Posts Tagged ‘vacant home staging’

“Ghost Tenants” Live in Luxury Homes at Apartment Prices

July 31st, 2014



The Mueller Family lives together in a 4,800 square foot Tampa, Florida home, but they only pay $1,200 in rent every month. (Photo courtesy of the Mueller Family)


Bob and Dareda Mueller used to own a large, beautiful home on Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri.

“We were in a golfing community, we were actually on the lake, and it was about 4,800 square feet,” says Bob.

But then they lost everything.

“It was the real estate crash, we had probably too much of our assets in real estate,” Bob explains. “The downturn of the economy just brought us to having to sell them for next to nothing or really losing money on them.”

The couple lost their lavish home and their properties, but they still had their lavish home furnishings; a baby grand piano, a $10,000 Pakistani rug. So a friend told them about Showhomes, a home staging company that actually moves families, and all of their belongings, into homes that are on the market.

“The advantage is, the whole house is being staged,” says Linda Saavedra, Showhomes’ Tampa, Florida franchise owner. “There’s food in the pantry, there’s clothes perfectly organized in the closet. It looks like a model home, it almost looks like no one lives there, yet someone does. The buyer naturally thinks the home seller still lives there. They don’t know that it’s a home manager that’s living in the home.”

The Mueller’s have lived in five Tampa homes in two years, moving every three to eight months. They live like ghosts, keeping the homes meticulously clean and uncluttered, not displaying any family photos. A designer perfectly arranges all their belongings when they move in. The deal is, they have to make themselves scarce when a potential buyer comes over for a tour.

“We don’t just make our beds just any which old way, it has to be made exactly according to their standards,” Dareda says. “We never go to bed with dishes in the sink. I keep the soap, shampoo also, shaving, all those things, not in the shower, but it’s in a drawer.”

The ghost tenants, or home managers as they’re officially referred to, can potentially move as often as every 60 days, as long as it takes for a home to sell. But it’s completely worth it for Bob and Dareda who both now work at McDonald’s and would never be able to afford living in the 4,800 square foot home, complete with pool, that they’re currently living in.

“This is a large four bedroom, beautiful home, four and-a-half baths,” says Dareda. “If I was renting this it would probably be in the neighborhood of over $3,000 a month. We pay $1,200 a month.”

Showhomes hires movers for the home managers, but the Mueller’s are responsible for packing and unpacking each move, so they’ve paired down their belongings considerably. Linda says it’s a win-win situation. Home managers get to live cheaply in expensive homes, and it costs the seller far less than a typical staging.

“If the home owner were having the home fully staged, the home owner would have to pay us to rent all of that furniture, which would be significantly more than what we collect from the home manager,” Linda says. “So while the home manager is living in that house, we actually pay for the home owner, their electric bill, their water bill, their lawn service, their pool service. They’re saving money by having the home manager in their property.”

Linda says houses that have been stuck on the market for months will suddenly sell once inhabited by a home manager, and usually for 25% more than if it was vacant. It’s such a sweet deal, home managers often stick with the luxury nomad lifestyle for quite a long time.

“In California they have home managers who’ve been with them for almost 15 years,” Linda says.

“After having multiple properties, it sounds like a dream, yet there are at least five bills that go with each home. So it’s been kind of nice not to be responsible for the real estate tax, for the roof, for the maintenance. We don’t have any intentions of leaving Showhome’s program anytime soon.”

The Mueller’s currently share the home, and the rent, with their three 20-something sons.

Live-in managers a plus when selling luxury homes

July 29th, 2014

Luxury homes that are vacant can be hard to sell. Plus, they are at greater risk for break-ins.

Kelli Reed is a modern-day nomad.

She lives in a for-sale six-bedroom, 5,000-square-foot luxury lakefront home that is decorated with her own furniture, paying a fraction of the typical rent. When the home gets a buyer, she’ll move into another for-sale upscale home, taking her belongings with her.

She could be in each home as little as a month or a couple of months or longer.

“I never know where I’m going to be month-to-month,” she said.

Reed is a live-in luxury-home caretaker.

Luxury homes that are vacant can be hard to sell. Plus, they are at greater risk for break-ins. Occupied and staged homes, however, show and sell better.

To make vacant high-end homes more marketable, two Valley companies, Showhomes and HomeTenders of America, provide live-in caretaking services, complete with furniture and accessories.

There are benefits for everyone involved, representatives say.

Sellers get their homes professionally staged without having to pay for it or the furniture rental. Not having to rent furniture can mean a savings of $6,000, likely more, a month, said Janelle Joyce,CQ who owns one of the two Valley franchises of Showhomes. Reed owns the other.

