“Human Props” Live In For Sale Luxury Homes, Add “Life” To Spaces

July 8, 2014 | Sophie Weiner

Florida-based real estate company Showhomes lets families “manage” houses that they’re selling — living “like ghosts” on the luxury property, never leaving a trace of their lives behind. The existentially depressing set up is chronicled in Tampa Bay Time’s profile of the Mueller family.

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.

The Muellers lost their inherited riches during the housing crisis and now work at McDonalds. They hung onto their expensive belongings though, like a baby grand piano and a $10,000 Pakistani rug, which they use to decorate the fancy homes they barely inhabit, living inside the physical representation of their own failed aspirations.

But the Mueller family doesn’t despair, in fact they relish the closeness their situation provides to their own broken American dream.

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.”

The Mueller’s pay about $1200 in rent to the company each month, and are one of about 15 homes in Tampa Bay now occupied by “managers” like them. They need to be ready to move on a moments notice as well, should their home be sold. But it’s a great deal for Showhomes, who say that having a real family living in their homes brings them more business. “There’s an energy there,” the firm told Tampa Bay Times. “You can feel it. There’s something. There’s life.” (Photo: @ShowhomesTampa)