Want To Clean Up That Messy Garage? Here's Where To Turn

Monday, October 30, 2006

Garages are South Floridians' favorite dumping ground.

Tools, toys, golf bags, high school yearbooks and the plastic Santa and his eight not-so-tiny reindeer get banished to the garage in many homes because we don't know where else to put them.

Frustration eventually sets in, which is why garage makeovers are big business these days. HouseWall Garage System in Hialeah and other companies nationwide are helping homeowners clean out the clutter.

"For the first time since I owned my home, I was able to fit three cars in my three-car garage," said Buddy Nastase, a Coral Springs resident who hired HouseWall earlier this year.

The region's housing market turned soft in 2006 after a five-year boom. Residents complain they can't afford to move, even to smaller houses, because they would pay dramatically more in property taxes. So they're staying put and working to improve what they already have.

Garage organization is the fastest-growing segment in the $7 billion home organization sector, according to a survey by Peachtree Consulting Group of Atlanta. More than nine out of 10 new single-family homes built last year had garages, up from 59 percent in 1950, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

"You can't think of it as a space for junk," said Michael Dagen, who launched HouseWall 2 1/2 years ago.

The company generated $980,000 in sales in 2004 and is expected to grow to $4 million in 2006. Dagen said he will have 20 franchises, mostly in Florida and the Southeast, by the end of the year.

Garage makeover companies use cabinets, storage bins, lockers and other accessories, along with a paneling system that accommodates hooks and hangers. There's also tile flooring that's impervious to oil, battery acid and radiator fluid. The items are available a la carte, so homeowners can pick and choose what they want.

Designers create organization systems customized for each home, and the entire process usually takes a few days. The cost ranges from a few hundred dollars to more than $15,000. In some cases, no-interest financing is available.

Retired schoolteachers Rosemary Scullane and Peggy Morris moved to Florida from Connecticut last year, buying a Palm Beach Gardens house together. They each came with a ton of stuff: Christmas ornaments, furniture and cleaning supplies.

Finally fed up with the mess, Scullane and Morris called HouseWall, spending about $3,000 to organize it all. They say the money was well spent.

"It's just amazing when you put things on shelves you see the amount of floor space you actually have," Scullane said. The great thing about a garage makeover is that it forces you to throw out stuff you don't need, said Dana Yormark of Boca Raton. She and her husband, Michael, the chief operating officer of the Florida Panthers, had their makeover this month.

"We're pretty well cleaned out and organized," Dana Yormark said.

Nastase, the Coral Springs resident, said he organized his garage for about $3,500, finding convenient storage places for his golf clubs and his children's balls and toys.

The broker/owner of the Century 21 Tropical Springs real estate firm even let HouseWall make a sales pitch to his agents.

Home buyers in today's tight market demand properties be in pristine condition, and the garage system is ideal for sellers who want to make favorable impressions, Nastase said. HouseWall even allows sellers to delay paying for the service until after their sales are final.

Another agent, Dean Sklar, moved to South Florida six years ago from New Jersey, where he used his entire basement for storage. He doesn't have the same luxury here, and before long his Weston garage was overrun with junk.

HouseWall designed baskets that hang from the garage ceiling as well as enclosures that house Sklar's hurricane shutters. He finally can fit both of his cars in the garage with room to walk on either side.

Sklar said it's a good feeling to open the garage after a long day at work and see a perfectly neat room.

"Then I go inside my house, and it's another story," he said, chuckling. "I need HouseWall for my house."

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