Sellers also don’t have to pay monthly utility bills or for upkeep on the home. They also don’t pay for the live-in caretaking services, although there may be a small fee at time of escrow.

Management companies make their money from the fees the live-in managers pay. At any given time, they have up to 30 or 40 homes with live-in managers.

Potential buyers get to view decorated homes instead of empty ones. They can better visualize how their furniture will look rather than being perplexed by bare rooms that have no personality.

Live-in managers get to live in high-end homes for a fraction of the cost. They pay a fee — typically about a third of the cost it would be to rent such a home — to the management company, plus they pay the utilities and yard and pool care.

There are drawbacks.

Live-in managers have to keep the homes impeccably clean so that the home can be shown at a 30-minute or hour’s notice.

“You have to make your bed every day,” Joyce said, laughing. “That’s just the beginning of it.”

Toilet seats must be down. Sinks must be free of debris. Granite kitchen counters must be clear of spots. There can be no clutter.

“Everything has to look perfect,” she said.

Managers must leave if a home is going to be shown to potential buyers. And if the home is sold? They generally have up to a month to move. And it’s usually to another for-sale vacant luxury home.

The nomadic lifestyle attracts a certain type of person, said John Bezik, who with his wife, Cyndee, owns HomeTenders of America, based in Scottsdale. The couple also are live-in caretakers of a luxury home.

“This is good for people in transition, people getting relocated, for people who don’t want a long-term lease,” he said. It also attracts people who have gone through bankruptcies, divorces, short sales and foreclosures “so they can get their credit together.”

Most of the managers have previously lived in luxury homes and so have the furnishings to match, he said. But they need a place to live.

Being a home caretaker allows them to retain the lifestyle while not having to pay the high price, he said. And they don’t have to pay for a storage unit for their furniture.

The staged homes typically sell in four to five months but may take as long as a year, Joyce said. Showhomes homes generally range from 4,000 to 15,000 square feet, with larger homes and some architectural styles, such as ultra contemporary, taking longer to sell, she said.

Caretakers, who must pass background checks, are matched with homes that fit the style of their furnishings.

Reed says she likes her lifestyle, which is simpler than it was in the past.

“It was a life change,” she said. “Before this, my life was so structured.”

After getting divorced, she moved to the Valley because her brother lived here. She wanted a job that gave her flexibility, allowed her to be social and gave her time to get involved with her church.

Owning the East Valley Showhomes franchise lets her do all that plus be her own boss, she said.

And she enjoys the luxury lifestyle, even though it’s a temporary one in each house.

“A home doesn’t define me,” she said. “I don’t have sentimental value on material things. My value is with my family and friends.”

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The exterior of a Phoenix home staged by Janelle Joyce. Janelle owns a franchise of Showhomes, a company that provides live-in caretakers for luxury homes for sale that otherwise would be vacant. The thought is that furnished, lived-in homes are more likely to sell.

The exterior of a Phoenix home staged by Janelle Joyce. Janelle owns a franchise of Showhomes, a company that provides live-in caretakers for luxury homes for sale that otherwise would be vacant. The thought is that furnished, lived-in homes are more likely to sell. (Photo: Mark Henle/The Arizona Republic)

Showhomes Featured on Marketplace

July 24th, 2014

Humans make a house for sale feel more like home

(Eric Mennel/Marketplace)

Cora Blinsman pays $1,100 a month on a $430,000 home. But she can be forced to move out at a moment’s notice.

A home for sale in Newport Coast, occupied by real live people.

About a year ago, Cora Blinsman’s mom passed away. Needless to say, it was a really hard on her. She started taking stock of her own life. Blinsman had been a full-time, stay-at-home mom for 20 years, and she was feeling burnt out. She needed space.

So she got a lot of it.

Blinsman applied to be a home manager with Showhomes, a nationwide home staging company. Basically, she pays a monthly fee to live in a really nice house for sale in one of the nicest upscale communities in Chapel Hill, N.C. Her latest is currently going for $430,000. It’s got four bedrooms, two baths. The kitchen has two cooking surfaces; gas and electric. The backyard has three descending layers of gardens.

The idea behind Showhomes is that when someone lives in a home, it just feels warmer. More attractive to buyers.

“You’ve got your slippers by the bed,” Blinsman said. “I mean, I kept it very neat, but you could tell somebody lived there.”

Fred Pierson is the franchise manager for Showhomes in the Chapel Hill area. Pierson says the home manager method is the company’s most effective service. Seventy percent of the homes with managers living in them get an offer.

