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.

What does Showhomes get out of it, besides the teeny amount of rent? The company says that having an actual family live in the house, bringing (some of) their own belongings, gives the house a homey sheen and an energy that can’t be faked by decoration alone. The houses with this kind of arrangement, says Showhomes, sell quicker, and for more money.

It’s a fascinating look at one of the weird little folds left in the fabric of society after the recession we’ve been through in the past decade. The family can live in luxury, yes–but at what cost?

Read the whole story over at the Tampa Bay Times.DN