Live-in home managers help sell (expensive) homes

A profile of home managers highlights one of the newest techniques for selling expensive homes:

The 7,800-square-foot home where the couple currently live, at 1334 Fox Glen Drive in St. Charles, is on the market for $1.5 million. It has a six-car garage with a “motor court” driveway (the owner’s Porsche 718 Boxster is still parked inside), six bedrooms, eight bathrooms, a tennis court, and 2 acres of land. It’s four times the size of the Callahans’ townhouse in Geneva.

“Sometimes I walk in and think, ‘Really? I get to live here?’ It’s like a fairy tale land,” Janine said, while standing in a stunning living room with giant windows that overlook a backyard koi pond and waterfall. “It’s a privilege for us to do this. … It’s like we’re living someone else’s life for a while.”…

Realtors hire home managers to live in vacant luxury homes that they’re trying to sell because it saves the seller money, Mike Callahan says. It lowers their staging costs, since home managers bring their own furniture…

They’ve lived in 12 houses over the past eight years in Batavia, Wayne, Geneva, Elburn and St. Charles. They’ve stayed as few as 45 days and as long as 16 months. Every time they move in, Mike carries Janine across the threshold. “It’s just our thing,” he says…

“You can’t be spontaneous because it always has to be clean. The home must always be ready to show. You have to be ready to turn all the lights on and get out (for a showing),” Janine said, noting that it’s not unusual for a Realtor to call at random times and say, “We’re sitting in the driveway, can we come in?”

This sounds like it has reality TV potential, particularly if the live-in managers stayed in homes for relatively short periods. The show could track the staging and home showings alongside the lifestyle that comes with moving from nice home to nice home.

I also wonder if such managers can up their rates when they have a proven track record of selling homes (1) quickly and (2) at higher prices. The true value of a home manager might not just be saving money (such as lowering insurance costs and spotting potential problems) but moving homes for good prices.

Finally, what is the home value where having a live-in manager is not worth it? The home mentioned at the beginning of the article is an expensive one but could a typical suburban homeowner (think more of the $400-800k range) benefit from and/or afford a live-in manager?

Even Utopia needs followers

After watching a number of the early episodes and reading several reviews, I think I know one thing the new reality show Utopia is missing: followers. As some have noted, the show seems to feature a number of outgoing and stubborn personalities. These can be the sort of people reality shows attract: go-getters who are there to win. Even though Utopia doesn’t have the typical winning as it has mostly eschewed competitions (except surviving for an entire year and sending out one person a month), it also appeals to strong-willed survivalists who think they have the right skills in creating a new society.

But, to work in the long-term, every larger society needs followers, people willing to support leaders as well as do a lot of the basic work that needs to be done. Without that, you end up with a lot of disagreement about what should be done and little actual work. If they really worked with leaders and followers, the band on Utopia could really accomplish things: imagine 15 adults working to expand the garden or digging trenches for irrigation. This may happen eventually as the group settles in but the lack of followers in hindering them at this point.

This also reminds me of Karl Marx’s ideas about what a socialistic utopia would look like. This is a quote from “The German Ideology“:

In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.

This gives a lot of freedom to individuals but sometimes society does need tasks done.

“The 12 Most Annoying Things People Say on House Hunters”

While this isn’t a scientific study of the hundreds of episodes, this list rings true from my watching experience. Here are a few of the 12:

3. “We Love Entertaining!”
How many dinner parties are these people throwing? Kid & Play didn’t have as many house parties as those couples. You aren’t hosting the Presidential Ball, so I’m sure your terrible friends are OK hanging out in the living room and the kitchen…

6. The Walk-In Closet Joke
I didn’t realize I was watching comedy hour! You gotta love that same, stupid joke where the lady walks into the closet and she says, “Well, this should be enough room … FOR MY CLOTHES! LOL!” Sometimes the guy will say it and sort of nudge his wife in a way where you can literally see the unhappiness in her eyes…

10. “We’ve Just Outgrown Our Old Place”
There are two of you and you lived in a three-bedroom house. Mathematically, you could not be more wrong. You could remedy this by selling some of the boxes of garbage piling up all over your hoarder-y house, or just admitting you want a bigger place for no other reason than you feel like it. Or just say the old place is haunted…

12. Crown Molding
Please shut up about crown molding. No one sits in their living room and thinks “Wow, look at that crown molding. If that wasn’t here this house would be a toilet.”