“Buyers are smart. They can tell when they’re walking into a staged home,” said Pierson.

These are not always easy homes to sell — they’re often worth more than $1 million. The home Blinsman is in had been on the market a year before she moved in two months ago. Now, she pays $1,100 a month for a home that would normally have mortgage payments two or three times that amount. So, it’s a good deal. But there are drawbacks.

“If home managers are doing this just for the savings, it will not work,” said Pierson. “It has to be a lifestyle they are willing to compromise.”

For example, Blinsman only lived in her first home for five weeks before it sold. Some managers can move up to five times a year. And there are rules.

“They’re very basic,” said Pierson. “You make your bed every day. Towels are not hung up over the shower, they’re placed in the dryer… You know, pick your stuff up and make sure it looks nice… The stuff I was always telling my kids,” said Blinsman.

Also, home managers can’t keep anything too personal lying around. No religious insignia. No family photos. One of Pierson’s homes had a mural of the Dallas Cowboys up on the wall. Showhomes needed to remove it because there’s always the chance someone looking to buy a home might love the house, but hate the Cowboys.

Blinsman says the rules haven’t been so bad. On the contrary, she says, being in this kind of home at this kind of time has been really good for her. Living in a wealthy community has opened her eyes to an entirely different lifestyle.

“I can be a part of the community and I can fit in pretty well,” she explained.  “But if I had a little broken down car, I could never drive through this neighborhood. I’d be like, ‘Oh my God, they’re gonna want to throw me out.’”

This is the real trick behind Showhomes. It’s not just about giving those looking for a home a look into someone else’s life – it’s about doing the same for the home manager. Giving them a chance to be someone else, if only for a little while.


Showhomes Unique Model Featured on NPR

July 22nd, 2014

Temporary Tenants Give Luxury Homes A Lived-In Look

Alan Shuminer lives on two acres of land in a house with a current list price of $3.3 million in Miami — and he only pays $2,600 a month. He is a home manager for Showhomes, a home staging company.

Bernie Schupbach needed to sell his home in the height of the real estate crash.

His home in Yorkville, Ill., was unoccupied. It had lingered on the market for a long time — and Schupbach, a radiologist in Aurora, Ill., was growing uncomfortable.

“To me, you worry about a pipe breaking in winter. You worry about the heat going out. You worry about vandals. You worry about animal infestation,” he says. “My big concern was: There’s nobody there, I’m 30 miles away.”

Then somebody mentioned Showhomes to Schupbach and his wife, Lynn.

Showhomes is a home-staging company that helps people sells their homes. Its employees make minor suggestions like changing a paint color or fixing up a front door, but also de-clutter and depersonalize a home.

And nothing depersonalizes a home more than having another person, couple or family living in it — meet Showhomes’ unique Home Managers program.

Home managers are actively recruited — and vetted — by the staging company, through avenues like real estate agents and Craigslist. Showhomes gets paid by both the homeowner and the home manager.

The home manager pays a fee that’s one-third to half of what traditional rent in a specific market might be plus utilities, says Matt Kelton, chief operating officer of Showhomes.

The average fee paid by a home manager to live in a Showhomes property is $1,350 per month.

Home managers go through a specific training program. They need to keep the house immaculate, disappear when potential buyers come for a showing, and, once the house is sold — never come back again.

Oh, and there’s another catch: Whoever moves in needs to have enough furniture to fill the home, which is often a luxury property.

Kelton says that on average, home managers have a five-day “no peek rule,” when designers take their furniture and redesign the house. He says homeowners often see their newly redecorated house and say, “Man, I wish I wasn’t moving.”

Kelton says the Home Manager program helps sell houses by making them look lived-in. An empty house, he says, gives off the perception that a homeowner is desperate to sell.

“To sell a vacant house, you’re going to see a home that takes longer to sell. It’s going to show the flaws of the homes right away,” he says. “Something about having food in the pantry … it’s hard to put my finger on it, but there’s some kind of emotional connection that happens.”

Showhomes was founded in 1986 and now serves communities in 18 states. The company, with nearly 60 franchise offices across the U.S., was founded during the savings and loan crisis and oil bust of 1982 in Oklahoma, when interest rates were set at 17 or 18 percent and banks had huge amounts of foreclosed homes.

The company started to take homes that were sitting vacant and match them with people who were being relocated.

Many home managers are people in transition, like executives who have been relocated, or someone waiting for their new home to be built.

Alan Shuminer has been a home manager in Miami for about five years. When he first got involved in the program, he had just gone through a divorce and was looking for a place close to his three children.

