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HOMEFRONT : Have Furniture, Will Travel

January 30, 1994|Sharon Tetrault

For more than a year, Jeanette Elkins lived in the exclusive, guarded development of Big Canyon in Newport Beach. The sprawling, country-style abode she called home was not hers, but at just $200 a month, she had no complaints. "It allowed me to send money to my daughter who is in college and to put away $1,000 in savings every month," says Elkins.

Such are the perks for Elkins, an "on-site manager" for Showcase Property Management Services, a Mission Viejo company that enhances the salability of empty homes by supplying them with warm bodies who'll fill the house with gorgeous furniture. Elkins, who hooked up with Showcase after getting a divorce and selling her house, now manages a 3,000-square-foot Tustin home.

The company provides banks and real estate agents with people who will furnish vacant homes, cooperate with real estate agents and keep a spotless household. In exchange, the itinerants pay below-market rents.

On the downside, on-site managers face the prospect of being given packing papers at any time, and they are subject to unannounced home checks seven days a week. Those who have pets, smoke or whose credit is dinged need not apply.

Founder Marlene Thompson got the inspiration for Showcase two years ago, when the recession left many large homes vacant. Since then, she has housed hundreds of people in digs ranging from oceanfront cottages in Newport Beach to mansions in Pasadena.

"It's a win-win-win situation," says Thompson. "The owner's home is watched over, the tenant lives inexpensively, and the realtor has a listing that shows beautifully." And her company wins too: It pockets all rent proceeds.

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