Live in a multimillion-dollar home for $2,500

starre showhome
The Starres in front of their $1.3 million dollar Showhome in Carlsbad, Calif.

The Starres aren't movie stars, but they live like it -- for a fraction of the cost.

As home managers, Calvenn and Crystena Starre rent a $1.3 million home in Carlsbad, Calif., for just $2,500 a month -- about a third of what it would cost normally.

They're "hired" by Showhomes, a Nashville company that helps sell high-end homes. It preps the homes to look "lived in"... by finding people to actually live in them, at a very discounted rate.

Currently, there are 200 home managers, who reside in the home until it's sold (it usually takes about three to six months). They watch for any maintenance issues and make the home look desirable (food in the fridge, clothes in the closet) for prospective buyers.

But not everyone can get the gig -- Showhomes' acceptance rate is about 40%. Residents must undergo online background checks, including criminal and rental histories. They're typically white-collar professionals who are in a city temporarily, newly divorced or, in the Starre's case, a family of five looking for a quick and easy rental.

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With Showhomes, the Starres didn't need to make a long-term commitment -- they could leave their furniture in storage until they figured out where they wanted to live long term.

But what was a temporary move became a way of life. Over the past two years, they've lived in five different Showhomes -- ranging from $900,000 to $1.3 million in value -- all in the San Diego area. The amenities have included everything from tennis courts to pools.

"It's a way to live in a really inexpensive way," said Matt Kelton, chief operating officer of Showhomes, which has 58 franchises in 18 states.

But it's not all a walk in the park. Showhomes has a number of restrictions for home managers.

"You can't be a smoker, you can't have a bunch of pets, no religious items -- things that can deter [a buyer] one way or another," added Kelton.

Personal items like family photos, sports teams and political paraphernalia are also prohibited. And then there's the prospective buyers who could be surveying their home at a moment's notice.

"We give up certain parts of our lives [for] the reduced rent," said Calvenn.

Selling luxury homes using drones
Selling luxury homes using drones

They also have to move every time a place sells, with just about a month's notice, and maintain a spotless home in the meantime.

"You have to keep it clean and model home-ish," said Crystena Starre, a stay-at-home mom to her three kids. "We got to teach the kids, 'We need to put things away.'"

For homeowners, Showhomes is piece of mind that costs just .5% to 1.25% of the list price (this can vary and decreases the longer a home stays on the market).

Radiologist Bernie Schupbach first worked with Showhomes in Fox Valley, Ill., when he put his home on the market six years ago.

"I was living probably 20 miles away, and it was hard to get down to check on it," explained Schupbach. "There was always ongoing concern of a water pipe breaking or animal infestation or vandalism in the interim between visits."

Schupbach didn't have to worry about finding and vetting renters -- or about the state of his home before it sold.

"We only communicated with [the home managers] if there was a problem," said Schupbach.

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Schupbach's home was on the market for several years during the recession. It ultimately sold for around $500,000, and he had such a good experience that he employed Showhomes to stage his new home for buyers (which is the other half of the company's business).

And while Kelton says one man was a home manager for 15 years, moving from home to home, the majority do it for a much shorter period of time because of the "nomadic lifestyle" it requires.

As for the Starres, the wealth of knowledge they've acquired from living in different San Diego neighborhoods has helped them narrow down where they want to put down roots. They soon plan to purchase their own home.

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