Shuminer says he’s an atypical home manager because he’s in the program for the long haul. He estimates he’s moved 10 or 12 times. Luckily for him, if a home manager is moving to another in-town Showhome, a franchisee pays for the move.

And it works perfectly for Shuminer. “I’ve done the house ownership bit,” he says. “My lifestyle right now doesn’t require me to be home very much.”

Nationally, properties staged by Showhomes list for an average $750,000, but range from $200,000 to $12 million.

Shuminer, a lawyer, says he hasn’t lived in a house that’s less than $1.41 million. He currently pays $2,600 per month for a 7,500-square-foot house — with a pool — that’s listed at $3.3 million. (According to Kelton, the average home manager fee is $1,350 per month.)

Generally, Showhomes focuses on properties that among the most expensive in an area, Kelton says. Nationally, its average list price is around $750,000, but prices range from $200,000 to $12 million.

And Shuminer’s favorite part of the program? “Going to a new house,” he says.

He says he gets bored and too acclimated after a while; he reaches the point where he’s ready to move. And it’s easy for him, because after so many moves, he says he has a lot less stuff than he used to.

“I think some people see it as being unstable,” Shuminer says. “The fact that I move around is just one of the idiosyncratic quirks about me.”

Kelton says being a home manager means a very different kind of lifestyle. He said he’s had managers in the Showhomes system for anywhere from 30 days to 10 years.

As for Schupbach, the radiologist, he guesses home managers lived in his house in Illinois for about two years. “I had somebody in the house. I knew that if something went wrong, they would tell me,” he says.

Fast Company Features Showhomes

July 18th, 2014

To Sell Houses, People Are Used As Props In McMansions They Don’t Own

A poignant story from the Tampa Bay Times follows one family that lost everything in the recession and has found a peculiar way to hold on to the trappings of wealth. It sounds like the plot of some long-lost dramatic version of Arrested Development, but this is real.

The Mueller family invested in real estate, which was a very good idea until all of a sudden it wasn’t. Their bank accounts drained, their livelihoods gone, the Muellers figured out a way to maintain a semblance of their former lifestyle. A staging company called Showhomes allows them to stay in expensive, McMansion-type homes for exceedingly little money, only $1,200 a month–with the caveat that the house must remain in perfect, Showhomes-dictated selling condition at all times. They can place some of their own luxury items in the house, but their entire living situation is controlled by Showhomes, down to the pictures they hang and the books they show. And they may have to move out at a moment’s notice.

To see the entire article in Fast Company please go here:

Fear running short of cash in retirement? What to do

July 15th, 2014

Rodney Brooks, USA TODAY

One of our biggest fears is that we haven’t saved enough for retirement.  It’s time to stop worrying about it and start doing something. The fact is, there are a growing number of options.

Sharon Duncan USA Today

The answer may not necessarily be working in your current job through retirement. Many of us don’t realize it, but we may not all be healthy enough to do that. In fact, According to the Employee Benefits Research Institute, 47% of retirees left the workforce sooner than they had planned.

“I think that when people are in this position, they need to try not to worry and panic, because they have options,” says Sandy Franks, executive director of the Women’s Financial Alliance in Baltimore. “They get too worried and panic.”

But, as with anything, you need to first look at you

“Knowing what your expenses are can go a long way in making sure you can have a comfortable retirement,” says Herb White, president of Life Certain Wealth Strategies in Denver.r budget to find savings and ways to cut costs.

But after that, there are other ways for retirees to actually earn — or save money — many that you probably haven’t thought of.

Some options:

 1. Can you turn your hobbies into extra income?

White says one client, a former engineer, now teaches the clarinet, bassoon and saxophone to children and adults. Another client, a former nurse, became a substitute teacher.

Sean Lee, founder of SPL Financial in Salt Lake City, says among his clients is a married couple who knew they would need supplemental income in retirement, but did not want to work. She’s already retired and he’s planning to retire in January. “They didn’t want to go to Walmart or work part-time at Home Depot,” he said.

Both turned to their hobbies. He was a pencil artist who did Western-style drawings. She created Western-style glasses and purses. “They’ve turned these hobbies into profitable businesses,” Lee says. “They’re to the point of that they don’t have to use their retirement funds.”

Another option, says Franks, is website, which offers online instruction. If you have any skill — plumbing, baking, cooking or even how to use an Excel spreadsheet — you can turn it into a course and offer it though People pay to take the course.

She says one woman created a cake decorating course. “She has 554 students paying her $39 apiece. “That’s about $21,000, an excellent way for a pre-retiree to create extra income.”