There could be several good reasons for these common concerns:

1. Participants are coached to talk bout these topics. Perhaps producers are feeding them these lines. Perhaps these are the lines the producers think people want to hear about.

2. Perhaps participants have seen enough of the show that they are imitating what they have heard. When they don’t quite know how to respond (watch their microexpressions as they react and then what they say), they fall back on these “scripts.”

3. As sad as it might be, maybe this represents what a lot of Americans think when they look at new housing: they often focus on a few details (closets, crown molding, etc.) without talking much about the big picture (do we really need this house?).

All that said, House Hunters certainly follows a certain “formula” for each episode that is fairly predictable. And while viewers may scoff at the comments of the participants, it wouldn’t be the same show if you took the people out and simply showed three homes as a comparison.

After 6 days of production, Utopia contestants can’t agree on much

One week into production of Fox’s new reality TV show Utopia, the participants are having a hard time moving forward:

Utopia, Fox’s new reality series in which a group of people are put into a bare-bones camp in a remote location north of Los Angeles County to form a new society and “rethink all the fundamental tenets of civilization,” hasn’t even debuted yet and already the natives — who’ve been there less than a week — are at war with each other.

“Coming to the most basic decisions has been next to impossible for them” just six days into the experiment, EP Jon Kroll said this afternoon on a phone call with the media and Fox EVP Simon Andreae. “Agreeing on anything” is the Utopians’ biggest challenge to date. “I almost think we cast it too well,” Kroll said happily. “They are so incredibly different that coming to the most basic decisions has been next to impossible for them.” A week into the yearlong experiment, there already has been a movement by some in Utopia to secede from the union.

Already, many of the males in Utopia are battling for alpha-dog status, though one of the women is giving them a good run, according to the execs on the call, which comes ahead of Sunday’s two-hour series premiere. And if you guessed it was Hex, described by the show as a “headstrong hunter … six feet of twisted steel and sex appeal” whose “primary game is to bring lessons from Utopia back to Detroit, her hometown” where her status is “unemployed” — you get extra points for understanding the wonderful world of stereotyping that is reality TV casting.

The internecine warfare has been captured on cameras since the Utopians arrived at their new home six days ago – like C-SPAN. Except, of course, when Hex got whisked to the hospital last weekend, for what turned out to be a case of dehydration. That was off limits for viewing by even the experiment’s 24/7 livestream — which already is up and running — because the network and producers didn’t know if her condition was serious, Kroll explained. “We just want to be careful,” he said.

Hard to know how much of this is just hyperbole from studio executives who want big ratings when the show debuts.

Yet, this may have some potential as a reality-TV version of Lord of the Flies. What happens when you put a diverse group of modern-day Americans in a situation where they need to create things from scratch? They have all sorts of learned notions about society and how life should be lived but will be applying them in a new context. However, given the nature of reality TV, it is hard to know how much of the situation on-screen is engineered by producers. I, for one, would want producers to take a more hands-off approach and see what happens but I imagine they will be unwilling to do that, particularly if ratings need a boost.

A side thought: how far away are we from a TV version of The Hunger Games?

CNN’s Chicagoland reality series featuring Rahm Emanuel premieres at Sundance

Here is some activity regarding the upcoming Chicagoland series on CNN:

The William Morris Endeavor clients decided to ask that their agency not represent them in the deal so as to avoid a conflict of interest when covering Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, brother of WME co-CEO Ari Emanuel. The agency agreed with the decision…

The filmmakers tell The Hollywood Reporter that the project is an evenhanded look at the mayor and the city, which was rocked by a bitter teacher’s strike and has grappled with a high murder rate. “The teacher’s union thought we were with Rahm, and Rahm thought we were the teacher’s union,” Benjamin says.

