Builder Hires Model Family to Sell Homes A home builder in Southern California is battling a softening real esate market by taking advantage of an abundant local resource: actors. The Centex company has hired four actors to play a family "living" in one of their model homes -- a performance called Homelife.
NPR logo

Builder Hires Model Family to Sell Homes

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/5571635/5571662" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Builder Hires Model Family to Sell Homes

Builder Hires Model Family to Sell Homes

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/5571635/5571662" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Here in Southern California, one home builder is battling the softening real estate market by taking advantage of an abundant local resource: actors.

The Centex Company has hired four actors to play a family living in a model home. They call the performance Home Life, as NPR's Ina Jaffe reports.

(Soundbite of Home Life)

Ms. DANI ZICKAFOOSE(ph) (Actor): (As Daughter): (Unintelligible) cake.

Mr. IAN MURRAY (Actor): (As Dad): Come and sing happy birthday to your mom.

INA JAFFE reporting:

It's Mom's birthday, according to the Home Life script. Celebrating with Mom, Gina, are her husband for the day, Ian, and their kids, 14-year-old daughter Dani, and 12-year-old son, Colin. Singing along are a few strangers who've just come to see their house.

(Soundbite of actors singing Happy Birthday)

JAFFE: One clue that this isn't a real family: Gina is wearing a stick-on name tag saying Mom. Ian's wearing one that says Dad. Another tip-off that they're actors: mom and dad are betting looking than anyone you personally know.

The no last name family occupies a model of Resident Style Number 2 in the westerly neighborhood of River Park, a huge master-planned community going up in the city of Oxnard, north of Los Angeles. The Centex company has already done two performances of Home Life at another development, and that one is now sold out, according to regional marketing director Amanda Larson(ph). She thinks Home Life gave them an edge.

Ms. AMANDA LARSON (Regional Marketing Director, Centex Company): I think that it's a little less intimidating for people. Maybe they're not ready to meet with a sales representative yet. And it just helps them to meet with somebody that's more their friend.

(Soundbite of Home Life)

JAFFE: Dani bakes cookies. Colin watches cartoons in the upstairs den. That's a very lifelike performance.

But mostly the Home Life family shows their house to people who might want to buy one like it. Gina shows some visitors how much she loves her Jacuzzi bathtub by climbing right into it.

(Soundbite of Home Life)

JAFFE: Dani shows off her favorite room, the big guest bedroom over the garage out back.

(Soundbite of Home Life)

Ms. ZICKAFOOSE: (As Daughter) This is where I come with me and my friends. We have sleepovers. To get away from my little brother.

JAFFE: Colin actually is Dani's little brother. Their last name is Zickafoose. They're not Hollywood kids - they're community theater veterans from the L.A. suburbs.

Mr. COLIN ZICKAFOOSE (Son, Home Life Actor): We've been in performances since age three.

JAFFE: In fact, Colin's in Fiddler on the Roof right now. Home Life, the kids say, doesn't have any singing or dancing, but it has other things to recommend it.

Ms. ZICKAFOOSE: I think it's a great experience. It's different, you now, because it's more improv. And you have to talk to the audience.

Mr. ZICKAFOOSE: Try and act like yourself, you know? I love it.

JAFFE: How do you get along with your parents?

MS. ZICKAFOOSE: My fake or my real parents?

(Soundbite of laughter)

JAFFE: Your fake parents.

MS. ZICKAFOOSE: Oh, I love my fake parents!

Ms. GINA PONIATOWSKI(ph) (Actor): And look how lovely they turned out. Good parenting.

JAFFE: Mom, Gina Poniatowski, was on a recent episode of the NBC series Windfall. But she says just because her job here is selling a house, it doesn't mean she can't inject some realistic detail.

Ms. PONIATOWSKI: I brought some of my own personal items upstairs, because I felt like, well, I'd be getting ready for my birthday, my big day. So I brought a hair dryer, hairbrush and some makeup. Clothes in the closet and things like that.

JAFFE: As for Dad, aka Ian Murray, he's not disappointed this gig isn't Shakespeare or the latest Spielberg. He mainly does commercials anyway.

IAN: I've sold Heineken beer and I've sold Mountain Dew and I've sold Power Bar. And most recently I sold hooded sweatshirts for Old Navy.

JAFFE: The actors and the show they put on got great reviews from everyone we spoke to. Sonia Moore(ph) and Kenneth Fickland(ph) currently live in Santa Barbara. Fourteen year old Dani showed them the house.

Mr. KENNETH FICKLAND (Visitor): It made me feel as if I was a guest.

Ms. SONIA MOORE (Visitor): Yeah.

Mr. FICKLAND: Yeah.

Ms. MOORE: So you got a better feel of how it would be if you were living there.

Mr. FICKLAND: They were nice actors. She made me feel comfortable.

Ms. MOORE: Yeah, and she knew a lot too. So that was good.

Mr. FICKLAND: Yeah, she was very, she was a great salesperson.

Ms. MOORE: She knew her homework.

Mr. FICKLAND: Yeah.

JAFFE: In fact we only heard one minor complaint. Amy Kralleous(ph) was in the backyard with a couple of friends who wanted more realism.

Ms. AMY KRALLEOUS (Visitor): What Robert wanted to know was why weren't they fighting?

(Soundbite of laughter)

JAFFE: Maybe, they suggested, the Home Life family just hasn't talked about sex and money yet.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News, Los Angeles.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.