 2. Embrace the “shared economy.”

Franks says a growing trend is people renting rooms like a hotel or bed and breakfast. “Retirees can rent out rooms of their house for as much as $100 a night, Franks says. “One room rented out two nights per week is about $10,400 a year in extra income. You can rent out spare closets.

“You can rent out rooms in your house through, Vacation Rentals by or Airbnb,” Franks says. “It’s almost like a mini bed-and-breakfast style way to make extra money. It’s perfect for making extra retirement money. Usually the kids are gone so most people close to retirement have spare rooms.”

If you don’t want to rent rooms, consider renting kitchen appliances or even tools, she says. “You could rent out your camera for $40 a day. The possibilities are endless. One person was able to rent his car out to folks who needed to run errands. He was making about $1,000 extra per month. That’s an extra $12,000 per year.”

Another option, take care of pets when their owners are on vacation. DogVacay co-founder and CEO, Aaron Hirschhorn, says he got the idea for his company when he and his wife left their dogs at a kennel.

“We had left our dogs in a kennel for a 10-day trip and cost was $1,400 and one of the dogs was hiding under my desk for two days,” he says.

DogVacay founder Aaron Hirschhorn with Rocky(Photo: DogVacay)

The couple started keeping dogs in their home, first for friends and later for others. DogVacay was born.”It turned out to be a way better experience,” he says. “The dogs are in a loving home, they get to be out of a cage. Also, it’s more affordable than kennel, because there is no overhead.”

In a little over two years, the company has grown to 1,500 hosts across the country, a good portion of them retirees,” Hirschhorn says. The hosts set their own rates, and DogVacay gets 15% for infrastructure support, including customer service.

Hosts can keep up to three dogs at a time and the average is $30 per night for a dog. “You can be as active as you want,” he says. “You can do it just weekends or full-time. A few retirees who do it full-time earn $5,000 or $6,000 a month. One who watches dogs every weekend may earn $1,000 a month.”

3. Sell or rent your home and move into a luxury home.

Showhomes in Nashville offers an unique opportunity for Baby Boomers and empty nesters. The company “stages” homes for sale. The theory is that homes look better and are easier to sell if someone is actually living in them. “People have trouble visualizing a home when it’s vacant,” says Matt Kelton, chief operating officer.

“We’ll match that vacant home with someone with nice furniture, like an empty nester. They can live in a home with their own furniture. They pay 30% to 50% less (than the market rate). They can live in a golf course gated community. But they have to leave when it’s a showing and they have to keep it in good condition.”

Showhomes will pay to move you in, and then pay to move you out when the home is sold.

Sharon and Brent Duncan, ages 51 and 56, are empty nesters living in a $1.75 million home on a golf course in Asheville, N.C. She’s been there for almost six weeks so far. Duncan, who now works for the Showhomes agent in Asheville, is living in her third property. They sold their 5,500-square-foot home in Franklin, Tenn., after their kids left.

Sharon Duncan, right, and Cindi Stringer, go over paperwork in a $1.6 million home in Arden, North Carolina. Duncan currently lives in the home while it is on the market.(Photo: Davis Turner for USA TODAY)

“It was either go to a 1,600-square-foot loft or go into a show home where I could use all my furniture and save money on our monthly rental,” Sharon Duncan says. “We went with Showhomes.”

“You get to live large for less, actually,” she says. “You get to live in these beautiful properties. With this particular community, HOA covers lawn care and maintenance. You are living in these gated communities, a pretty maintenance-free situation. If the water heater goes out, that is the homeowner’s cost. You get to have a more relaxed and enjoyable lifestyle while you are saving money.”

“It becomes a win-win for everyone,” says Kelton. “Homes sell faster. The home manager is able to live at a highly reduced rate. “They stay on average five months. “They don’t move until the house moves. I’ve had people in for 30 days and some people for 18 months.

“It’s not for everyone,” he says. “But if they are flexible they can live a lifestyle, a lot of times, they couldn’t afford.”



Showhomes Named One of the Top 50 Low-Cost Franchise Opportunities

July 14th, 2014

Franchise Provides Owners Lucrative ROI Potential with Low Start-Up as  Market Heats Up 

 NASHVILLE, Tenn.Showhomes, the rapidly expanding home staging franchise system, continues to prove its success as the real estate market finds its footing. The brand was recently named one of the top 50 low-cost franchise opportunities in the U.S. by Franchise Business Review, a publication that highlights the top opportunities in the marketplace based solely on assessments from actual franchise owners. The publication, which compiled data by surveying 10,000 franchisees representing more than 135 brands, listed Showhomes based on the system’s leadership, training, support and financial outlook.

