On April 1, Marketplace aired a fake story about a home-buyer, who thought he was purchasing property in a vibrant neighborhood with great, active families living next door. Then, right after he moved in, the street went vacant. Where had the people gone? They were actors, he realized, “hired to play neighbors in an increasingly cutthroat real-estate market, where ‘staging’ a home now means much more than just putting out fancy deck furniture and baking cookies.”

The entire piece was an April Fool’s Day gag. But in this market, the story seemed so plausible, many listeners—-including one City Paper staffer, though, no, not this one—-believed it at first. 

And now, not on April Fool’s Day, comes another very similar Wall Street Journal story. This one’s entirely true, I think.

A company out in southern California is paying fancy-looking people to live in fancy-looking properties, and not really mention the whole deal when agents phone with questions. 

When a real-estate agent phones, Ms. Clavin says, ” ‘I live here’ — because technically, I do,” and provides a broker’s number before the caller inquires further. She must keep the house spotless between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. She usually gets only five minutes to light the candles, flip on music and disappear before a showing. If she has more time, she’ll bake cookies to scent the home.

If the place sells in 90 days, she’ll earn a relocation bonus, and move on to another empty asset.

Now, previously, I’d heard of businesses placing people in foreclosure properties to keep the houses occupied and bringing in some cash. Yet there was no talk of “auditioning” in that story. And as the article points out, southern California’s a great place for this kind of business. There are plenty of actors around.

Image by Opal Community Land Trust, Flickr Creative Commons