Marketplace Scratch Pad

April Fools revisited

Scott Jagow Apr 27, 2009

How often April Fools jokes imitate life. Or is it the other way around? April 1st, Marketplace aired a faux story about how people desperate to sell their homes were hiring actors to be warm and friendly “neighbors.” Well, check out this story in today’s Wall Street Journal. It’s not a joke.

The Journal highlights a San Diego start-up called Quality First Home Marketing. The company is hiring people to “play” homeowners and move into empty high-end homes. In exchange for staying there at a steep discount, the “actors” have to make the place look immaculate and lived-in.

45-year-old Johnna Clavin responded to the company’s ad on Craigslist and beat out 46 other people who applied for the homeowner role. From the Journal:

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.

Here’s how Marketplace’s Mitchell Hartman ended his April Fool’s piece. Remember now, we made this up:

Consumer advocates charge this is false advertising, and they say it may even be illegal to fill empty homes with temporary neighbors, then move them out once a sale closes. But developer Randy Denaro says nothing they’re doing goes over the line.

RANDY DENARO: Look around. You don't see anybody impersonating a cop, do you? Because why? Because that would be illegal. It's an image of a nice neighborhood, even if it's not nice right now.

After all, Denaro says, the run-up in home prices was partly built on smoke and mirrors, and the recovery might have to be as well.

As I wrote in my April 1st blog entry on this, it’s “getting harder to fool on April 1st because the ridiculous doesn’t seem as ridiculous anymore.”

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