“We’re incredibly proud to be recognized by Franchise Business Review as a rewarding choice in home-staging,”said Matt Kelton, COO of Showhomes. “The business of making a house a home is gaining popularity and we’re excited to be part of the longevity and profitability of the growing marketplace.”

The low-cost start up investment for Showhomes starts at only $45,300 and yields some of the highest revenues in the home staging sector, securing its position as a proven model in a rapidly expanding industry. Home Decor and Updating is a multi-billion-dollar-per-year business and for a relatively low investment, those looking for an alternative career path can have a piece of the profit. Ideal candidates for Showhomes are those passionate about design or real estate. The brand can also serve as the perfect second revenue stream for real estate agents. Showhomes is a great opportunity for individuals looking for a flexible career path that is also fulfilling as well as cost-effective.

“Our sustained growth is a direct outcome of our passionate franchisees that see the value in a lucrative career with low start-up costs,” said Kelton. “We’re looking forward to our future successes as we continue to evolve and secure a bigger part of the marketplace.”

Headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, Showhomes is the only home staging and one-day makeover franchise in existence and has nearly 60 locations in 20 states. Throughout the company’s history the range of services has evolved from a sole focus on home management, to include traditional home staging and one-day makeovers. The brand is forecasting hitting the 100-unit mark in the next two years through a strategic growth strategy focusing on development in California, the Pacific Northwest and the Northeastern region of the United States.

About Showhomes

Founded in 1986, Showhomes has helped Realtors® and homeowners sell more than 25,000 residential properties worth more than $8.5 billion, by transforming high-end vacant houses into fully-furnished, inviting, valued Showhomes. Currently serving prominent communities in 18 states, Showhomes is a rapidly expanding franchise system with 58 offices nationwide. Boasting the expertise of long-time real estate and interior design professionals, Showhomes is a one-stop-shop for home staging, home redesign, “One-Day Makeover’s” for currently occupied homes and its proprietary Home Manager program – a proven model to get upscale vacant homes off the market, faster. Every major national media outlet in the U.S. has praised the work of Showhomes, the company’s work has also been featured on The Today Show, HGTV and the Travel Channel.  For more information or to learn about franchise opportunities, please visit

The Today Show Features Showhomes!

July 8th, 2014

‘Model families’ live like human props to help sell luxury homes

The Mueller family once owned seven homes and a bed and breakfast. Today, they work minimum-wage jobs — but they’re still living large. The Today Show

The family from Tampa, Florida, is part of a growing real estate trend in which people move into empty luxury homes for sale and essentially act as a “model family,” human staging props used to turn a house into a home — for someone else.

“The home will sell faster and it’s gonna sell for more money, and it sells for more money because it looks more valued and it’s cared for,” Kim Magnuson, the sales and marketing director for Showhomes Home Staging Tampa, told TODAY on Tuesday.

Working with Showhomes, the Muellers live in a luxury house for about half of what it would cost to rent. One catch: They have to keep the home immaculately clean all the time in case a prospective buyer stops by.

“Never any dishes in the sink, always in the dishwasher, laundry never on top of the washing machine or the dryer,” Dareda Mueller told TODAY’s Gabe Gutierrez.

The family also has to leave the house at a moment’s notice if a prospective buyer is coming to see it. Once the property is sold, the family usually has about a week to move to another luxury property.

“It gives you a two-week window that is very challenging,” Bob Mueller said. “So you have like a week to pack up all your things, and then you have five days to unpack all those boxes.”

“It’s a lot of fun,” Dareda said. “It’s very adventurous.”

“Through, you know, the struggle of having been wealthier at one time and not as wealthy now, has really just helped us all pull together and draw closer,” Bob said.

The family loves living the transient life, and celebrates every time one of “their” houses get sold.

“We sold the home, and then it’s on to the next place,” Dareda said.

— Gabe Gutierrez and Scott Stump, TODAY

Follow writer Scott Stump on Twitter and Google+.


The Washington Post Discovered Our Secret!

July 8th, 2014

One company’s secret to home staging? The human element.

When selling a home, the smallest details can make the biggest difference.

Bake a batch of cookies before a showing. Make sure the place is spotless. And — oh right yes, sorry — don’t forget about the “human props.”homesale

home staging company has been using actual (real-life!) people to help boost property sales, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Sure, it’s good to make a vacant house look comfortable, clean and inviting, the theory goes; but imagine if a company could do all that — and bring in a bonus fake homeowner, whose closet-organization skills and general vibe make the whole place seem more livable, too.

“There is an energy in that home,” Showhomes franchise owner Linda Saavedra told The Post in a phone interview Monday. “The temperature and the smells are all completely different. It really feels like home.”

