Housesitting on Top of the World

Almost fifteen years ago I was on the short end of a short sale on a bungalow I owned in North Hollywood following the 1994 Northridge earthquake that seemed to shake L.A.’s confidence even more than it shook the pavement.  The housing cycle was entering a long, long downturn that left me, along with thousands of other local homeowners, upside-down in a drydocked version of The Poseidon Adventure.  

My lender, GE Capital, eventually got the point that prices were not poised to head back up, and they agreed – after I houseonhill.jpgstrategically missed a few mortgage payments – to accept an offer lower than the amount I still owed them – considerably lower.  I found a buyer, and the deal was done.

But I still needed a roof over my head, so I became an apartment dweller for a time.  Then, I heard of a new business called America’s Home Tenders in Glendale that was seeking people to move into vacant properties and become, basically, housesitters.  The homes were actively listed for sale, but the market was glacial, all but frozen, and inventory swollen.  Many homes sat for months, even years, before finding buyers.  The owners were sellers who had divorced, or taken new jobs across the country, or bought new homes, and now had the vestiges of their past lives to deal with.  Home Managers, as we were called, brought our furniture with us, because homes do “show” better when furnished.  We tended the gardens and lawns, kept up maintenance, made our beds daily and washed and stacked the dishes in the cupboard, not the kitchen sink – all for the sake of “presentation.”  In return, we paid steeply discounted rents and the opportunity to live in a succession of spacious and attractive homes that most of us would never have had the opportunity to occupy otherwise.  The downside:  we had to be prepared to take phone calls and receive visits from realtors and their clients at a moment’s notice.  In the event the home was sold, we were contractually obligated to move out on 45 days’ notice.  It does take a certain personality; not everyone is temperamentally suited to be a “home manager.”

I enjoyed living in sprawling homes from Sierra Madre to Malibu, Marina del Rey to the Hollywood Hills, many with views, pools and other fabulous features.  One post lasted nearly a year until it was sold.  But with each move to a new venue, the tenancy tended to become briefer.  As the housing market improved, homes took less time to sell.  I learned to unpack only the essentials.  I moved some eight times over the course of two-and-a-half years in the mid-nineties.

The adventure grew tiresome, and fewer properties were available.  It came time to abandon the itinerant lifestyle.  Eventually (in the next millenium) I became a homeowner again.  With the housing cycle on the upswing again, and homes selling briskly, America’s Home Tenders exited the business of on-site home management.  My days as a home tender, and the business itself, became a faded memory. 

Until I came across the website of a company called Showhomes, which franchises the concept of home management and home staging services across the nation, with two locations in California.  One of them, based in Orange County, also services and represents homes in L.A. and the San Fernando Valley.  The owner, Beth George, shared her experiences and insights of 15 years with me in an interview for the Redfin blog.  You can read about the Showhomes concept in the next post.  It’s an idea whose time has come – once again.