The pair gained extraordinary access to Rahm Emanuel, which was facilitated by David Axelrod, the Chicago-based former campaign adviser to President Barack Obama. Rahm was Obama’s first chief of staff and helped him get elected in 2008. Ari was instrumental in mobilizing the Hollywood donor community to back Obama.

Levin and Benjamin shot footage over an eight-month period in which the murder rate did go down, but they say they were prepared to cover the city’s story however it unfolded. “We expect criticism,” says Levin. “So long as it’s from all sides, we’ll be happy. If someone says we’re too kind or too critical to one side, that wouldn’t be good.”

In a series like this, I imagine there will be plenty of unhappy viewers. Regardless, it should be interesting to see how Chicago and its mayor are portrayed. City effectively responding to 21st century challenges or superactive mayor needed to help a city escape its own troubles? Additionally, I think it will be difficult to convey the complexity of a global city like Chicago in eight episodes and by focusing on its leader. Leaders are important but they don’t dictate everything happening in a city of nearly 3 million people.

Chicago suburb and school district won’t allow MTV’s “16 and Pregnant” to film on their property

Not all suburbs want to appear on reality TV shows: the Chicago suburb of Tinley Park and the local school district don’t want MTV’s “16 and Pregnant” to film there.

MTV’s controversial show “16 and Pregnant” is unwelcome in Tinley Park, as village officials and school leaders have pushed back against possible filming in the community.

When Tinley Park Mayor Ed Zabrocki heard the show might be shooting at the 80th Avenue train station’s restaurant, he sent word to the owner of Parmesans Station that the show’s cameras would be unwelcome on Tinley property…

Officials at Andrew High School declined this summer to allow MTV’s cameras on campus, principal Bob Nolting said…

When he was approached about filming at his restaurant, Papandrea said he had the same initial reaction as Zabrocki.

But he changed his mind after giving the matter further consideration, reasoning that the show has a positive effect on teenage pregnancies, he said…

For Zabrocki, who worked for many years as a guidance counselor at Brother Rice High School, the show presents “a bad image.”

Suburbs are often conscious about their image and it sounds like the suburb and school district didn’t want to be viewed as promoting teen pregnancy. Instead, I’m sure they would rather their community and schools are viewed as having a good quality of life, meaning they are the sort of places where teen girls don’t get pregnant. Of course, not all teen pregnancies happen to low-income residents but that seems to be the perception that Tinley Park does not want to invite.

“Real Housewives” character lives in McMansion only by fraud

A “Real Housewives of New Jersey” character lived in a McMansion and its accompanying lifestyle – but it was all a fraud:

On TV they live large — in a 10,000-square-foot McMansion full of garish baubles and expensive toys in an ode to the bad taste and excessive spending that has made “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” a Bravo hit.

It’s the lifestyle Joe and Teresa Giudice — who grew up together as working-class Italian-American kids — always hungered for but could never truly afford, sources said, even when they convinced themselves and everyone around them they could.

The Giudices’ shaky facade of massive personal wealth — increasingly fragile since a 2009 Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing — finally imploded in a spectacular way last week when they were hit with a 39-count criminal fraud indictment.

The federal charges range from allegations that the two conspired to forge W-2 forms, tax returns, pay stubs and other documents to trick banks into lending them money, to accusations of perjury and false statements in their bankruptcy proceedings.

This won’t do the reputation of McMansions any good. See the picture of the Giudice’s home about halfway through the news story: it looks like everything McMansion critics would hate including a large wrought-iron fence and gate, an elaborate front door, a roof that looks like a castle, and plenty of rooms. Yet, critics would like the symbolism: the home may have been impressive on the outside or looked good on TV but ultimately, it literally all a fraud.

So if and when they lose the home, who is going to buy it?