Confused? Here’s how it works: So-called home managers get to live in luxury, as long as they keep the once-vacant houses in pristine condition … and clear out in a hurry when someone wants a showing. Home managers bring their own belongings, but don’t disturb their surroundings. They are relocated when a house goes off the market. And they learn to live without clutter. Any clutter. Like, at all.

“There is a higher perceived value to a home versus a vacant house that looks like a distressed property,” said Saavedra, who called ghost home ownership a “different” lifestyle.

No kidding. Tampa Bay Times reporter Drew Harwell spoke with Bob and Dareda Mueller, home managers who were living in a $750,000 property with their three grown sons. The Muellers were hit hard by the housing market crisis, they say, and now both work at a fast-food restaurant. Their current residence “graces the 10th hole of an exclusive golf course in one of Tampa’s wealthiest suburbs,” Harwell wrote.

Showhomes pays moving costs but the Muellers pay the firm about $1,200 in rent, plus all household bills. Showhomes decorators decide where things should go, and managers are responsible for faultless precision, enforced by rigorous, random inspections.

All surfaces must be regularly cleaned; weeds eradicated, car oil spots removed. Clothes in closets are to be organized by color, and contestable items — heavily religious books, personal photos — must be removed or neutralized. Every item has a rule, and everything must be exact: the rotation of pillows, the fold of towels, the positioning of toothbrushes. Even the stacks of novels casually left on the bookshelf are placed and angled with pinpoint detail.

This next-level home-staging arrangement is also good for divorcees or empty-nesters — basically, people in the midst of a life transition who own great stuff and are looking for a property to match, Saavedra said. She told the Tampa Bay Times that “the home managers act like human props.”

The Showhomes deal with the Muellers, Harwell wrote, allowed the family “to start over with the painstaking gloss of perfection, but it has also brought up tough questions about what it means to have a home. Is it worth sleeping in a mansion if it means living as a ghost?”


‘Human props’ stay in luxury homes but live like ghosts

July 7th, 2014

When the Mueller family sits for dinner, the leftover broccoli and crepes are already wrapped in plastic, the kitchen is

Tampa Bay Home Managers

beyond spotless, and the rest of the home is so tucked-away tidy it looks like they just moved in. In a way, they have: Every inch of furnishing, every little trinket and votive candle, sits precisely as designers placed it five months ago. That would make them the most perfect suburban ideal, except for one catch: This isn’t actually their home. Bob and Dareda Mueller and their three grown sons are, instead, part of an “elite group” of middle-class nomads who have agreed to an outlandish deal. They can live cheaply in this for-sale luxury home if it looks as if they never lived here at all.

The home must remain meticulously cleaned and preserved: the temperature precisely pleasant, the mirrors crystalline clear. If a prospective buyer wants to see the home, they must quickly disappear. And when the home sells, they must be gone for good, off to the next perfect place.

That they do everything an owner would do — sleeping, making memories, learning the home’s quirks and secrets — imbues an otherwise-empty home with an unmistakable energy, say executives with Showhomes Tampa, the home-staging firm that moves them in. It also helps the homes sell faster, and for more money.

“They have to live a very different, very difficult life,” said Kim Magnuson, a sales director. Added franchise owner Linda Saavedra, “The home managers act like human props … and (with buyers) it’s like magic. It works phenomenally well.”

The Muellers once lived in an opulent lake house bigger even than this $750,000 estate, which graces the 10th hole of an exclusive golf course in one of Tampa’s wealthiest suburbs. But after a financially shattering fall from grace, this home, their fifth in two years, has become a surprising lifeline: Bob, 60, and Dareda, 56, now both work at McDonald’s and scrape to pay the bills.

It has allowed them to start over with the painstaking gloss of perfection, but it has also brought up tough questions about what it means to have a home. Is it worth sleeping in a mansion if it means living as a ghost?

• • •

Bob was the pastor of a small church in Missouri when Dareda’s father, a McDonald’s franchise magnate who raised thoroughbred racehorses in the St. Louis suburbs, suddenly passed away. He left them the family ranch house, a turn-of-the-20th-century yearling farm and a sizable inheritance. Suddenly, they were rich.

The family adored real estate, led by Bob, the son of a house painter, who studied architecture in college and collected house plans as a boy. On Sunday afternoons, the family toured homes for fun, the boys learning to say stuff like, “Dad, it’s not a solid core door.”

