Home Staging and Redesign Association. We’re founders of that association in 2013 and we did three large national events plus six other events throughout the country. In 2014 we’re planning another eight events plus our big summit. It’s about taking the message and just showing people maybe something they don’t know.
Then also me always learning and growing through Brian Tracy, Dan Kennedy, Jim Rhone, all of those key people that can pour into my life plus our business coaches, I actually have two. I don’t know what I don’t know. I always want to be a step ahead or at least a couple of steps ahead of my team on business plus if there’s anything I can say to people to help them right decisions I’m going to help do that.

Mike: It’s easy go get kind of complacent in your personal growth to where you may be at, a lot of people may view you as at the top of your game, but if you view yourself that way then you’re not going to grow anymore. It’s tough because in the real estate investors space we’ve had a good level of success and it’s easy to start to set the bar too low for yourself. To say that I’m already big or whatever, but you know…

Jana: I’ve already arrived.

Mike: Right. Right. So yeah. I’d like to learn a little bit more about the National Association of Expert Advisors. Is that and I’m just not familiar with it yet. Is that inside of the real estate or is it…

Jana: It is for the home staging industry and redesign people a home that’s ten years or older usually needs to be have some redecorating, redesign, maybe they’re not moving, but they need a new kitchen remodeled. There’s a lot of people within the home staging industry or the design industry that those kind of partnered together. We have created this industry for them to give them the resources they need to grow their business. As I mentioned a phase one, phase two, or phase three.
That’s how we set the association up. You can identify yourself as a phase one. I’m just beginning in this industry. So you need different resources than someone that’s at a phase three. So the checklist, the how to, the one on one type resources, we make available to these home stagers and re-designers. It’s a monthly continuity very low $49 a month. They have accesses to resources.
A phase two that starting to grow and build their team and they’re stepping more into management position they have different problems and pinpoints. So we have resources to identify with them. Then at phase three, they’re on metrics and profitability and their exit strategy. So we have different resources for them as well. That’s kind of how we set up the association and it’s really worked well.

Mike: Yeah. Now, for the folks that you have working for you that they’re involved do you have any people that did this on their own before and it’s just a lot easier to work with you. I know some other stagers and they tend to be women that love HGTV. They really have some design acumen for sure. In my experience, some of them that I’ve used, the business seams a little questionable as to how they make money doing it, but it’s the passion and the love to do it that seems to make sense.
You’re model seems really awesome in terms of taking care of that whole business side of it and allowing people just to do something they enjoy. I’m not saying that folks that are working for you are making less money or underpaid or anything like that, but back to the love what you’re doing for some folks I’m sure that this may be just as much as of a hobby as it is a way to make money.

Jana: Absolutely. Absolutely. We do all we can to teach and train and coach them and provide here at the office the staff to be able that they’re not just a phase one. That they’re able to take care of the paper work and contracts and all of those things that we’ve had people that have been in the staging industry join our team because of the overhead.
They were burned out and so they would rather surround themselves with experts at their taking a trip to Colorado and they get a call from an agent that has a staging job, well they still can make money while they’re in Colorado and then we’ve got a team here to facilitate that job.

Mike: Yeah and I will say with folks that I’ve used in the past. It’s been an issue I’ve had. They’ve had to plan their work around their…I’ve had to plan staging around their personal lives. I get it, but it’s from a business standpoint that’s probably not ideal. Awesome. Well, so I understand your husband’s a chiropractor. Is that right?

Jana: He is. He is a chiropractor.

Mike: So you always say awesome in front of my husband I don’t think my wife says that, I’m going to have to work on that a little bit.

Jana: Well, he is. He’s a great inspiration and we’re real involved in ministry. So working with youth and really pouring in. Maybe that’s where I get my teaching and coaching. I just love to help people and so he has that same heart and we love to travel and he has business coaches and I love taking even other industry and seeing what they’re doing. How are they marketing?
That’s a whole Dan Kennedy experience in itself, but what does his business coach telling him that he needs to do and how can I take that and adapt it and implement it in our industry and our business. He’s just a good wealth of knowledge for me and I really appreciate him.

Mike: That’s great. So is he involved in your business at all?

Jana: No. In the early years when I set up we got a destage that they forgot to call us and they were closing tomorrow and we had to go destages this house. You can imagine being in that position. Early years he would come home and say where’s the tree, where’s the picture on the wall, what’s in the house? He’s been involved in some aspect of early years that he has business and we’re trying to get to phase three.

