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Designer show houses: An open house — for 10,000 peopleSource: The Wall Street Journal

When real-estate agent Sarah Pomphrey took on a $4.9 million home listing last year, she found a way to make sure more than 10,000 people came to see it: She persuaded the seller to turn the Little Silver, N.J., mansion into a designer show home.

Dozens of designers, landscape architects and contractors transformed the 11,000-square-foot Tudor home's rooms into showpieces, all at little cost to the seller. The 1980s kitchen—likely to turn off potential buyers—was gutted and rebuilt with the sleek cabinets, intricate tiling and Sub-Zero refrigerator that shoppers were likely to look for. A modern limestone soaking tub replaced a dated, wood-paneled Jacuzzi tub, and tired landscaping was refreshed, said Ms. Pomphrey, an agent with Coldwell Banker Previews International in Rumson, N.J.

"Now, you could just move right in," she said.

Decorator show homes are a beloved tradition in many U.S. cities. The show-home season typically kicks off when the warm weather sets in, and the homes stay open to the public for three or four weeks. Visitors pay an admission fee of between $25 and $60 to tour the homes; the money is usually earmarked for a charity. After paying for things like insurance and electricity, most show homes raise between $100,000 and $200,000, organizers say.

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