So with the couple’s newfound wealth, they converted the farmhouse into a bed-and-breakfast, called Green Pastures, and amassed a weighty portfolio of investment properties. They also bought a sprawling French Country home, with a housekeeper, barrel ceilings and a view of the Lake of the Ozarks. Dareda dreamed of the boys coming back home with wives and kids of their own.

“When the housing downturn came, it hit us really hard, and the things we’d invested in fell through the bottom,” Dareda said. Even selling their home and draining their bank accounts couldn’t help them stay afloat. When a friend told them about Showhomes, they trucked down to Florida, homeless but heavy with stuff: a baby grand piano, intricate bronze statuary, a $10,000 Pakistani rug.

Their first home here felt, to them, startlingly small, and Bob agonized over whether the family had made a huge mistake. Eight months later, on the day after Christmas, the home had sold and it was time to move. The family that had long decorated to excess, with 12-foot-tall Christmas trees, made ornaments out of construction paper.

• • •

Showhomes has for years offered sellers their home stagings and “makeovers,” but the firm’s signature is deploying managers to the cavernous, dreary, desolate shells they call “naked homes.”

Filling vacant houses with stuff, the firm said, “enhances the focal points, softens age and minimizes flaws.” But adding in fake homeowners adds something else entirely, Saavedra said, turning quasi-spiritual: “There’s an energy there. You can feel it. There’s something. There’s life.”

Showhomes managers live in about 15 Tampa Bay homes, most of them valued at more than $500,000. Some have lived in the homes for 18 months, others, less than a week. Few qualify, because managers are expected to bring their own upscale furnishings and compulsion for hyper-cleanliness. Most, Saavedra said, are “people in transition.”

Showhomes pays moving costs but the Muellers pay the firm about $1,200 in rent, plus all household bills. Showhomes decorators decide where things should go, and managers are responsible for faultless precision, enforced by rigorous, random inspections.

All surfaces must be regularly cleaned; weeds eradicated, car oil spots removed. Clothes in closets are to be organized by color, and contestable items — heavily religious books, personal photos — must be removed or neutralized. Every item has a rule, and everything must be exact: the rotation of pillows, the fold of towels, the positioning of toothbrushes. Even the stacks of novels casually left on the bookshelf are placed and angled with pinpoint detail.

Gatherings of more than 10 people require approval, and managers must always be prepared for surprises. Dareda has raced across town to get the home “show ready”: lights on, soft music playing, Febreze Fluffy Vanilla subtly spritzed. She said, “You just think … by golly, we’re going to just go do what it takes.” A training manual states, “Our motto is’A SHOWING IS NEVER   REFUSED.’ ”

Serving as the unseen caretakers for a wealthier couple they’ll never meet doesn’t bug Dareda, she said, because “when I live in somebody else’s home it feels like I already know them.” She points to one of the sellers’ last vestiges, the drapes that puddle at the floor, which she calls an old-style display of wealth.  “I can tell by looking at her drapes how meticulous and what a lovely lady that she is, to me,” she said. “Even though I’ve never met her in person, I kind of have a thought of what she’s like.”

• • •

When Dareda wakes at 4 a.m. for her early shift, she ensures the home is immaculate, its floors of maple herringbone and Italian porcelain gleaming, all trouble spots polished or cloaked. Bob, a part-time pastor at Grace Harvest Church in Holiday, checks again before heading into McDonald’s, where he is one of eight shift managers at a location helmed by a general manager who is 23.

Devin, 25, Camden, 23, and Jordan, 21, their sons who moved in to help split the rent, said they’re happy to help their parents but sometimes chafe under the rules. Camden, a part-time voice coach, said he often feels … embarrassed when he has to cancel sessions at home to wait out a showing with the family at Starbucks. He has taken to “periods of rebellion,” marked largely by not making his bed.

Bob said he often feels as if he has stepped backward, but that it has also felt good to get back to their roots. Dareda said, “I hate the fact that we went through that, and yet, it really helped me understand what people go through.” Added Bob, later, after dinner: “I think that’s something I won’t forget, when I’m wealthy again.”

The couple said they don’t know when they might choose to leave the program for their own home, taking all their statues and fine china and real estate books, like How Come That Idiot’s Rich and I’m Not? Bob said he wants to build a new house, someday, though now he’s just focused on one house at a time.

After dinner, they go to sleep in their perfect house knowing when they wake they might have to say goodbye. But even if they go, they said they’ll still carry with them a lesson: How exhausting, and freeing, it is to start over, in a life that’s anything but precise.

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Contact Drew Harwell or (727) 893-8252.

‘Human props’ stay in luxury homes but live like ghosts 07/06/14 [Last modified: Sunday, July 6, 2014 9:38pm]

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