Mike: Great. Great. You’re speaking at this point it’s just coming up in a little over a week here the REI Expo. What presentation are you going to give? Can you give a little sneak peak as to what you’re going to talk about there?

Jana: It’s always about making as less mistakes as you possibly can in this investment business. We’ve done investment properties well. I love it. I would do it more if I had the time. I really enjoy the process and its great money if you do it right. It’s all about doing things right. If we can help people giving them a top ten list of things that they can avoid helping sell within two weeks at 99 percent of list price, we’re going to have a lot of wealth in that information.
It’s not a sales pitch because like I said we have a lot of business that we do and not that we have arrived because our goal is to list 2000 homes for 2014, but I’m not there to get business. I just want to give that information. If anybody’s listening and they want to come just to learn some key tricks on how can you save money by looking at the big ticket items and really surrounding yourself with experts.
That’s what it’s about. Offering a good product that your proud that a family’ s going to be living in but then of course you making money as well and making sure that you haven’t left any money on that table and you haven’t made some wrong decision. We help people before a hammer hits the nail. You know design and how that home should flow, don’t knock down all the walls in a home. Yes, you’d love an open floor plan but you’ve just kind of created a kind of weird space. We help them on the front side as well as after that rehab has happened, getting it staged and looking pretty because your first showing is online.

Mike: Right. Right.

Jana: And a vacant home is not very pretty to look at.

Mike: Yeah. No, I agree. It’s hard to look past. It’s interesting there’s different lines of thought and I won’t even say that whatever I think is not right or wrong. It’s just kind of what I’ve thought. I’ve tended to do a bigger staging on houses that are a little more expensive because I think people will need to see it’s usually a move up house.
They kind of want to envision what it’s going to look like as their home, where a lot of first time home buyers are they don’t know what to look for. They’re just excited to buy a house and it may not matter as much. Then in some instances where we had houses that have kind of weird spaces we felt like we want to stage them to give somebody an idea of how to use that space. Something that just seems weird is that a backroom or is that an office or what’s that weird kind of cubby area next to the stairs there? We’ll put a desk. It doesn’t almost matter what goes there just the fact that sometimes goes there.

Jana: Yes. Define the space.

Mike: Yeah. There you go, define the space. You even have a phrase for that.

Jana: Yes. Define the space. When we do training we’re always looking for stats from NAR, NAE, solid stats and 90 percent of buyers that come in cannot envision. I mean we are in this industry as an investor as a real estate agent. We can look at a blank home and immediately see the after product, but the buyer coming in, put ourselves in their shoes and you know they’re working retail, they’re computer specialist, they don’t know and so average walk time is about six minutes that we have to paint the picture.
We had a contract with a mobile home company that literally, we had a model in every community and if a mobile home needs to be staged every home needs to be staged. We do buy and holds because if you can get a $100, $200 more monthly rent it makes sense. Anything that we can do even if it’s, we have three levels of service that we provide on vacants and if we can just put some key things in there to paint the picture it works really at every price point.

Mike: Great. Great. Well, anything you want to share with folks who might be watching the show? Do you have any links? If there’s any links you have to share we’ll add them certainly to the video so folks can access you and learn more about Model My Home and maybe some of the upcoming events you’re going to be at. We’ll put a link for the expo for sure.

Jana: Yes. I mean we have our standard modelmyhome.com site if you want to go check that out. We also have myhsra.com and that’s our association and we authored two different designations. If people are out there that want to get their staging designation, and go through workshops on how you can whether open a business or join another team, people need to get some type of training. So we have professionalstagingexpert.com and we also have another designation for real estate agents that want to get that advice and it’s certifiedhomepreparationadvisor.com.
So several websites there. There’s also some free resources that you click on and fill out a little web form, get some information. If they have any questions they can always call 855-85-STAGE and that it will be here at our central location and we’ll help them out as much as we can.

Mike: Awesome, awesome. Well, we’ll add all those links to the bottom of the video here so you don’t have to worry about remembering all this because there’s a lot of them, lots of long ones too there. Hey, thanks so much for joining us today. I really appreciate your time.

Jana: No problem. Thank you for the opportunity.

Mike: Yeah. I’ll see you at the expo here soon. We’ll both be speaking there.

Jana: Sounds great, I’ll look forward to it.

Mike: Thanks. Okay. Take Care. Bye-bye.

Jana: Thank you. Bye.

Mike: Thanks for joining us on today’s FlipNerd.com Podcast. To listen to more of our shows and hear from incredible guests, please access all of our podcasts in the ITunes store. You can also watch the video versions of our shows by visiting us at FlipNerd.com.