Meet the house-sitters who stage the American Dream

Do you own a bunch of nice furniture but have nowhere to put it? Showhomes can help.

Some of the nicest luxury homes in suburbs across America are occupied by “prop families” — temporary tenants who use their furniture to help stage million-dollar homes that otherwise would sit empty. Showhomes is the company that puts people — and their furniture — in homes that realtors are trying to sell. The tenants rent the homes for a fraction of what a mortgage payment would be, but have to leave the homes spotlessly clean and be ready to vacate at a moment’s notice if a realtor wants to show the home to a potential buyer.

For all intents and purposes, the home must appear occupied but not lived-in. Beds must be made in a precise manner, kitchen counters devoid of plates or clutter, and no personal items can be displayed anywhere in the house.

The idea behind the arrangement is to allow a potential buyer to “see themselves living in the home” — but not someone else.

And the moment the home is sold — be it a week or six months— the itinerant tenant must pack-up his or her furniture and move to the next showhome.

The advantages to this bizarre arrangement are obvious to the real property owner: occupied homes tend to sell more quickly than an empty house, and there’s no up-front cost for a property manager, say company officials.

“Typically homes that are staged will sell from anywhere from five to ten percent higher,” says Marisa Salas, owner of Showhomes Miami.

The arrangement seems to work for some renters, too.

“I have a lot of furniture, because after [my] divorce I had all this furniture I had to put somewhere,” says home manager Lydia Rebot. “And since I’m repairing myself, I don’t wanna be in any ugly space if I cannot afford a better place. Right now I’m just giving myself time to live comfortable and happy.”

Home manager Alan Shuminer is also a divorcee with more furniture than he knows what to do with. He joined the program about five years ago, thinking that it was a transitional phase. But 10-15 luxury properties later (he says he’s lost track), Shuminer has changed his definition of what it means to have a “home.”

“I was married and lived in the same place for 15 years. Does that mean that was a home to me?” Shuminer asks. “Maybe for a little while. I guess wherever I am is where my home is.”

Filmed by Ingrid Rojas and edited by Jesse Swinger