New Home for the holidays? Showhomes offers luxury living at rental prices

There's no place like someone else's home for the holidays. That rings true for Nancy and Robbie Jones, at least.

The Joneses are home managers for Nashville-based Showhomes, which means the couple moves into and maintains high-end homes while the properties are on the market for sale. Their task is to give each home a lived-in feel that could help potential buyers envision themselves living there. This unconventional work-life balance also means the Joneses have to move out at the drop of a hat, though they say they enjoy that adventure, too.

Earlier this month, the couple told Crain's they were getting ready to move into their fifth house in under two years.

Through Showhomes, the Joneses said they are able to live in giant estates for about one-third of their market rent. The homeowners, meanwhile, can sleep peacefully knowing their home is being taken care of in between showings, per the Showhomes business model.

Currently living in a 105-year-old home, Robbie Jones said the most unique home they lived in was a 9,000-square-foot estate with a movie theater nestled on a semi-private lake.

Think it sounds too good to be true?

The catch involves strict rules and flexibility.

Home managers have to always be ready to move, and may move up to three times a year. The homes must remain pristine and be ready for a showing at all times.

Matt Kelton, chief operating officer at Showhomes, said there's never a shortage of people interested in being a home manager.

"It's a different kind of life, but it's surprising how many people are interested in participating," he said.

Kelton, who's been with the company for 10 years, acknowledged that it took him awhile to wrap his head around the idea. When he did, he understood the value of the program.

"The bottom line is that the homes sell faster and for more money. When you go into a house that's staged with a home manager, the lights are on, clothes are in the closet, there's music playing and it seems to pop more than a vacant house or even just a staged house," Kelton said. "It's a win-win-win. It's a win for the homeowner, the home manager and even the (real estate agent)."

Over 30 years, Showhomes has helped sell over 25,000 houses valued at over $8.5 billion, according to the company.

Chris Simrell is one of the buyers. After searching for six months, she purchased a home staged by Nancy and Robbie Jones in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

"We've bought many, many homes and have lived a lot of places over the past 10 to 12 years, and it's different when someone cares and shows that type of detail," she said. "Walking around the house, the decor that they chose for the home helped make it more special and appealing rather than seeing a house empty."

Showhomes currently operates in 18 states. Although the company is headquartered in Music City, the program isn't yet active in the Nashville market.

"We don't currently have a location in Nashville, but we are in Memphis. Currently, we are in talks about getting into the Nashville market. It's such a hot market right now that it kills us that we don't have someone already there to take advantage," said Kelton, adding that Showhomes plans to have a home manager stationed in Nashville in 2017.

Jack Miller, a veteran Nashville real estate agent with Parks, a 41-year-old residential brokerage with 12 offices in Middle Tennessee, said he's curious to see how the Showhomes service will play out in Nashville.

"When the market was slow, there was a huge demand for their services. That's not the market that we're in right now," he said. "However, we do have a lot of empty homes, and when they have a home manager in place, they can turn an otherwise bland new construction home into essentially a model home overnight."