Meet a Family Who Lives in Mansions That Are for Sale

Company lets families live in homes on the market—but every object has a place

By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff

Posted Jul 16, 2014 8:27 AM CDT

(Newser) – When the Mueller family hit hard times in Missouri, they packed up their baby grand piano and $10,000 Pakistani rug and moved into a $750,000 home on a golf course in Florida. It was the only affordable place where they could maintain the extravagant lifestyle to which they'd grown accustomed, but the $1,200 rent came with a catch: The house was actually for sale, and as "home managers," they were living there to add "energy" to it; every surface had to be kept immaculately clean and every object in its right place, and not a single showing could be refused—meaning they would have to clear out on a moment's notice, while leaving soft music playing, of course.

Home-staging firm Showhomes has managers living in about 15 Tampa Bay homes, most worth at least half a million. (There are Showhomes locations scattered throughout the US.) They can be in a home as short as a few days and as long as 18 months, and the "people in transition" who qualify, according to the Tampa Bay Times, are supposed to come with their own penchant for cleanliness and their own beautiful furniture. Showhomes says that human props do make otherwise empty homes move faster, and while it doesn't offer stats, it does have some history: NPR in 2010 talked to the couple who runs the company's Princeton franchise, who explained when "there's no clothes in the closet ... [buyers] will lowball offers because they feel that the owner might be struggling because they may have two mortgages." (Click for more unusual real estate news.)

Bob Mueller, 60, center background, leads his family in a prayer before they eat in the home they live in as home managers for Showhomes in Tampa, Fla. on Tuesday, July 1, 2014.
Bob Mueller, 60, center background, leads his family in a prayer before they eat in the home they live in as home managers for Showhomes in Tampa, Fla. on Tuesday, July 1, 2014.   (AP Photo/Tampa Bay Times, Will Vragovic)
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