Affordable Rentals: Multimillion-Dollar Homes Discounted by Home Staging Company

Rent a $7 million Bel Air mansion for $7,000 a month Most of us can envision what a couple of grand will rent in big cities -- a bedroom or two, with a halfway-renovated bathroom and a small balcony. But your fate could be different -- say a $7 million, 9,500-square-foot Bel Air villa, or a $1.5 million desert palace north of Scottsdale, Ariz. -- if you decided to manage a multimillion-dollar mansion that is up for sale.

With a glut of higher-end real estate on the market and a shortage of buyers, Showhomes, a national home staging company, is leasing pricey estates (that have not sold) at prices mirroring typical rents in major metropolitan cities. In some locales, rental prices start as low as $1,500 to $2,000.

Though the company has been in business since the '80s, the housing straits of late and the influx of inventory have allowed the growing company to make once-untouchable estates a lot more accessible.

As a renter or so-called "house manager" your rent money gets you what you normally expect -- the responsibilities of covering move-in costs, paying utilities, furnishing the place, keeping it clean. But one thing you must learn if you move into a staged home is flexibility -- you must accommodate for house-showings and be willing to move in a jiffy when your dream house finds a buyer.

In case the house sells while you are a tenant, Showhomes, will cover the cost of your move to another one of their properties. But as you leave behind the Bel Air pad, reminiscing about your time lounging amid its tropical gardens, outdoor pool area and home theater, there's another unsold manse around the corner that you can make your home. Temporarily.

With a sprawling network of franchises, and with homes in over 75 markets, Showhomes not only covers big cities and travel destinations but has inventory in smaller markets. In Jacksonville, Fla., a five-bedroom Georgian-style estate is priced at $2 million and available for $1,600 per month. An equivalently priced 10,000-square-foot home in Nashville can be rented at $2,500 per month.

As one might expect, the larger, more extravagant properties in premium areas, such as Bel Air or Lake Forest, Ill., are likely to be costlier. The $7 million Bel Air residence outfitted with seven bedrooms runs at $7,500 per month and a Lake Forest, Ill. estate valued at $3.8 million with six bedrooms is available for a monthly fee of $3,500.

"It's a really good deal and you can live in a swanky, beautiful house on the beaches of Malibu," says Thomas Scott, a vice president with the Showhomes Franchise Corp. Scott can attest to the upper echelon living experience -- he's lived in 15 different homes over the course of four years.

From a business perspective, there are reasons why a little bit of cash from a responsible renter with good-looking furniture (and this is a prerequisite!) is attractive to Showhomes. According to Scott, staging a home shortens the time that it sits on the market and helps the property retain its value. Someone looking after a home day-to-day maintains the property's presence more than if it was vacant. It also lowers home insurance costs and defrays some other expenses incurred by the seller for holding onto the piece of real estate.

When home shoppers come to view it, a lived-in home is more desirable than an empty one, to which the natural reaction is often, "Why doesn't someone want it? Is there something wrong?"

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