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Saturday, June 17, 2006


Fake Families for Model Homes

From the Los Angeles Times:

Hanging out with a make-believe family on Windfall Drive.
Meghan Daum
June 17, 2006

I USED TO THINK I had to live near the action. No long commutes or good school systems for me. I liked to be able to stumble out of bed and walk directly to a coffee shop in my flip-flops and my Ramones pajamas. I thought I'd die if I couldn't get to the Center for Inquiry in Hollywood in less than 10 minutes, even though I'm afraid to ask what it is. But all that's in the past now because I'm seriously considering moving to Milestone, a new community I discovered out past the farthest reaches of the San Fernando Valley last weekend. I took along my friend Alison, who writes about real estate but also was eager to visit the Wal-Mart in nearby Valencia. To be honest, we thought Wal-Mart would be the main event, but as soon as we arrived at Windfall Drive, still under construction in Santa Clarita, we saw the future and it was beautiful. We knew it was beautiful because a 2,321-square-foot model home was occupied by a very beautiful family baking cookies with the Kitchen Aid stainless steel "appliance package" and opening and closing the European frameless stained-finish cabinetry. They were wearing nametags — "Mom," "Dad," "Son" and "Daughter" — which, given the state of the American family these days, you really wish people would do more often. But these were no average Joneses. This was "Homelife," the brainchild of Milestone developer Centex Homes and the public relations firm Roddan Paolucci Roddan. Billed as an "improvisational theatrical model home experience," Homelife takes the technique of home staging a step further by employing actors to play the roles of people living in the house. "Audience participation is encouraged," says a snazzy brochure featuring multiracial models laughing with their kids in the laundry room. "Maybe you have a great cooking tip for our 'family' — we want you to take part in the action."As it turned out, Dad was not only master of his surround sound and central vacuuming systems, he'd played lifeguard Logan Fowler for three years on "Baywatch." (They call it Windfall Drive for a reason, ladies!) After chatting with the family — "my room's much bigger than in my old house!" Daughter said — Alison and I strolled outside to take in the view of the bulldozers across the street. It was then that a New York Times reporter approached us and asked, with an enthusiasm that made us wonder if she thought she'd stumbled upon a "nontraditional partnership," why we were interested in Milestone. Her face fell when she discovered we were on assignment too. In fact, there were probably more members of the media there than home buyers. A CNBC reporter was so taken by Homelife that she joined the family as "Aunt Jane." Alison and I decided to call ourselves "Jehovah's Witness" and "Jail Bait From Next Door," respectively. But we're not the nametag type. Upstairs, we discovered a master bedroom, huge walk-in closets and a laundry room that, in Venice, might sell for close to a million dollars. There were three kids' bedrooms, which was strange because there were only two kids. A publicist explained that the older daughter was at camp. This was news to Mom and Dad, who didn't know they had another daughter. There were, however, plenty of other family members, including Centex marketing director Amanda Larson ( "Aunt Amanda")."There certainly are a lot of you," I said to Dad"Do you ever watch that show 'Big Love'?" he asked.So that elusive land off the 14 Freeway is not so boring after all! There might not be any comic book stores within walking distance of Milestone, but after my interactive theatrical model home experience, I could see myself living there, and not just for the tubes-in-the-wall pest defense system. God knows, I've been to plenty of open houses in my day. But like most looky-loos, I find there's usually something incomplete about the experience. You can only learn so much about a family by checking out their bookshelves and rifling through their file cabinets. The Homelife clan didn't have files, and the only reading material I noticed was a copy of "Teen People" in Daughter's bedroom. But none of that mattered because they'd done more than open up their home, they'd shared their lives, their passions (they like Jenga!) and even a little bit of their hearts. "So how's your marriage working out?" I asked Dad."It's great," he told me. "But we're only here for three hours. That's about the right amount of time to be married and have kids."This neighborhood is going to be hot.

If you want other stories on this topic, search the Archives at latimes.com/archives. [and, good luck! ]

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