Living in luxury: Home managers happily pay rent to care for fabulous houses on the market


Jim and Kaye Biby, pictured here in the Deerwood Estates home they're managing, have owned Showhomes Jacksonville since 2006.  Cristin Wilson For the Times-Union

Buzz Thomas has been a home manager for the past five years. He’s currently working with Showhomes Jacksonville.  One of the best things for him, Thomas said, is that he’s had an opportunity to live in some of the area’s most prestigious neighborhoods. He’s currently getting settled into his Queens Harbour home after living in a condo in Epping Forest.

Thomas said the contract he signed won’t allow him to disclose how much he pays to live in the properties, but he did say it’s easily 50 percent to 70 percent off what it would be if the home were on the market as a rental.

Thomas became involved in the program after selling his home. At the time, he wasn’t sure if he was going to stay in the area or relocate.

The condo was perfect for him, he said.

“My favorite spot? I woke up every morning with my windows open to the river,” he said.


Jim and Kaye Biby have owned Showhomes Jacksonville since 2006, but the franchise has been in the area for the past 16 years. Like McInnes, the Bibys also do traditional staging; that part of the business has increased as the housing market has improved.

The Bibys currently have 12 homes with home managers. But they said that if they had more managers, they could have even more homes. The idea is that popular.

The couple said it’s a fact that staged homes sell faster than empty ones.

“What we’re trying to do is slow [buyers] down so they’ll look at the house and envision themselves in it,” Kaye Biby said.

Realtor Dennelle Hickson agrees.

“You want to put your buyers in a position that when they walk in they feel like they’re at home already. Of course, you can’t feel at home in an empty house.”

There has been a 9.5 percent increase in the number of homes for sale during June 2014 compared to the same month a year ago, according to the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors’ latest numbers. The median sales price for homes in the area is $168,000, which is almost 6 percent higher than a year ago.

Those numbers are no surprise to Realtor Sharon Mills.

“Overall, the market is definitely picking up,” she said. “We probably have less inventory than we’ve had in a long time.”

The Bibys get their home managers from an initial online application. They do background and credit checks and also ensure that the applicant has nice furniture and accessories to put in the home and is responsible, neat and tidy. Families are welcome, but messes are not acceptable.

Most of the time, Showhomes stages the entire house.  If the managers need help staging the large house, the companies have warehouses full of furniture and accessories.


Since the home managers are living in properties that are for sale, the homes need to always be ready for showings.

Thomas, who also is a Realtor, said it’s a small inconvenience considering what you get in return.

“If you compare where you get to live and the type of home you get to live in, then making accommodations for the showings is well worth it,” he said.

Home managers are responsible for utilities, for example, that can easily cost hundreds of dollars a month for a 4,000-square-foot home.   It might not appeal to many to have to move every eight months or so. But the Showhomes usually has another home ready for the managers to move into.



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