"Human Props" Who Stay in Luxury Homes But Live Like Ghosts

(Photo: Tampa Bay Times)

The Mueller family consists of Bob and Dareda and their three grown sons. They used to live in a luxurious house and horse ranch in Missouri until the recession wiped them out. They still live in an opulent home. But it doesn't belong to them and they now work at a McDonald's. That's because in addition to flipping burgers, they are showhome managers.

The house they now live in is owned by a wealthy woman who wants to sell it. Her realtor wants the house always ready to be shown to prospective buyers.

The Muellers pay a mere $1,200 per month to rent this mansion. To get that rate, they have to keep the house in pristine condition, ready to be shown at a moment's notice. They also must be prepared to move out immediately if the house sells.

It's a demanding lifestyle because the realtor has specific and detailed standards for how everything in the home is arranged. Drew Harwell of the Tampa Bay Times reports:

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

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.

Why does this market exist? Because a lived-in home sells faster than an empty home:

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."

A showhome manager can live in an opulent home for the same price as a much smaller apartment. But it can be hard to enjoy that house because everything that the manager does inside of it is regulated and inspected:

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.' "

Now if you're asking yourself, "What did I just read?!" take comfort in that you're not alone.

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I lived in a home that was on the market for a friend who took a new job suddenly. It was a big, beautiful home, but living like this is incredibly difficult, and you can never exactly relax (well, you can, you just have to streighten up afterwards).
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